Oh, luxurious plumes! There is nothing quite as beautiful as ostrich feather fans, except perhaps ostrich feather fans in the hands of a lovely dancing lady.
Unfortunately, pre-made fans tend to be very pricey; a good pair will be a couple hundred dollars. Also, most come attached to big heavy plastic staves. Here are some instructions on how to make your own feather fans at the lowest cost possible. I use foam-board as the base -- this means that the fans cannot open and close like fans on staves, but the light material allows you to do more fancy tricks with them because they catch the air (fans on plastic staves come crashing down real fast if you let go of them). All my feathers have been purchased from various sellers on-line. The white plumes that I use in this demo come from a pair of fans (on plastic staves) that I bought used on ebay for $50. They were being sold because one set of staves would not stay open (another reason to avoid plastic staves!). I used a super special wire cutting device (also known as toenail clippers) to cut the feathers off the malfunctioning staves. All the other supplies were already lying around my house!Materials needed to make ONE fan:
12 large ostrich plumes (they should be at least 4" wide and 18" long. The plumes I use here average 5-7" wide and 20" long). Be careful when buying plumes on line; there are several main types of ostrich feathers (spads, drabs, floss, tail feathers, wing plumes, male/femina plumes, etc.) and many sellers will show a picture of their nicest grade A+ prime femina wing plumes...but in the description note they are selling spads. This site has some pretty good descriptions of the difference between spads, drabs, and wing plumes. I avoid spads -- they look sort of mangy on fans.
String that matches the color of the plumes. For colors, use embroidery floss (double it to make it thicker). If the feathers are white, you can do what I did and just use white cotton twine (from my kitchen).
A big needle. The needle I have is metal and about 5" long.
One piece of foam-board, like this. This is to make the fan base. Depending on your color scheme, you might want to paint or cover the base in fabric.
You don't really need a ruler, but it's an option if you want to be very precise. Rhinestones and glue are optional for a sparkly finishing touch.
Materials: plumes, string, giant needle, ruler, scissors, foam board.
My foam board has some water damage from a radiator leak. I swear it's not cat pee.
These instructions assume that you are using a total of 12 feathers for one fan, but if you have more or less you can modify accordingly. In my opinion, 12 feathers per fan is the minimum necessary to get a nice full, fluffy look. Nine of the feathers will be attached to the "front" of the base, and 3 will be attached to the "back" of the base.
1. First, cut the fan base from the foam-board. I couldn't find my compass so I cut a length of string approximate 7" long, tied it around a pen, held the loose end down in the corner of the foam-board and drew a quarter circle that way. You could also trace around part of a plate, especially if you want each fan to have 180 degrees. I personally think the fans look nicer when then are less than 180 degrees each, so I cut the bases to 90 degrees. Cut one base for every fan you plan to make (I'm guessing most people want to make a pair, so cut two).
2. Next, punch a row of holes about 3/4" or 2cm from the upper edge using your unthreaded needle. There must be a total of 18 holes in the row, arranged in 9 pairs. Hold one feather against the base and punch a hole on either side of it to gauge how close each pair of holes must be. The feathers I used required a little less than 1/2" or 1cm. Space the pairs evenly apart from each other. It should look like this:
Fan base with top holes pre-punched.
Then, you have the option of punching a second row of holes, about 1.5" or 3 cm below the first set of holes. I did this with one fan, and the other I just punched the second row of holes as I sewed. I can't say one method was easier than the other -- so it might be a waste of two minutes to pre-punch the second row. If you do, this is what it will look like:
Fan base with top and bottom holes pre-punched.
3. Now you are ready to sew your feathers to the front of the base. Thread your giant needle and pull out about a foot of slack, but don't cut the string yet. Hold one feather in place against the base and come up from the other side with your threaded needle. (Make sure to place the feathers against the base with the feather tips cascading away from you!) Then send your needle back down through the adjacent hole, creating the first stitch around the first feather.
The first stitch, as viewed from the front of the fan base.
Stitch the remaining 8 "front" feathers across the first set of holes you punched. You can tighten or loosen the slack of the string as you go, depending on how much you need. Don't worry about how floppy the feathers are at this stage -- it's normal for the ends to be popping off the base!
Once the first row of stitches is done, all 9 "front" feathers will be loosely attached to the base. When you turn the base over, it should look like this:
Back of the fan base after the top row of stitches has been completed.
4. Time for the second row of stitches. Send your needle down to the bottom row of holes, and then stitch the lower portion of each feather to the base.
5. Once you've stitched the bottom row, both ends of the string will be on the same side of the base. Cut the string, pull it as taut as possible, and knot the two ends together. Cut any excess string and tuck it under some of the stitches.
Pull the strings as tight as possible and then knot them together.
Turn your fan around and it should look like this. It's almost done! Move it around a little bit to see where there are gaps in the feathers -- the 3 remaining "back" feathers will be added on the back of the base to fill in these gaps and create a fuller look. They will also cover up the exposed stitching.
6. Turn the fan back around so that the bottom of the base is facing you. You can punch more holes and stitch the "back" feathers to the base the same way you did the top, or just tuck the feathers into the back-side of the stitches already in place (this is what I do). Place them so that they fill in any gaps. The feathers should not be floppy any more! If necessary, you can use hot glue on the ends for extra hold. I find that the front feathers stay in place with just the string, but when I tuck the back feathers in, they do need some help from the glue gun to stay put.
The three back feathers, tucked through the top and bottom stitches from the front feathers.
Viola! The fan is done! Unless....
7. ...If you're like me, there can never be enough sparkle -- bust out the rhinestones and start bedazzling. On these fans, I glued small clear and aurora-borealis swarovksi crystals along the spine of each feather (it's a subtle touch, but they catch the light beautifully during a performance). Then I added some large cheap plastic rhinestones to the front and back base, for decoration and to cover up any exposed stitches on the back.