The ostrich feather was once a highly valued commodity during the 19th Century, as Victorian and Edwardian woman sought out big plumes to decorate their flamboyant hats. Since then, the feather has fallen from grace and now its main use is removing dust or in tacky carnival costumes. We aim to enhance the value of the ostrich feather, a very specialised product coming from the 150-year-old ostrich feather industry in Oudtshoorn, South Africa. Going beyond the aesthetic and decorative and rather returning it to its former glory in a more integrated and practical way, within modern society where big feathered hats are no longer stylish.
Collecting feathers from the ostrich is the removal of dead material and is the equivalent to cutting fingernails causing no pain to the bird. It could be a very functional interior textile, as well as a new solution to the fashion industry, as the new ‘fur’, without all the death usually associated with fur.
Currently, in the worldwide ostrich farming industry, the animal’s main purpose is to be slaughtered after only one year for their nutrient-rich meat. After spending only a couple of weeks in Oudtshoorn, South Africa talking to farmers and locals, the issue was clear that there was a need for change within the ostrich farming industry. Introducing an alternative industry where the ostriches are only kept for their feathers, could mean that they could live their full lifespan while providing feathers without deterioration in quality for up to 35-40 years.
Only the natural uncoloured feathers are chosen, as they would be found on the bird. By removing the central shaft, and only using the soft, thread-like barbules, the feathers can be combined to make a yarn that is then woven into a fabric. The aim of the project is to bring the manufacturing back to Oudtshoorn and actually have the feathered fabrics locally produced in the place where it all began. Using the feathers within the fabric differs from the way that ostrich feathers are currently being used in the fashion industry (usually just sewn or glued on top of fabric as decoration). The breathable, washable, soft, warm and incredibly lightweight textural qualities of the feathers mean they can be used in a variety of practical ways.
By harnessing the qualities of the feathers and creating a new craft through these feathered textiles, it could not only save many animals lives but also could create a new industry of economic value to the small deserted town of Oudtshoorn.
Handwoven ostrich feather textiles. The feathers themselves are woven into the warp while creating this very special textile. Only the natural (un-dyed) ostrich feathers are used, sourced from the 150-year-old industry in Oudtshoorn in South Africa.
Natural Ostrich feathers (from South Africa), Bio-Cotton (from The Netherlands)
(Alternatives use Kid Mohair from South Africa also)
Elsa Young, Pascale Theron, Mitchell van Eijk, Femke Reijerman,