How To Bleach Feathers…

…or “Changing Birds in Mid-Stream.”

As you all know by now, I have been amassing to me a legion of feathers for the Halloween barn owl costume. The rooster schlappen has been ordered, the beautiful barn owl feathers from Leimomi have arrived, the other barn owl feathers in Reno are waiting to be retrieved….but is that enough for me?

A couple weekends ago, at the Le Societe de Pique-Nique event at Rengstorff House in Shoreline Park, our party took a little walk over to a nearby lake, where we were assaulted by 10000 pounds of goosepoop and an army of goose feathers. From the looks of it, there had been some massive goose battle recently, and the ground was littered with wing feathers. Like a kid in a candy shop, I scampered around picking them up – and Craig obligingly did as well, bless his heart – and I ended up with a grocery bag full of Canada Goose feathers of varying shapes and sizes.

The plan from the start was to bleach them and try to approximate, as closely as possible, the look of Barn Owl wing feathers. After a little online research and a night of experimentation, the feathers have come out a success! And here’s how I did it…

Materials & Tools
The Beauty Supply Shop:
– Lady Clairol Professional Hair Lightener
– 20% Hydrogen Peroxide solution
– application brush
– mixing bowl
– rubber gloves

At home:
– dishsoap
– a work surface (I used tinfoil to cover the counter)
– drying towel

Step 1: Prepare the Feathers. Wash them. Toss them in the bathtub, drizzle in some dishsoap, and work it through each feather. Rinse them thoroughly. Pat them dry on the towel. Depending on what kind of feathers you have, they will react differently when wet – I tried a couple turkey feathers along with my goose, and the turkey feathers were miserable wet sticks while the goosefeathers, of course, kept their shape and were fairly water-repellent.

Step 2: Prepare the bleach kit according to the directions. I hate when I read tutorials that say that, so I’ll tell you what to do. Pour the 4 oz. bottle of peroxide solution into the bowl, then stir the packet of powder in. Mix it well.

Step 3: Slather it on the feathers. When you’re “painting” the bleach onto the feathers, make sure to get it between the little hair of the feather. The application brush you bought has stiff bristles, so it’s pretty easy. Brush the goop on BOTH sides of the feather.

Wear clothes you won’t mind getting bleach on.

Step 4: Let ’em sit. Half an hour is about right. You’ll see the color changing, and the longer you leave it on the lighter the color will get, but don’t leave it on for TOO long (an hour) because the bleach will start to eat the feathers.

Step 5: Wash them out. A hand-held shower head works perfectly for this. You want to rinse all the bleach out, but don’t worry about washing with soap, shampoo, or conditioner. Pat the feathers dry on the towel and leave them to air-dry. When they’re dry, “pet” them to fluff them back up. If you’re working with less-forgiving feathers than goose, you can blow dry them and fluff at the same time. Use a rat-tail or mustache comb to comb out the hairs, then just pet and work the hairs back together.

Real barn owl feathers in the middle, the bleached goose feather below

There you have it! Now your feathers are ready to be dyed or “painted” (in my case). You may have noticed that the feathers did not bleach to white. Very dark-colored feathers will not make it all the way to white. Instead, they’ll turn golden, which in my case is exactly what I wanted. Feathers work just like hair – if your hair is black and you try to bleach it blonde you’ll end up with orange. If you’re preparing your feathers for dying, the golden ones will still dye to brilliant colors, but not yellows or peaches, nothing lighter in value than they are already.

Goose feathers at top, turkey in middle, barn owl feathers below, pictured here with a rare and dangerous wild owl.

Next up I will be “painting” the feathers – adding on the spots and bars that Barn Owls have on their plumage. I’ve got a couple ideas for this, one of which already failed (RIT dye.). Look for a future post!


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