Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How To Dye Grizzy Saddle Feathers

I hand dyed feathers this weekend! Want to know how to dye feathers?  read on...

undyed grizzly, cream and grey pelts
The feather craze has hit. While the trend of long feathers worn in the hair and in earrings is just heating up, the sparse availability and sky rocketing cost of feathers is making it nearly impossible to find them anymore. If you have favorite or demanded colors that can't be found anymore, a good solution is to dye the colors yourself. 

Pro Chemical dyes

When dying feathers, or any natural protien fiber such as leather, silk, wool ect you need to use an acid dye.  I went to Pro Chemical for my dye because they have tons of color selection from several brands available and each one will color differently. For this batch I used PRO ONE SHOT and PRO WASHFAST because those lines had the fluorescent dyes such as fluorescent and flavine yellow and rhodamine red that make feather colors really POP.  Be careful when selecting colors not to pick pigments or paints. Those are for surface coating - not dyeing.

The kind of feathers I dyed are called saddle feathers coming from a hybrid rooster. Good luck finding a pelt for under 150.00 these days!  This bird takes a whopping 2 years to mature and there are no more feathers ready until spring 2012.  Expect bidding wars - if you can find them for sale anywhere - and plan on paying 2.00 - 5.00 per feather. Feather prices are suibject to steep increases based on demand.

The stripped pattern is called grizzly. Also there are other saddle feathers that are solid and several grades of quality that effect length and such. The best information on saddle feathers and their grades can be found on the Caddis Fly Shop website.

You can dye any feather. Greys yield deeper darker colors, creams translate brights, and natural grizzly feathers dye vivid while maintaining the black stripes. Badger feathers (they have a single black stripe that travels down the length of the feather shaft) pick up colors nicely and the stripe is retained.

If you want a bright feather color,  I recommend cream, white or palest silvers. If your feathers are dingy or greasy, brighten them up and clean them with some diaper white detergent.  Do a practice batch on cheap feathers to figure out the ratios. It is possible to burn feathers with diaper white and dye. The feathers will become curly and stiff, crunchy and brittle if they are burned.


To dye feathers, you will need:

1 metal stock pot (that is dedicated to use for dyeing)
sink and running water
powdered dye  ( 1-5 TB for half a pot of water amount varies by color, feather quantity and water amount)
stove top
white vinegar
hair dryer with
gloves or REDURAN (to avoid coloring hands or removing color from hands)
a dye journal to write down the ratios so you can repeat any results


Pelts simmers in red dyebath
Fill a pan 1/3 to 1/2 way full of water and heat to simmer on stove top. Once steaming, add the dye. It dissolves better when the water is hot. (fluorescent yellow and aqua shades require more than reds, blues and purples) you can use a color wheel to mix your own shades. Jot down water / dye / feather / time ratios so if you get amazing results you know how to recreate them.

You can dye 2-3 pelts at a time. Gently simmer the pelts for 5 minutes to soften the skins, using tongs to stir the feathers and keep them submerged and  then remove from heat and set aside for 10 more minutes. It is possible to put the vinegar in the simmering dye bath, but it is too smelly for me so I use it during the rinsing.


Pour a sink with 2 gallons of water and 2 cups of white vinegar.
Put on gloves and use tongs to pick the feathers up out of the cooled dye. If you plan to use the dye for another batch, squeezed the dye liquid out of the pelts back into the pot. Now place the wet pelts into the vinegar/water solution and agitate to rinse to release the dye from the feathers.  Let soak for a few minutes and agitate again.

Pelt being rinsed in vinegar/water solution
In the second sink, have warm water and synthropol to further release over dye from the feathers until the water is clear (some color will always be present due to color release from the skin.  Now squeeze as much water from the pelt as possible - do NOT wring because this will tear feathers from the pelt.


Roll feathers in a towel to remove more water and then dry them on a high heat setting with a hair dryer just like you dry your hair. Keep the heat moving. Once feathers are dry, flat on paper towel over cardboard and pin the skin flat for a day or so to dry the skin completley. Some grease will release from the skin as it dries (thus the towel.)


I dyed 33 pelts in 2 evenings.  It was so much fun.  What do you think of these colors?

I used fluorescent yellow, hot pink, mountain aqua, rhodamine red, strawberry red, wild iris and brilliant blue.  Using fluorescent and neon colors can make black-light responsive colors and add a bright factor to mixed colors. I chose red/yellow/blue to mix my own spectrum of colors ...

If you enjoy long feathers, check out my Etsy shop to see some feather jewelry - bright colors coming soon ...