swan featherMany years ago I had the idea of making a swan feather cloak using hessian as the base material and tying in feathers with invisible thread. I bought the hessian, the easy bit, and then wandered around trying to find swan feathers.

One Sunday we went to Windsor, where the Queen has lots of swans on the River Thames, and tried picking up feathers from the riverside and underneath the bridge. This was not a raging success, ending up with very few and becoming very muddy and damp in the process.

Eventually I tracked down a source of swan feathers and a lovely man called Dave gave me a large black plastic bag full of feathers. Swans moult once a year and I had to wait for a few months for the late Spring and the moulting. By the way there is no point asking me where because I never reveal my sources. Here is a tip – go for the obvious!

However, you can get feathers from geese, ducks and sometimes chickens that are just as beautiful as swans' and mix them in with the occasional swan feather. There is a variety of geese called Sebastopol geese, like the Crimean War battle, that have gloriously curled white feathers and they look like ballerinas from Swan Lake when they run. I wish I had a couple of acres to keep them on – maybe one day. They are also very good natured geese, so if you have a penchant for poultry you could do worse.

The feathers from Dave were quite dirty and many were covered in mud and muck. I had no idea how to clean them, but this is what I did and it worked like a charm!

  • Fill a sink with warm water and add some washing up liquid.
  • Swirl some feathers around the in the water until they are clean.
  • Rinse twice in warm water and lay out on a dry cloth, patting them carefully.
  • Put the damp feathers in a pillow case and tie it, Very Well Indeed, with string. Do not be careless at this point, it is very important that the feathers can't get out.
  • Put the pillowcase in a tumble dryer. Yes, I know it sounds horrendous but it actually works. Let them tumble around in the warm air until they are completely dry, and I mean totally dry.
  • When you take them out they will be beautifully clean, soft and fluffed and you will want to throw them in the air and let them fall all over you. Do not do this - because the problem with feathers is feather mite. This is not killed by washing or even the tumble dryer – you need a freezer. Put the feathers in a plastic bag, tie well again, and leave for three days in the freezer (this is why they need to be completely dry!) This kills the mites and can be used on old feather objects as well. Do remember the plastic bag, it would not be nice to have mites all over your frozen beans.
  • Take out the feathers give them a shake in the garden, and let the sun warm them up, bringing them back to white and lovely fluffiness.