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"“Stuck a feather in his hat...”" Topic

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687 hits since 8 Mar 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 11:18 a.m. PST

I've been painting feathers in hats for years, and it suddenly occurred to me that I was just winging it. grin

So what actual feathers would a Pennsylvania Associator wear in his hat? And what colors would they be?

And how difficult was it to dye ostrich plumes?

attilathepun4708 Mar 2018 11:42 a.m. PST

Answer to the third question would be: It depends on whether the plume is still on the ostrich.

Extrabio1947 Supporting Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 12:08 p.m. PST

I would think wild turkey feathers would be readily available. Meat on the table, feathers on the hat.

historygamer08 Mar 2018 12:47 p.m. PST

How do you know a PA Associator (militia) would even wear a feather?

I often wondered where the British LI got all those feathers for their hats when the hit Philly and if they were already green and red, or if they had to dye them?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 1:29 p.m. PST

No one's mentioned passenger pigeon feathers.

nevinsrip Sponsoring Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 2:04 p.m. PST

John, I thought that the were deer tails?

M C MonkeyDew08 Mar 2018 2:13 p.m. PST

Geese would have been plentiful.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 2:15 p.m. PST

Despite what Kevin will say, the Associators were not exactly militia. They were an ASSOCIATION of concerned citizens who were (very) reluctantly brought under Pennsylvania control by the pacifist Quaker Assembly after the fighting started. But that's a different topic.

They were uniformly dressed. That included their hats. All descriptions have them wearing feathers in their hats.
I googled images of turkey feathers, so that's what I'll do.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 2:21 p.m. PST

Incidentally, I remember reading an article in Scientific American years ago about how the human eye discerned colors. It listed around 20 different ways color could be seen. (I'm probably getting this wrong…)
A bird's feathers were unique in that the orientation of the barbs etc trapped and reflected light selectively. No dyes or pigmentation is involved. It's all about the orientation of the structure of the feather.
Thus you can have a parrot with blue, green and red feathers, and the only difference is a slight difference in structure.

But dying plumes or feathers would've changed all that. I'm sure there's an art to that.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 2:22 p.m. PST

Bill, the hats I got from you definitely had upright feathers, as did the hats in the Troiani painting of Princeton.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 2:26 p.m. PST

Or not.
Maybe they are deer tails.

42flanker08 Mar 2018 2:26 p.m. PST

Re. dyeing feathers, these are snippets collected when I investigated this question some time ago. Perhaps they will serve to give a general impression.

"…If the color is to be light, the dye liquor may be cold, but darker shades require cold water first, and then slow heating until the water is very hot—though never boiling. The quill and butt, or end, of the feather are dyed first, and later the tip and flues, because the former parts may take twenty or thirty minutes to absorb the color, whereas the tip and flues will take the dye in two minutes. If the stem does not take the color thoroughly enough, it has to be painted afterwards. After a thorough rinsing in warm water the feathers are partly dried by soft rubbing with a cloth, then laid on paper and covered with powdered dry starch. The starch is gently beaten and shaken out, and the process repeated until the starch is fully removed and the flues fluffed out. If starch paste forms on the feather it may ruin it, or if too much dry starch remains on the flues the feather may look woolly and have to be redampened and starched over again…"


From 'Mackenzie's Ten Thousand Receipts' (p.325)

-How to dye bristles or feathers green….blue …red


From Revlist, Tue Jul 31, 2007 7:56 pm

In my limited experience, natural "black" ostrich feathers
are better described as "black-ish brown" or "very dark brown" or even "very dark gray." They take a black dye very nicely, but it tends to fade. 18th century black dyes were acidic and destructive.


From Revlist, Wed Aug 1, 2007 5:06 pm

'Yes, you can dye feathers. I haven't seen any red or green ostrich feathers occurring naturally. They start out white or gray, sometimes a taupe gray.

Feathers would be dyed with the same thing you use on any protien [protein] fiber, such as silk or wool.You immerse the whole feather, just like dyeing anything. Ritberries work nicely on them for 20th/21st century.


42flanker08 Mar 2018 2:46 p.m. PST

"I often wondered where the British LI got all those feathers for their hats when the hit Philly and if they were already green and red, or if they had to dye them?"

The LI already had feathers in their hats when they hit Philly. That is to say, judging from the della Gatta paintings and the caricature sketches left us by St George of the 52nd Light company, the 2nd LI wore black or naturally coloured taupe feathers in their hats. The men of the 40th Regiment appear to have been wearing red feathers at Germantown; their officers red and white. It may be the 1st LI Bn wore green feathers but the evidence is sketchy, and comes from long after.

As for the talk, from many years later, of the 2nd LI dyeing or merely acquiring red feathers as a response to threats allegedly made after attack at Paoli Tavern, there was neither the time or the opportunity to do so before they took up quarters in Philly later in the autumn.

Whatever frills might ordinarily have been available in that Quaker town, by the time the British arrived the cupboards were pretty much bare of clothing and haberdashery supplies and, owing to the occluded lines of communication with New York, would remain so until well into the New Year. What there was available commanded high prices.

Maybe there were some red dyeing materials that happened to be lying about the place. Then again, maybe not.

nevinsrip Sponsoring Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 3:11 p.m. PST

John, those are supposed to be deer tails, as you see in the painting. Most of my research came from Troiani paintings. In fact, Troiani himself answered several questions for me, personally. Very kind of him.
I specifically requested deer tails from the sculptor, Alan Marsh.
Compare them to the Loyalist heads. Those are feathers!

historygamer08 Mar 2018 3:27 p.m. PST

I was just looking at the re-enactment unit and didn't see a deer tail on any of their hats. Can you share some more info – were they issued, only some had them, ?????

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 4:38 p.m. PST

I just googled 'how to dye ostrich feathers' and the first hit says it's pretty easy:

Ben Franklin would have certainly approved of Turkey feathers!

For other fine feathered friends, I'm starting work on some New York Provincials for the FIW, and some of the Redoubt figures I have for them include feathers in the hats. I'm opting for Blue Jay feathers since they are fun to paint and the state bird of NY is the Bluebird (but those feathers are too tiny for chapeau plumage).

Doug MSC Sponsoring Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 5:17 p.m. PST

In the Book "Military Uniforms in America, The Era of the American Revolution 1755-1795" published by The Company of Military Historians, It says "they wore a tuft of deer fur made to resemble the buck's tail as much as possible." Another eye witness said they wore smart caps and feathers.
The Ranger battalion tried to resemble Indians as much as possible and stuck painted feathers in their hair.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 5:29 p.m. PST

Deer tails it is then!

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP08 Mar 2018 7:01 p.m. PST

Good Heavens, Doug!
Is that book by Elting?
It must be true then!

Doug MSC Sponsoring Member of TMP09 Mar 2018 10:04 a.m. PST

True or not, that's what it says!

42flanker09 Mar 2018 10:15 a.m. PST

I just googled 'how to dye ostrich feathers' and the first hit says it's pretty easy

Looking at Ms Cliquot's blog, it occurs to me that chemical dyes, mains water, and an electric hair dryer, would make the job easier than in 1770s colonial America. She also didnt have to cater for a whole battalion- (unless, game girl that she is, she addresses that in a later posting).

Oldgrumbler Supporting Member of TMP09 Mar 2018 11:45 a.m. PST

What sort of fool would put a feather in his hat for a battle? Makes him stand out to make him a nice target. Bragging rights for whoever gets the guy with a feather first!

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP09 Mar 2018 11:47 a.m. PST

Grenadier caps?

Why not bring up that silly old chestnut about how dumb the British were by wearing red and marching in lines?

42flanker09 Mar 2018 12:57 p.m. PST

Makes him stand out to make him a nice target. Bragging rights for whoever gets the guy with a feather first!

But if they all wore feathers…?

Of course, the story went that after Paoli Tavern the 2nd Light Infantry wanted to be recognised and singled out for attention. The truth appears to have been otherwise:

"The Americans ever after Wayne's Affair called us ‘The Bloodhounds.' I don't think our battalion slept very soundly after that night for a long time."

"They threaten retaliation, vow they will give no quarter to any of our battalion. We are always on the advanced post of the army- our Present one's unpleasant."

Brechtel19809 Mar 2018 1:22 p.m. PST

Despite what Kevin will say, the Associators were not exactly militia…

They were volunteer militia, which is different from the usual run-of-the-mill militia units, most of which did not have either definite organization or uniforms.

Their headgear was either jockey caps or round caps turned up on the left side. The plumes were probably bucktails, 6-8 inches long. The caps and roundhats had ribbons around the base of the cap-red, white or black.

For a thorough description of the Associators uniform, see Military Uniforms in American, Volume I, edited by John Elting, 104.

You can also take a look at the previous thread on the Associators:

TMP link

You might want to take a look at the reference…

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