Let me say first of , that I would never collect anything that is considered “protected”, such as ivory tusks, fur of certain animals or feathers from exotic or endangered birds. The feathers that I use to decorate were purchased at estate sales and are very old, back when it was “the thing” to use them in clothing and such. I feel I am recycling by not tossing them in the garbage and that they are being appreciated; I’m giving some new life to the critters. [Editor's note : it remains illegal to possess feathers from most non-game birds, due to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Collect carefully, because you can't always prove where you got your feathers if the law comes knocking!]
I use and display hats from the 1920s and 30s with feathers, or use loose examples to “adorn” an old picture. One of my favorite pictures is an Louis Icart (a print mind you, I simply cannot afford the real thing) called Smoke, featuring a sultry young lady on her chaise lounge, cigarette in hand, and (partially) covered in feathers. The wire is too long on the frame so I added a feather at the top. Looks pretty good!
I also found a fan made of feathers at an auction and it matched my old vase filled with peacock feathers. The colors are fabulous and make me smile.
A 1908 Modern Priscilla magazine has an article called “Woman’s Part in the Feather Goods Industry.” Beautiful ostriches are pictured near the top of the article which gives a fascinating story of the world’s largest bird and how they were raised and treated. Near the bottom is another picture of a group of people at long tables. The caption reads “Corner of Factory Where Plumes are Matched and Sewn.” The factory appears to have been in Southern California, where many ostrich farms were located. Feathers were an important part of the fashion world in the first part of the 20th century. I learned that the feathers were plucked about every nine months and that it was virtually painless with new ones growing in shortly thereafter.
The process includes matching colors and sizes, then cleaning them on a washboard. They are then laid out in the sunshine to dry and fluff. It was interesting to learn that this part was done by men. After this stage, the women took over. Their job was to select the finest plumes, arranging by colors and sizes, then sew them together into a boa or to beautify a costume or evening gown.
I consider feathers a thing of beauty and understand their desirability. You might want to consider “feathering your nest” with a few of them!