How to Make Native American Feather Fans

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The rich culture of the Native Americans revolved around crafts such as weaving, beading and carving. American Indians made their tools, weapons, clothing and homes with these highly-developed crafting skills. Many of these crafting traditions survive today, including the art of making feather fans for dance and ritual purposes.

1 Obtain the feathers for your fan

Obtain the feathers for your fan. The best feathers to use are imitation eagle feathers, which are available at most American Indian supply stores or trading posts and some arts and crafts stores. These feathers are painted to look like real eagle feathers; they are often available in sets that are trimmed and shaped to fit together in a fan. You should use an odd number of feathers, usually five to seven, depending on the size of fan you want.

Separate the feathers into “lefts” and “rights.” When you lay the feathers shiny side up, they will naturally curve one way or the other.

Straighten the feathers using an exposed, lighted light bulb. Run the quill of the feathers gently over the exposed bulb to lightly heat it, applying pressure gently until the feather is straight. Do this process slowly, as too much pressure too quickly can fracture the quill.

Trim the feathers for the appropriate look. Use a sharp pair of scissors to cut the tip off of each of the feathers, and then shape them into a gentle, curved tip, much like a butter knife. If your feathers are specially designed for fan making, you will be able to skip steps 3 and 4.

Lay out your feathers in the configuration you want to use on a piece of paper. Begin with the two outside feathers and work your way in with the feathers slightly overlapping, until the center feather is positioned. Hold the feathers in position and trace the base of the quills, leaving about a one-eighth inch space on each side; this will be the approximate shape and design of your handle. Length of the handle is generally 5 to 6 inches, depending on preference and size of your hand.

Choose wood for your handle. A soft wood such as pine or cedar will work best. Cut the handle using a wood saw; use a carving knife and sandpaper to achieve the exact shape you want. Use sandpaper to smooth the surface and avoid irregularities.

Remove a small piece of wood at the top of the handle; this piece will be replaced by the ends of the feathers, so measure appropriately.

Set the two outside feathers and pin into place using pliers and short pins. You can adjust the pins as needed as you continue to add feathers; the pins will also hold the feathers in place while you glue. Attach all the feathers in this way. The tips of the feathers should be flat and line up against each other with no gaps.

Cover the bottom inch and a half of the feathers with epoxy to seal into place; allow the adhesive to dry for at least 12 hours. Remove the pins, then wrap plastic or another covering over the handle so that the feather bases are not exposed. This will also make the handle symmetrical on both sides. Add decorative feathers, beads, strings and fringes as you prefer.

Samantha Volz has been involved in journalistic and informative writing for over eight years. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from Lycoming College, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with a minor in European history. In college she was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper and completed a professional internship with the "Williamsport Sun-Gazette," serving as a full-time reporter. She resides in Horsham, Pennsylvania.