Dyeing Ostrich Plumes- It WORKED!

Well holy cow. For the first time ever, I tried dyeing ostrich plumes to match a fabric I'm working with. I was prepared for dismal failure and was fully planning on sharing my results whether it worked or not. My expectations were low, so imagine my freaking surprise when THIS was what I ended up with!

Burlesque performer and costume blogger

Well knock me down with a feather! This, just 5 minutes earlier, was a WHITE feather! So here's how I did it and what I learned. Lots of photos, so bear with me. Firstly, I already had some Dylon fabric dye on hand. They come in little packets that look like this:


You can buy these at most fabric stores. (Dressew here in Vancouver used to have a great selection, but they don't anymore. I now buy it at Fabricana.) But here's the thing, I don't follow the instructions at ALL, and I never have, for whatever I'm dying and I've always (touch wood) been successful. The exact same technique worked for feathers as well!

If you research how to dye feathers, they will tell you that you need a cold-water dye that is the same stuff you would use for wool. Wool and feathers are both made of keratin, and supposedly you need a special dye for this. This is not my experience. I actually did buy the wool version, but didn't end up using it.

So firstly, Dylon will tell you to use the whole entire package of dye. They also don't necessarily tell you that you can mix your own colours. I punch a small hole in the tin lid and use it like a shaker. I pour boiling hot water into an appropriately sized glass vessel of some sort (it will stain anything else and may react negatively with metal), then I put the heat-proof glass dish on the warming element of my stove. You want to keep this liquid hot. Use whatever size and shape of vesssel that fits your item comfortably.

Then, I put in a LOT of salt and make sure it's completely dissolved. Salt supposedly 'opens' the fibres to allow more dye to penetrate. I do not actually know if this is true, but since I've always had such good results with my dyeing efforts, I'm not messing with the equation.

before the dye dip.jpg

This is one of the feathers I dyed, and it's actually about to be dunked into that black looking liquid below it. I literally just shake small bits of the dyes into the hot water, stir, and then dip a corner of a white paper towel into the liquid which gives me an idea of the final colour. Like this:

testing the colour.jpg

Look at that paper towel do you see how the bottom piece looks quite blue? I knew this was TOO blue, so I added a little more red, stirred, and dunked another corner. I repeated this process until I got the exact shade I wanted. Now keep in mind start with a literal DASH of the dye and test, easy to add more, but difficult to colour correct if you've gone way too blue for example. I've been using the same two little containers of dye for six months on a variety of projects. Using the whole container at once is just a waste unless you are dying, I dunno, a sleeping bag or something. I just use what I need and put a piece of tape of the shaker hole, and toss it into a ziplock bag.

Now, granted I've always been good with colour theory, and have a pretty good idea as to how to mix specific shades, but there are lots of on-line colour mixing guides that you can use for help. In this particular instance I used a combination of navy blue and cherry.

If you like the shade, but it's too dark? Just further dilute the mixture with hot water. This is a great way to get a variety of depth in colour all in the same shade. Mix a small concentrated batch of the dye, and then pour different amounts of this 'master dye' in to different amounts of water. Super easy.

Ok, back to the fun stuff. This part cracks me up, because when I dunked the first feather...

dipping into the dye.jpg

I was like, there is NO way this is going to work. I mean... look at that ratty thing. Looks like something I need to pull out of the drain.

Upon lifting it out of the dye, which was literally less than 30 seconds, what I ended up with is this thing:

wet feather.jpg

I mean c'mon. I did not expect this to turn into a pretty fluffy feather again. (Mind the kitchen counter mess, I was making a salad at the same time.)

Then, I rinsed. And rinsed. And rinsed under running warm water while repeatedly using my fingers as a squeegee. Again, I didn't read to do this anywhere, I just sort of winged it. You will notice that when you rinse, the feathers feel sort of like your hair when you are rinsing out conditioner. And JUST like your hair, you need to rinse until that slippery/slimey feeling is completely gone or you end up with a limp, non-fluffy, greasy looking feather.

So then, I laid this rat tail out on a paper towel and took a blow dryer to it. In under a minute the feather went from a purple string to fluffy glory!


wire the feathers together however you like.jpg

Ok, what you see on the right is actually four feathers that I've put into a bunch and wound with wire. But it does show that I created four different depths of lavender using the same batch of dye. The only difference is how diluted the dye was.

Given that my feather dyeing was so ridiculously fast and easy, I threw caution to the wind and thought I may as well dunk other stuff into the dye and experiment a little.

dye tacky bridal sprays.jpg

What you see here is as a tacky white bridal spray that I bought for $5. Just for shits and giggles I tossed it in the dye for maybe 10 seconds. Now I did NOT rinse this because I knew it would fall apart, and this is why it's so much darker, but look!!! It EVEN tinted the fake pearls! So, I wired my feathers on to it, and this evening I will

attach it to a 1930's fascinator cap I built from scratch. I've just sort of placed it in position to give you the idea. I am sooo excited how this turned out! I will do another post once I've finished the hat and have a finished product to show you.

Oh, I also ended up dying pastie tassels, elastic (for scanties), and some gloves. I was so excited by how easy this was I got a little carried away.

play with positioning.jpg

Good luck if you try this and let me know if you have any questions!



#costumetips #burlesquecostume #ostrichfeathers

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