The feathers will obviously be the most important part of this gown. They are the statement, and need to be done well in order to get the right look. I've considered other ways to do "feathers," by using fabric, or some other kinds of fringe, but none of those options would end up looking enough like real feathers, or would be so time-intensive that I might as well just spend the money on the real thing!
Real barn owl feathers are not available, of course, so I am approximating them with rooster feathers, specifically schleppen, which are a kind of feather from the tail. These are long, with a lot of movement, but most importantly the color is correct. They come in all different colors and can be dyed, but the tawny with speckles is what I'm looking for. Also, rooster feathers are stiffer than ostrich, which would be too floaty for this gown.
Rooster feathers are not quite the right shape, so I am planning to fade from the thin feathers at the top to a thicker feather at the bottom of the skirt. This feather will be barred rock feathers (I guess that's a kind of bird) that can be dyed to the tawny color I'm looking for. Whereas the schleppen comes strung into a trim already, the rock feathers come individually, and I will have to string them myself (eek!).
Feathers are expensive! The rooster and rock feathers are the cheapest of the feathers I've found to work with - about $8/strung foot for the schleppen, and $5.50/35-45 rock feathers. The ideal feather would be goose, but that comes in at $6/3 INCHES. Yikes. Just how many feet of feathers I will need is not known right now, but I plan to make the robe as simple and NOT full in skirt as possible, to avoid insane costs. That black hemguard at the bottom may be getting deeper and deeper!
The method I will use will be to lay the strung feathers across the gown horizontally, stacking the lines from bottom to top, so each row overlays the previous. This should give a natural look, if the rows are spaced close enough together. Depending on the length of the schleppen, this could take A LOT of rows, or fewer than I think. It will be a matter of careful measuring and economic cutting.
Feather images and prices are from Lamplight Feathers.