EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT
FEATHER FLOWERS, BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK

Feather flower effects add beauty, flash, mystery and color to any show.  While they can be effectively use anywhere in a show, they are most often included in the opening or closing segments a show.  The flowers should be well made and not look like cheap feather dusters.  The color of the blooms should not clash with the other colors used in the show.

Variegated (multi-colored) blooms add the maximum amount of color to a show. However, if the show has a central color scheme, you may want to coordinate the color of the blooms accordingly.  Red blooms add a richness of color to a show.  Yellow blooms appear larger than they really are.  Avoid using all blue or white blooms on an effect.  Blue blooms are not very visible and tend to fade into the green foliage.  White blooms will show soil with age.

While I have used both regular and rose flowers in my shows, I prefer not to mix them in a particular segment of the show.  Likewise, I do not like to mix Al DeLage’s Fastest Trick in the World (a vanish) with production effects.  An exception would be reappearing of the vanished bush with the Deluxe Candle to Bouquet or other production effect.  A number of floral productions, concluding with a botania, provide a most effective ending to a show.  Standing at attention, with a forty-two bloom Marshall Mighty Botania thrust into the air will bring "OH’s" and "AH’s" from the audience.  It presents them with a final image of the performer that they will long remember.

For many years, when anyone asked "What kind of feathers do Marshall’s use?", they were told they came from swans.  This bold-faced lie threw many a competitor off the track.  The truth is that swans are protected by federal law under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as many state laws.  Harming a swan (even accidentally), plucking or possessing their feathers is a violation of the Act and carries a penalty of up to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations and up to six months in prison.  What Marshall’s really uses are grade A parried nazurias (goose) feathers.  They are the most expensive feathers available, but the best feather flowers are made with them.

Parrying (shaving) the quill of the feathers makes them less brittle and very flexible.  This helps to prevent the feathers from breaking.  While parried nazurias are the most attractive and suitable, they are also the most expensive.  They will, with proper care, outlive their purchaser.  Marshall’s uses nothing but parried nazurias, except for a few special orders, which use pallets.  I recently sold a botania in fine condition to Mike McDade. Prior to my obtaining this effect, it was owned by three magicians.  The second two had purchased it from the estate of the former owner. All of the former owners, with one exception, are now deceased. But the botania goes on entertaining audiences year after year.

Other, less expensive, feathers are used to produce feather flowers, including turkey, hackle (chicken), and pallet (goose) feathers.  Turkey and hackle feathers are relatively inexpensive when compared to goose feathers, but they produce a poor quality bloom, that does not last and leave "fuzzies" wherever they appear.  Pallets "troop" well, are very sturdy, and tend to be larger than nazurias (thus produce larger blooms).  However, they are much less flexible than the nazurias.  They may prove satisfactory for some performers.  For example, Marshall’s remade Harry Blackstone’s Girl to Botania (Girl from Tangiers) with pallets.

Feather flower blooms come in several varieties. The most popular is the large "magician’s bloom", but carnation and rose blooms are also available. My personal preference is roses, because they look more like the real flowers than the other two types of blooms. They can be mixed with real roses to allow for handouts of the real flowers to ladies in the audience.

Since feather flower effects can be quite expensive, it is important that proper care be given to their use and storage. When using these effects, pay strict attention to following the manufacturer’s instructions. If you wish to rearrange the position of a bloom, do not grab the top of the flower and bend without holding the stem at the bottom of the bloom. This will prevent the stem from breaking loose from its attachment to the body of the bouquet.

It’s not a good idea to place your hands on the blooms any more than is absolutely necessary.  Oil, sweat and dirt from your hands can be deposited on the blooms.  When you do handle the blooms, never run the blooms through your hand in any direction other than from the stem to tip of the bloom (the direction in which they compress).  If they are run in the opposite direction, the feathers will split and separate. If a feather should split, pull the split between your moisten fingers from quill to tip.  This may restore the feather.

While it is acceptable to store the blooms in a sleeve or their tubes to transport them to a show, upon arrival, the feather flowers should be the first items unpacked and stored in an open fashion.  Never pack the blooms where they can be crushed by the weight of other equipment.

STORE YOUR FLOWERS OPEN, UPRIGHT AND COVERED

The blooms should be stored open, with the blooms uppermost.  Keep the open by storing them in a vase or quart size "mason" fruit jar. Make sure the item you are storing the effect in is heavy enough to prevent tipping over.  I like to place a few marbles in the bottom of the container to prevent it from tipping over (stones would do).  Never store them in a cloth or plastic sleeve, or a tube (i.e., botania cones) or in a closed position.  Storing them closed compresses the feathers and trains them to stay closed.  When you try to use them, they will look like feather dusters.

If your blooms begin to droop, hang them upside down until they look right.  Two methods have been successfully used to open stubborn blooms.  Some manufacturers and performers advocate the use of steam to open blooms.  I do not favor this method.  The wires that make the stems, as well as other metal parts, will rust. However, it does open blooms and also helps to clean them.  To open blooms with steam, use a teakettle with a small spout.  When the kettle begins to steam, hold the center of the flower in the path of the steam and shake it.  A clothes steamer can also be used to accomplish the same thing.

I recommend the use of heat to open stubborn blooms.  It will open the blooms nicely and put that "curl" back in each petal.  However, heat must be applied carefully to avoid permanent damage due to scorching or burning.  Use a 300-watt spot light bulb . Do not use and infrared or heat lamps, because the temperatures produced by them is too high and may permanently damage your feathers.  Cover the bulb with the type of guard used with incubator lamps.  You can usually purchase this item from a chick hatchery or a farm supply house.  The guard prevents the feathers from coming in direct contact with the lamp. If you do not have a guard, be careful to avoid any direct contact with the bulb.  Watch for a small whiff of smoke. In a pinch, you can use an ordinary light bulb.  Generally, the first time this happens, it is the dust "burning off" of the feather.  Do not be overly concerned, but check to make sure the feathers are not being damaged.  Apply heat to the feathers in intervals, rather than continuously.  Soon you will see the feathers "curl" and the blooms will open.

The greatest enemies of feather flowers are sunlight, dust and moth larvae.  Avoid direct sunlight, as it will fade the vivid colors of your blooms.  Dust will make the blooms look dingy and dirty.  To avoid these problems, cover the blooms with a sheet of opaque plastic cover made from a large plastic garbage bag cut in two (single thickness).  Watch for moth larvae, as they will eat small holes in feathers (and your silks).  A few mothballs scattered about the storage area will help avoid this damage.

Nothing short of redying the feathers can restore faded colors.  However, dirty blooms may be cleaned and restored. I am aware of three methods used to clean feather flowers.  The first and preferred method uses cornmeal.  Cornmeal provides a mild abrasive that will remove dirt that has not become imbedded in the feather.  It also adds oil to the feathers and helps to rejuvenate them.  Place about a cup of cornmeal in a plastic bag, which is large enough to hold your effect.

Carefully place the effect in the bag, with the blooms pointing toward the bottom of the bag.  With your hand, close the opening of the bag about the bottom of the effect.  Shake the bag vigorously for a minute or two.  Remove the effect from the bag and blow the cornmeal out with a hairdryer or vacuum cleaner with the tube in the exhaust (blower) outlet.  Alternately, you can "bang" the center of the bush against the heal of your hand. Be careful not to damage the blooms.  Repeat this action if necessary.  Be sure to get all of the cornmeal out of the effect before trying either of the following methods.  If the blooms cannot be restored in this manner, you may wish to try one of the two following methods.  Be warned, these methods may cause some damage to the blooms and you may wish to avoid them.

The second method uses dry cleaning fluid (or Renuzit).  A word of caution — dry cleaning fluid is toxic and highly flammable — it should not be used in-doors.  Dip each bloom into a pail of the cleaning solution and shake them.  When you are finished, stand store the blooms open in their container.  Disadvantages of using dry cleaning fluid are that it (1) removes the natural oils from the feathers, (2) makes the feathers brittle and (3) loosens the floral tape used on the blooms, making it a gummy mess.  You will probably have to replace all of the floral tape on the effect.  To replace the oils in the feathers, use the cornmeal method cited earlier.  Replacing the oils in the feathers will make them less brittle.  Finally open the blooms if necessary after all of the cleaning fluid fumes have evaporated.

The final and most drastic method uses soap and water.  Since it can damage your bloom by causing the dyes to bleed, this method should be used after everything else has failed.  Swirl each bloom about in pail of cold soapy water and hang them on a line to drip dry.  While wet the blooms look horrible, once they have dried, they should look fine.

Buy well-made feather flowers from a reputable manufacturer who warranties their workmanship, take care for them and they will give you many years of service.

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