Hi! I'm A. Laura Brody. I re-make, re-purpose and re-use materials of all kinds. I'm a costume creator by trade, and I'm using those skills to create re-designed assistive technology devices. That is, I pimp out wheelchairs and walkers. You can find some of my mobility art here.
For my next mobility art piece, The Jazzy Peacock Scooter, I’m making “peacock feather” upholstery out of leftover bits of fabric, trim and used skirts. I’m making a lot of them, so I find ways to streamline the process as I go and I'm sharing that process with you. Sure, I could just buy peacock feathers and trim. But where’s the re-purposing pleasure in that? If I can figure out a way NOT to buy something new to make my artwork, I’m thrilled.
If this sounds like your kind of fun, come join me in making faux peacock feathers! We're starting with the “eye” of the feather.
Fair warning: this is a reasonably advanced project. If you have basic sewing machine skills (and a machine to use or borrow), though, you can do it!
For this project you'll need:
scrap fabrics or old clothing
a sewing machine with a zig-zag stitch
sewing machine needles
an iron and ironing surface
and a light-colored pencil or chalk.
Step 1: Research Your Feathers
The first step in any design process is finding your inspiration for the idea and doing a little research. Luckily, the internet is full of peacock feather images.
Check out the basic shape and color of the peacock feather's "eye". There's a lot of variations, but the shapes are pretty simple. There's an oval on its side with a dark blue "iris" with a lighter blue base and outline. That "iris" is surrounded by a golden egg shape and is tipped with green and blue feather bits.
Now I'm ready to take out the materials.
Step 2: Find Your Fabrics
These are the fabrics I chose for my peacock feathers. From left to right, they are:
Golden tan metallic brocade (leftover from a kid's TV show I worked on)
Dark green velvet (donated by a friend)
Nubbly blue knit (from a thrift store skirt)
Black cotton twill (another TV show leftover)
I like to have a little story behind every bit of material I use. You get to chose your own story! Find old bits of materials all around you. Thrift stores, yard sales, the back of the closet, forgotten boxes in the attic or a friend's quilting stash can yield great treasures. These feathers don't need a lot of fabric, so small scraps are fine. Build a stock of colors that seem right to you and change it up for each feather. That way, we won't get bored.
Trust me. You wouldn't like me when I'm bored.
Step 3: Back the Iris
I start off by drawing the "iris" shape of the peacock "eye" onto the black twill fabric. This doesn't have to be an exact oval. I'm drawing an irregular circle.
Next I pin the black twill to the nubbly blue skirt fabric. The blue fabric is a little stretchy and bumpy. It's exactly the look I want, but bumpy stretchy fabric can be a pain to sew. Using a backing fabric helps stabilize fussy fabrics and makes them easier to work with.
Once I've pinned the backing in place, I use the sewing machine to sew along the chalk outline. I'm using a straight stitch to hold the fabrics together. After it's sewn, I cut out my "iris" just outside the stitching line.
Step 4: Bringing in the Green
I'm using dark green velvet as the base of the peacock "eye". Velvet can be a real pain to sew, especially when it's on top of my lumpy bumpy blue fabric. Luckily, there's a trick to sewing it smoothly.
First I pin down the velvet to the lower half of the "iris". Then I turn the piece over and draw the shape I want on the black backing fabric. Using a straight stitch, I sew on the line I've just drawn and trim off the green velvet just outside the stitching lines. Voila! The velvet's in exactly the right place.
Next I set the machine to a short, small zig-zag stitch to sew all the way around the outside of the "iris" and the green velvet base. This has 2 functions. The zig-zag keeps the ends from fraying and it acts like an outline for my peacock "eye". Before I sew, though, I check back with my peacock feather research and see what color thread to use! It looks like the light green will work well, so I use it to sew around all my edges twice. Zig-zagging twice makes all the edges super clear and crisp, plus it adds some nice texture.
Step 5: There's Gold in Those Eyes
Now that the "iris" of the peacock eye is ready, it's time to create that golden tan egg shape.
I had a piece of gold, green and tan metallic brocade. The "right" side of the fabric has a very specific pattern, but the "wrong" side is golden and perfect! The dark green and tan threads in the brocade will add some depth to my golden eye.
First I lay out the "iris" over the gold side of the brocade. I check back with the peacock feather images to get an idea of the proportions I want, then I draw it on the brocade and cut out my egg shape. I pin the "iris" in place at the base of the egg, sew the iris on securely and get ready to start fringing.
I like to use an awl to separate out the threads as I go around the egg shape. You can also use toothpicks or pins. The goal here is to turn the brocade into nothing but fringe. This makes a big a mess, so I work directly over the trash can. It's possible to save those leftover threads to use as stuffing for another project, if you want to get super re-useful!
Once the brocade is entirely fringed, I turn the eye over and press it carefully with an iron. I set it to a polyester setting, because I don't really know what fibers all my scraps are made of! And if the iron is set too hot, the eye can melt. This is not fun.
When the eye is ironed, I do a final trim with sharp scissors to clean up the shape of the eye.
Voila! One peacock eye! Now I shall make many more.
Next time I'll walk you through making the base and spine of the peacock feather.