The dyed feathers? 

Is it possible to dye feathers? Technically yes. It’s a protein fiber, but does it work? My friend Andrea asked me if it was possible so I had to try. Why? In reenactment society you often come across people wearing dyed ostrich feathers. Often dyed as the ones we put in our Easter decorations. Like the once on this picture.

Is it possible to get a dye as strong as theese once? I started with a white ostrich feather.

I didn’t have any alum at home so I had to use cream of tartar as only mordant. The weight of the feather was 4 g. I used 100% of mordant. To be able to see how the pigment was going to set on the feather I also put in a piece of white wool fabric, handwoven. It weighed 9g.

They were in the mordant bath for 1h.

At the same time I boiled skins from red onions, 49g. That means ten times as much dyestuffs as the weight of the feather. That is A LOT!!!


 After the 1 hour of boiling.  It was almost black.

I separated the skins from the dye water and put the water in the pot with the feather and the fabric. 

After 1 h I took them up.


The feather and the fabric had both gotten a brownish color. But the fabric was dark and thick, the dye on the feather was pale and quite seen though. After the dried they looked like this.

As you can see the feather didn’t receive the same color as the wool. And to be honest I was surprised that it was so pale. The bath was REALLY strong.

Did I get the Easter colors? No. Do I think it’s possible to get them? No. Not with plant dyes.

Do you know any medieval sources that are mentioning feather dyeing? I don’t and I would really love to have some original recipes to follow. Help me!!

/ Maria
ps. I’m sorry for the lousy quantity of the pictures


4 reaktioner på ”The dyed feathers? 

  1. It would be cool to try with Madder, Reseda and Indigo….and with the alum as mordant. But it might be like with alpaka that the fibers do not take in the colour as much and that the shine of the fibers are more ”pale”.

    • Alum is on the list so is also reseda, madder and indigo.
      I’ve tried indigo in the past but it just didn’t bite. It was like dyeing a plastic bag. I’ve must have made something wrong then.
      / Maria

  2. I think the colour was good. You shouldn’t expect exactly the same colour on both, yes they are both protein fibres, but different proteins, silk also gives paler colours than wool. The physical structure of the feather, it’s a much airier and open structure than dense wool, will also affect how we perceive the colour as it will make it more dispersed

    • Right you are 🙂
      Needs more testing and I really should get some more alum.
      I used all during the weekends dyeing madness.


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