Zig Zagging Feathery Fronds

Introduction: Zig Zagging Feathery Fronds

About: I re*make mobility devices and materials and give them new lives. I re*use often. And sometimes I staple drape.

Hi! I'm A. Laura Brody.

I'm making faux peacock feathers to re-upholster a Jazzy Power Scooter and showing you the process step by step. Making the peacock feather's "eye" was the first step. I formed the "spine" and "ribcage" of the feather in step 2, uncovered hidden golden trim in step 3, sewed down the velvet with gold in the 4th and brought in some blue in step 5.

This is step #6. Welcome! This step is all about fully filling in my faux feathers. (Say that 5 times fast.)

The peacock feather is shaping up nicely and its structure is fully in place, but it's not quite done. Zigzagging in extra fronds will fill in the straggly areas and make it look more feathery. When I'm done with the thread-based fronds I'll finish this feather off by adding in some golden trim strands.

For this step I used:

A sewing machine and size 14 universal sewing machine needles

3 spools of thread (bright green, bright blue and tan) plus lots of threaded bobbins in any color

Sharp scissors

An iron and ironing board

Leftover golden trim strands

And the peacock feather base from the past 5 steps.

If you want to know why I'm re-upholstering a Jazzy Power Scooter, check out my mobility art at Dreams by Machine. If you want to submit YOUR mobility art and inventions to Opulent Mobility check out the call for submissions. The deadline is June 30th, 5 PM PST.

Step 1: Set Up the Sewing Machine

I'm double threading the sewing machine so I can get a nice strong line with my zigzagged fronds. This technique is also great for sewing jeans hems or leather or anywhere else you want a decorative, heavy stitch without using heavy duty thread.

In order to get both threads through the eye of the sewing machine needle, though, I'm going to need a bigger needle. So far I've been using a universal size 12. That's a good weight for the medium weight black twill fabric I've been using as the backing for my feather, but the eye of the needle is too small to comfortably fit 2 threads. So I'm moving up to a size 14.

I put in my new needle. Then I put both spools of thread (one bright blue, one bright light green) on the handy dandy thread holders for the sewing machine. I pull the ends from both spools and twist them together a little bit, then thread the machine with both strands acting as one. When I get to the needle, I make sure the thread ends are freshly cut and clean and poke both of them through the eye. This takes a little practice, but you can do it.

I put in my bobbin thread and set the machine to a short, tight zigzag stitch (#2 width, #1 length). Now I'm ready to rumble.

Pro tips about machine needles:

1. The bigger the number, the heavier the needle. It's good to use the smallest needle you can get away with, since you are poking your fabric repeatedly with a sharp object and perforating it. Using too large of a needle can make whatever you're sewing fall apart fast along those perforated lines. The exception is when you're dealing with sequins or beaded appliques. Those require at least a size 16 needle and you will go through lots of them. Using eye protection is a good idea with those materials. Flying shards of machine needles can be painful.

2. There are a ton of different kinds of needles. Generally speaking, universal ones are good for woven materials, jersey needles are good for t-shirt knits, ball points are for super stretchy fabrics and leather needles are good for heavier leather.

3. If you sew for any amount of time, you will break needles. You will snag them on pins and dull the tips. Just replace them regularly. It's part of the process. Unfortunately, the cheap needles from dollar stores will splinter if they even think about hitting a pin. It's worth it to get the more expensive and durable ones.

Step 2: Zigging and Zagging

I'm using a narrow double threaded zigzag stitch to create fronds in the open spaces between the velvet and the blue scarf strands. I start at one of the open spaces along the spine near the top of my feather and create a smooth arc around the eye. When I reach the top of my frond I back stitch a little bit, leave a loop of threads and turn around to stitch over the line again. This makes a strong and very visible frond. Then I move down the spine and start the process all over again.

I leave the loops of thread at the top of each frond intact until I finish a feather segment. Then I stop and trim off the excess threads close to but not at the tip. This leaves a little feathery bit at the end of each frond. When I'm done sewing in my fronds on one side of the feather, I turn the feather over to trim off all the excess hanging threads. Since I used a lot of different colors of bobbin thread I can see my hanging threads clearly.

Using a contrasting bobbin thread isn't a requirement. Since the bobbin thread won't show on the front side of my feather, though, I can use up the extra bobbins in my stash without having to wind new ones. Zigzagging all these fronds eats up a lot of thread!

Same deal, second side. After I repeat the process on the second half of my feather I'm ready to add some gold.

Step 3: Semi Final Golden Fronds

Now I check over my feather for empty spaces. The feather is looking pretty full, but there's some spots that could use a little metallic pop.

The feather is getting a lot thicker now with all those new fronds. I can still use the size 14 needle, but I don't need double threads for this step. Anyway, I'd prefer to use a color that matches my trim more closely. So I change out my thread for a single spool of tan and reset the zigzag to a longer stitch (#2 length).

Using some of the golden strands I uncovered in step 3, I lay out my first piece just above the peacock feather's "eye". I backstitch at the top of the trim and zigzag stitch it in place over the center line of the eye and continue down the spine. I follow one edge of the spine all the way down to the bottom, then backstitch and cut off both my thread and the trim at the feather's base. I repeat this process on the other side of the spine, effectively outlining it in gold.

Next up I lay in some gold in between the existing fronds and get to zigzagging. I leave a little tail of trim at the tip of each new golden frond, backstitch and then zigzag over the trim to hold it in place. When I get to the spine, I follow along the spine for a little bit and then double back my trim so it forms the next frond. I backstitch at the end of my second frond, snip the trim off just outside of the backstitching and start another golden frond segment.

When I'm done with one side, I snip off any loose threads and golden trim just outside the tips to create that nice feathery edge. Then I turn the feather over again and cut off all the hanging thread bits. Once that's all cleaned up, I repeat the process on the second side.

My feather is now ready for "last looks"!

Step 4: Step Away From the Feather

"Last looks" is a term used on TV, video and film sets. It's the time for the hair and makeup, wardrobe and prop crews to take a last look at the actors, the setting and the scenery before everyone gets ready to shoot. This is the chance to clean up any loose ends and fix what needs fixing.

When I'm done with most of my stitching I take a little time to step away from the feather, maybe take a break and come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes I'll pin it up to a cork board or hang it on a pants hanger and look at it from a distance. Taking that step away really helps me to see it more clearly. It's easy to get a form of road hypnosis when I'm staring too closely at my stitching. From a distance I can see where the bare spots are, or where my feather is just looking too even.

Adding in a couple of fronds that cross over other fronds helps to make the feather appear more natural. I check the feather over and use some of those tiny strands of trim I have left over to fill in the gaps. I do a final search for stray threads and voila! I've got a lovely faux feather.

Now I shall make about 20 more of them.

Next time I'll walk you through putting the feathers together and adding trapunto texture.

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