Scientific American 49, 18.8.1855
Dyeing Feathers - In our last article the method of dyeing feathers black was described, and although it was not intended originally to say any more respecting them, another article on the subject will be found useful to many, as such information is difficult to obtain.
The feathers of birds colored with the richest hues, are one of the most beautiful ornaments in animated nature. Some savage nations have exhibited great skill in blending the beautiful feathers of birds into various articles of dress, but the ancient Mexicans carried the arranging of colored feathers to such degree of perfection as to use them the same as we do letters[?]. Feathers are used in fress in all coutries, and it will have been observed that they become fashionable ornaments every ten years.
All feathers in their natural state are somewhat greasy, and resist efforts to color them in that condition. This grease must first be removed by steeping them for about fifteen minutes in very strong warm soap suds, after which tehy are washed, and are fit to be dyed. Being of an animal substance, their nature is akin to that of wool and silk. The same coloring matters and processes are therefore employed to dye them as for silk dyeing, only they require a little higher temperature of liquor, and more time in it. They are colored by themselves in small neat copper kettles, and carefully handled. By using the same substances, therefore, and pursuing the same methods as those described in the foregoing articles for dyeing silk, the same kinds of colors will be produced on feathers. The strenght of the mordants and the dye stuffs must be proprotioned to the weight of feathers. Blue is colored with the sulphate of indigo; yellow with turmeric made slightly sour with vitriol, and red with cochineal. Logwood, muriate of tin, and a little tartar will color them purple, and a mixture of the sulphate of indigo and turmeric will dye them green. Feathers for ladies' hats, however, should never be colored with turmeric, because sunlight soon dissipates it; fustic therefore should be used in place of the turmeric. Orange can be dyed with annato. They can be dyed a most beautiful gold color by giving them a light dip in annato, then dyeing them a full yellow on the top with a liquor of quercitron bark and the muriate of tin at a scalding heat. A rich maroon can be dyed by steeping the feathers for an hour in a strong hot liquor of peachwood, and a very little alum and logwood.
If feathers are carefully handled they can be dyed more easily than silk. Our farmer's daughters, by following the above directiosn, and using the receipts presented in preceding articles, may dye white feathers any color they choose.
It will have been noticed that some artificial ostrich plumes have exceedingly long and delicate fibers. These are not natural, but made by tuing a number of fibers together. This work must be done with great care, so as to have the knots very small. These fibers are gracefully curled and very showy; the curling is also doen by art, and in a most simple manner.
Before the feathers are quite dry (after being dyed) these fibersa re drawn a numbers of times between the thumb and the edge of an ivory knife, like that used by book folders, and from this action become beautifully curled. This operation must be performed delicately, and continued until the deather is dry. To facilitate the operation, it is generally carried on before a fire. The curls thus produced will not come out again until the feather becomes wet. A feather may be dyed in varigated colors by suspending it by a cord and immersing one end in the dye liquor, then the other in a different liquor. Thus, to color one part of a feather yellow and the other green, suspend or hold the feather in a turmeric or fustic liquor, then take it out and wash it, and add a little sulphtate of indigo to the same liquor, and hold that part of it to be dyed green (excluding the part to be kept yellow) in it for ten minutes, when it will be colored green. In this way, by carefully handling in different dye liquors, one feather may be dyed so as to have part a purple, another part yellow, another part blue, another green, and another red. This art is a very interesting one to practice. By a little ingenuity and taste, many young ladies might introduce some new and beautiful articles of domestic manufacture composed in part of colored feathers.