02 December 2011

Shake Your Turkey Feather

So your Thanksgiving leftovers are long gone, but do you have any leftover turkey feathers?

Last week we visited the infamous Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, DE. Among their many amazing treasures was a turkey feather fan, which would have been used to clean a fireplace. While I don't have a picture to share with you (it's not currently listed on their online database and I didn't want to take a picture in the museum), I wanted to share my notes about how this fan appears to be constructed along with details about how to recreate one.

Items needed: 
  • 13 turkey feathers, approximately 8 to 10 inches long
  • black silk embroidery thread
  • a few inches of black silk ribbon
  • approximately 10 inches of linen tape, in white or off white, that is either 1/4in or 1/2in thick
  • linen thread
  • possibly a small chunk of beeswax

Step 1.
Arrange the feathers in the conventional fan shape. There should be a slight C-shaped curve when they are laid flat so that the back of the C curve is the part of the fan that would traditionally be decorated. 

Step 2.
Using silk thread (something akin in thickness to modern silk embroidery floss), tightly weave the thread between the feathers about one inch or a half an inch below the area where the feather stops being fluffy feathery. On the original that I saw, there was about a 2.5 inch break between the weaved silk thread and the end of the feathers. 

Step 3.
At the very bottom where the feather tips meet, wrap a piece of black silk ribbon around the tips so that they are covered and whip stitch the ribbon together between the feathers so that it is secure. 

Note: The ribbon on the example I saw looked to be similar to our China silk ribbon, not silk satin ribbon.

I'm thinking that it might be helpful to use a dab of beeswax to hold the feather tips together, hidden beneath the ribbon. 

Step 4. 
Just above the silk ribbon, wrapped around the center feather, loop a piece of linen tape and tie or sew it together. It should be like our modern wrist handbags, but I'm thinking this was used to hang the fan when not in use. 

Ta da, you should be done. Time to shake your turkey feathers and clean your fireplace. 


I've checked several museum databases and can't find an example. The only turkey fan my research produced was this 19th century example in the Mary Baker Eddy Library. If anyone knows of a source to help illustrate, please let me know. And if these directions aren't clear, I'm happy to help clarify. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your many enlightening posts. I enjoy reading them. I have been using turkey feathers for years to grain paint furniture, etc. and was given an entire dried wing from an historian associated with the Fort at No. 4 who stated that it was to be used to clean the fireplace. The wing feathers are much stronger than the tail feathers, which is what the fan is made of in your reference picture, and are a different shape. When the entire wing is dried there is no need to sew them together and they stay together exceptionally well. Just an FYI.


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