Feathers come in two states; natural and painted. Most painted feathers are already contoured and ready for use being either “centers”, “lefts” or “rights”. Even though they have been processed, they still require proper care and storage. To understand how to care for feathers, it may be helpful to understand what a feather is. Feathers consist primarily of KERATIN, the same stuff that makes up hair and fish scales. Birds are covered by two types of feathers, contour and down. Contour feathers are made up of a long central shaft which is a hollow quill at the bottom, leading to a solid upper area called the RACHIS. From this center shaft radiates out the vane of the feather. The vane is made up of tiny barbs with barbules that link each of these “hairs” of the vane together. Rather than tearing or breaking upon impact, the barbs simply “let go” and move apart, (a bird can then refasten the barbs by running the feather through its beak). Down feathers have a shorter rachis and lack the barbs – thus their fluffy, loose appearance. Being an organic substance, feathers are prone to damage and destruction by bugs such as moths. To properly care for feathers, they should be treated and protected like wool.
Caring For and Storing Feathers
Caring for and storing feathers properly is imperative to protect and preserve their beauty. Handle your feather jewelry and accessories gently. Avoid breaking shafts or pulling out fibers. Clean soiled feathers with a damp cloth. Fluff and expand feathers back to natural shape by steaming over tea kettle or pan. Pheasant Tail, Wing or Duck pointer fibers that separate can be stroked with fingers to “zipper” fibers back into place. Some Dyed feathers are not colorfast and may bleed onto other feathers or fabrics when wet. Clean and polish all silver and metal components with a jewelry polishing cloth. Store feather jewelry and accessories separately and hanging from a jewelry stand or fixture or in a plastic accessories bag.
Cedar boxes are very popular for storage of feathers and other objects. Moths detest cedar and will not lay their eggs near it. The wood of cedar must be properly protected, and it may be necessary to regenerate its properties with cedar oil. Contour feathers can be also be individually wrapped in plastic bags with moth flakes in the bottom. Moth flakes (not moth balls or crystals) will not hurt the feather as long as it is kept at the bottom of a bag. Recheck and replace the flakes as necessary as they evaporate over time.
Taking the time and effort with proper care and storage can mean the difference between life and death for a precious artifact or a beautiful feather. Protect them as they are vulnerable, so that you may enjoy their amazing durability for a long time to come.
Please wear earring backs on your feather earrings to avoid loosing them. They are very lightweight and you may not feel them coming off.