1795 Owl Robe: The Perils of Plumage

Having survived the first half of the year’s costuming rushes and events, it’s time, at last, to start collecting materials for this year’s Costume of Insanity, the Barn Owl Halloween costume.

Back when I first started this blog, I did a rough estimate on the number of feet I would need of strung rooster schlappen. Click HERE to read about strung schlappen, and HERE to read about my initial estimate of cost for these feathers. Of course, this was some time ago, and the design of the robe has changed to include a longer skirt, from an empire waist.

I decided tonight was the night to measure my pattern and come up with the exact calculation for footage a la plumage. My formula went like so:

Length of skirt / interval of rows of feathers = # of rows of feathers
(# of rows)(width of skirt) = # of inches of feathers needed
#of inches / 12 = # of feet of feathers

My first calculations:

60″(L) / 3″ = (20 rows)(68″) = 1360″ / 12 = 113.3 feet.

Feeling proud of myself, I went to the Lamplight Feather website and saw that the feathers I wanted were sold in 12 foot bundles for $86.50, a discount-per-foot for the bulk order. Back to my needed footage of, rounded up, 115 feet, I divided that number by 12 to get the “quantity,” then multiplied the quantity by the price, $86.50.

Then a heart-attack ensued and I fainted for 2 minutes. The total was $830!!!!!!!!!!

Back to the drawing board.

Feather cheat #1 – I saw on the description of the feathers that they are 6″ – 8″ wide. I cut out three pieces of 7″ wide paper, and lapped them at what looks like an acceptable overlap, changing my increment from 3″ to 5″. Punched into the formula, this still came out to $484.40! At a 6″ increment, it came out to $407.41.

Feather cheat #2 – reducing the double and triple box pleats in the back. This reduces the width of the skirt. The 5″ increment, with a 48″ wide skirt came out to $346; the 6″ came to $288.30. Doing better, but still not where I wanted it.

It then occured to me that the method I am planning for blending the feathers into the openings of the pleats will cover any double box pleats I might have painstakingly put in. In other words, what would be the point of having anything more than singles? I used single box pleats on the yellow mockup of the robe, and they turned out the be lovely indeed. Reducing down to 3 single box pleats lowered the price still.

Feather cheat #3 – bring up the train. At 60″, the train of the robe was a good 10″ longer than my yellow linen mockup, which trailed the ground quite nicely at 50″. I had planned to add a black hem guard to the feather robe, fairly deep, so for my final calculation I shortened the train back to 50″. All those calculations later, I got to $242.20. Rounded up (a quantity of 2.7 to 3), add the shipping and the tax, and I’ve come in at $290.91.

The yellow linen robe, showing the 50″ train

This is more than I wanted to pay. It is by far the most expensive piece of frippery I’ve ever tried to make. The hope and plan is that I will be able to auction the robe on eBay, or sell it on Etsy, but my hopes are not high for that. Maybe I will hold onto it for some year when I go to Carnevale.

Taffeta in “Vanilla”

A little bit of good news to sweeten this whole business: the silk and cotton lining for the base of this robe cost be about $25 after shipping and tax, from Fabric.com. I ended up with an off-white taffetta, lined in off-white broadcloth. The good thing about the taffetta is that I only needed a small amount. The feathers will be mounted on a broadcloth base, the lengh of the skirt, so the pretty taffetta only need extend down just below the empire waist, before being covered in feathers.Cotton Broadcloth Lining

More good news: I’ve acquired a large number of canada goose wing feathers, and quite a few turkey feathers. I plan to bleach the goose feathers and “paint” them with hair dye to resemble owl feathers. These will be used on the mask, in addition to a billion other feathers (some of them real owl feathers courtesy of The Dreamstress), and I may try to blend them into the skirt in places, either near the top, or towards the bottom. The dying of feathers will be an adventure in itself, and is sure to be followed by funny pictures and a tutorial!


  • The Dreamstress

    June 22, 2009 at 6:11 AM

    The feathers from me should be in the post! I just need to double check that they got sent.

    As another feather cheat idea, why don't you put a full length of schlappen around the hem/border of the train, and 'sprinkle' individual feathers over the rest of the train, making them thickest at the hem and thinest nearer to the inside/top of the train? That way you could still have double pleats that would be seen, and you would save on feather money. Of course, you would also need to do a ton of handwork (eek!), and buy more fashion fabric (eek!), but it might still be less work, and your skirt might hang better (the weight of all those feathers is going to add up)

  • Lauren R

    June 22, 2009 at 7:03 AM

    I can't wait for them to get here! I'll take picks of my mighty-pile-o-feathers when I have them all collected together.

    I like the "sprinkle" idea…I can see it in my mind, which is always the first step to making something work. This whole feather thing is going to be kindof organic in construction, I think – I have a pretty good idea of how to do it, but it might get futzy towards the top. I'm not too sad about losing the double and triple box pleats – I promise I will save them for another robe, of "normal" materials, that I'll make for evening occasions in the future.

    You're right about the weight. I may need supports at the empire waist, which is period, but I hope to avoid it.

    Any luck finding your velvet?

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