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Attaching Feathers to Hats

updated June 2021

With my love of 16th-century German costume, I find myself attaching many feathers to hats and shaping them. After years of trial and error, I have fine tuned methods for stitching/tieing feathers that works fabulously for multi-feather designs. Using this method my hats don’t lose any feathers and can take some fairly high winds!

Landsknecht style dockenbaret with ostrich feathers, side view.

This blog article will describe the methods I use to attach feathers to hats and covers some techniques for shaping ostrich feathers. There are many more ways to attach feathers and obtain the desired look. Other creators, like Whilja’s Corner use similar methods too and their sites are listed in the Awesomesauce References at the end of this article. For the sake of this presentation, I will just be discussing attaching feathers to wool or other cloth hats. I do not have extant examples or a list of historical sources for these methods; however, it employs methods and materials available in most periods. 

For this article, I have created a simplified drawing with some feather terminology; in avian biology, the terms are much more involved and vary by type of feather, e.g., primary flight, contour, tail, etc. Additionally, I will refer to ostrich drab or wing feathers. I use W.W. Swalef & Son as my feather supplier, and you can find more information about types of ostrich feathers available to purchase there if interested. They are a wholesaler, so you either have to buy a ton of feathers, or go in with several people.

General relevant feather terminology.
Top to bottom, small black ostrich drab, medium white ostrich drab, and medium natural ostrich wing feather.

Plan the Arrangement

Pinning Feathers

For attaching less than 3 feathers or felt prep’d feathers pinning is a reasonable method. I have seen complex arrangements that are pinned.  A hat pin or large veil pin works well for attaching feathers to hats.

Attaching feathers with a pin on the brim of a flat cap.
Pin in the flat cap brim.

The feathers can be quickly attached to the hat. They are easily removed and replaced as desired. However: some drawbacks include losing pins; challenges with seating large feathers; or the brim or crown may bend or do not take the pin well. 

Feathers pinned in flat cap.
What is poking me in the head?!?”…

Due to the above I usually use stitch/tie methods for attaching more than a couple feathers to a hat.

Stitch / Tie Method

The stitching/Tieing method is the primary way I attach more than 3 feather arrangements. It is very secure and straight forward.

Prepare the Feathers 

I use several methods to prepare the feathers to attach onto the hat.

Tie Thread Attachment Points on the Feather

I stitch thread directly into the feather for this method and create tie points to sew into the hat. It works well for medium to large feathers, such as long peacock feathers, turkey, and longer ostrich drabs and wing feathers. 

Needles, leather thread, and piece of leather I use as a thimble.

Materials – Feathers, heavy and medium needles, heavy upholstery or leather thread, wool felt, rabbit pelt glue (or modern alternative) (optional)

Piercing the quill with the needle.
Second attachment point on chinchilla ostrich wing plume.

Close up of attachment point 1 and 2 with tie threads.
Feather attachment points 1-3.
Attaching Feathers to Wool Felt

The other way I prepare feathers is using wool felt. This method works well for small to medium feathers, like ostrich drabs. I use this technique if I am filling in spaces in an existing composition or if the feathers are smaller. These area easy to pin as well. If you are attaching a lot of smaller feathers you may want to use the tape method described below.

Stitching felt onto the quill of a drab ostrich feather.
Felt sewn onto quill of a drab ostrich feather.

Attaching a drab to a hat with a pin.
Sewing in a natural ostrich drab with felt glued at the quill.

Attaching Feathers to Tape

Using a tape works great when attaching a ton of poofs, or clumps of smaller drab ostrich feathers, and tons of rooster feathers, those with small flexible shafts. Individual feathers can be stitched or glued into bias tape or ribbon.

Attaching small natural ostrich drabs to bias tape.

Materials – Feathers, heavy and medium needles, heavy upholstery or leather thread, bias tape or twill tape, rabbit skin glue (or craft glue) (optional)

Stitching the feathers to the tape, piercing the quills of each feather.
Stitching the tape together, piercing the quill on each pass, sandwiching the feathers.

Attaching the sample to a flat cap.
Sample attached to a flat cap.

Attaching the Feathers to the Hat

Once all the feathers are prepared, they can be stitched/tied or pinned into the hat. This section depends on the style of hat and the number of feathers you are arranging, and the below directions should be adjusted accordingly. If doing feather arrangement all the way around a hat, evenly space feathers all the way around using the tie in method or tape depending on the size. You can fill in any gaps with smaller feathers. 

Top view of child’s German style hat with tied in feathers.
Top of tellerbarret style hat with feathers tied in a full circle.

It is also useful to test the feather placement initially using loopy bows instead of knotting the feathers into place or pinning.

I generally put the lining in the hat then attach the feathers. The drawback of doing it in this order is the threads will be visible. However, the benefit is the feathers are easy to remove and replace because you can see and clip the threads holding the feathers.

Inside view of knotted thread inside a hat with linen lining.
Inside view of knotted thread inside a hat without lining.

Stitching the Tied Feathers to the Hat

For example, if an upward-pointing composition is desired, stitch the 2nd attachment point, so the feather is perpendicular to the band, pointing up in the desired direction. 

Attachment point 1 & 2 of the feather exaggerated.
The cap with the feather attached and the brim turned up.

If an angled arrangement is desired, stitch the 2nd attachment point, so the feather is at an angle (like 30 degrees) or parallel to the band, pointing in the desired direction. 

Slightly angled parallel feather placement on a flat style cap.
The parallel attachment points are in the crease created by the the crown and brim.

If attaching enormous ostrich wing feathers to a flat large 16th-century German-style hat, they could be attached perpendicular to the brim. They can be attached to themselves and supporting the brim. Then it can be covered with a crown topper, which could be stitched.

Top of tellerbarret type hat without crown cover.
Top of tellerbarret style hat with crown cover.
Attaching the Felt or Tape Feathers

Felt and tape attached feathers can both be pinned or sewn directly into the hat. I prefer to stitch them in. Where to stitch will depend significantly on the arrangement and style.

Ostrich drabs attached to bias tape, sewn into the band area of a hat.
Inside view of ostrich drabs attached to bias tape, sewn around one layer of a tellerbarret brim.

Notes on Feather Styling

Now you have all your feathers in the hat and look like a ruffed up ostrich… “what now!”? Style those feathers! There are many ways to style feathers for finished hat compositions.

In general, I shape the feathers when I am stitching them into the hat. I will shape the rachis in the desired direction. When I first started attaching feathers, I was super careful with each feather; now, I really “get ahold” of the rachis and barbs of ostrich feathers. Manual shaping works with most feathers, such as rooster, ostrich, pheasant, peacock, etc. Generally, it will work to achieve the desired shape for more straightforward arrangements.

For complex ostrich feather arrangements and when I desire more curl, I use a low heat curling iron. Just pretend you are curling really bleached hair, so keep the temperature low.

Curling feathers with a 3/4 inch curling iron on low.
Wrapping feathers around the curling iron.
Short drabs curled with a curling iron.

Another styling technique is to individually curl the barbs 2-3 at a time like ribbon on a present using the edge of a pair of scissors.

Curling the barbs of a drab ostrich feather.
Curing the barb of an ostrich feather using the edge of a scissor blade.
Curled barbs of a drab ostrich feather.

I highly recommend testing each of these out on test feathers before trying it on your arrangement. Additionally, it can be done before attaching the feathers if you already have the styling sorted out.

Another shaping technique I utilize is tying together individual feathers that are already attached to the hat. This method further shapes and stabilizes the arrangement. They do come loose over time. I generally catch loose tie points as I go and repair as needed.

Hopefully this article will give you some awesome ideas!

If you have questions or need more info, feel free to contact me. I am not a feather styling expert, and there are excellent articles out on the internets. I suggest visiting the links below and checking out a variety of tutorials before starting.

Awsomesauce References

Feather, feathers and plumes! by whiljascorner

Pimped Out Plumes!!!! (AKA: Decorated Ostrich Plumes as Illustrated in “The First Book of Fashion: The Books of Clothes of Matthaus and Viet Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg”), by Casa de Kissa

How to create Ostrich Plumes , by Lynn McMasters

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