Wednesday, November 20, 2013

For future Reference, The Pdf file

For future reference: the guide to down comforter making in pdf form is available for free on Google Docs:

Part II: From Duck to comforter

The gathering of the feathers was done over the course of 3 months. Every Saturday, my husband killed 2 more ducks and I plucked the feathers and down, separating the two. The cleaning, sorting and filling of the comforter was done in one day.

just a bit of clingy down
As I mixed the down with the feathers in the big plastic tub. I tipped the big brown grocery bag with the down over the tub and shook until most of them were in the tub.  Now...hold your breath, or breathe to the side. DON'T breathe into the tub or you'll look like a tar&feather victim.

Using the two bread bags was helpful. After mixing the down and feathers together like folding eggs into an Angel Food Cake batter, I stuffed the bread bags about 3/4 full. And I do mean STUFF.  Then, twisting the top of the bag, I stuffed it into the channel I had sewn into the comforter.
bag of down + feathers

 For the comforter itself, I am using 120" muslin purchased from the Fabric Store. Normally, this is used as quilt backing. It is 120" wide by however long you want. This comforter was measure to be 61" wide by the 120" length. I folded it in half and sewed it on each side with a 1/4" seam allowance to make one really big pouch that measured 60" by 60" which was big enough for a twin bed or a comfy throw for the couch.

breadbag in the channel
As I put the bread bag with feathers + down into the channel, I pushed it towards the closed end so the feathers would not fall out of the opening. Then, scrunching the bag while it is in the channel and trying to force the feathers out of the bag, I manage to get most of them into the channel.  It sucked, actually, but it was better than nothing.

Feathers and Down in the channel squished along the whole row

After pulling the bag out of the channel with wthe 1/3 of the contents left in the bag, I just dipped my hand in the bag, grabbed the remaining stuff and stuck it in the channel. That's when my black shirt turned all downy. Then, I sewed up the rest of the channel so it was closed.

The line for the channel was drawn with pencil and aided by a ruler. I measured down from the edge 10" and marked it with the pencil. Since I am intending on washing the entire comforter after it is finished, the pencil is ok. The mark will be washed away. And after the first channel, others were measure and marked 10" from the other channel.
all channels are filled!
 It did occur to me 2/3 of the way through this process that I could've just sewn the channels via sewing machine horizontally, then fill the channels and sew just one edge closed.That would be the most efficient way to do it.

I'll do that next time.

So all channels were filled, and I did sew the entire width shut on my machine. It was bulky, but easy enough if I left most of the bulk hanging off the left end of the table.

It took about 6 hours to fill the blanket, most of it was done watching Pride & Prejudice, which seemed apropos to the job. If you watch the one with Kiera Knightly in it, it has a few scenes where you'll see geese wandering around. They are either buff Toulouse or Pilgrim geese.

I will be sewing channels perpendicular to the ones already created to 'lock in' the down. I've done one row, and it is something that needs to be done by hand definitely. The loft of the blanket makes it difficult, but if you've ever quilted by hand before, it is the same technique. I'm using 2 strands of Embroidery floss to do it, only because my Mom scored a huge bag of it at a rummage sale and I've been trying to find ways to use it.

I've used the comforter as it is for a few days. It is definitely warm and cozy under it, so much so that I find myself wanting to stay under it for all times. Had I to do it again, I'd make it about 6" longer so it covers me from shoulder to over my toes. I'm 5'6", so that would be 66" tall by 60" wide.

A few facts about ducks and their down:

  1. Duck down is said to last 15 years, goose down 20
  2. Ducks mate for life. 
  3. Ducks lay eggs that ARE edible, larger than chicken eggs and have a thicker white.
  4. Ducks prefer to mate in water
  5. To incubate a duck eggs takes 30 days, a consistent temperature of 99.2 degrees Faherenheit, humidity levels must be above 60%, the ability to turn them at least 3 times a day,and need to be sprayed with water.
  6. The Aflac Duck is a breed called a Pekin. They never say Aflac.
  7. You can tell the boys from the girls because they have a curl in their tail. Also, they have a lower, raspier voice. The loudmouth ducks are the gals. 
  8. I've hardly ever seen my flock without each other. They are truly flock animals and depend on each other for company. When they walk, they walk in a line behind each other. It's hilarious. 
  9. They can stand the cold, snowy weather. I've seen 'em lay on the snowdrifts just acting like it's a summer day. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

From Duck to Bed: The definitive down comforter-making guide

For those of you who have no compulsion to read about how to create your own down comforters, I suggest reading something else for a week. I'm starting off from the butchering of ducks to the sewing of these comforters. This does go into some issues that some people might find offensive.

For others; I've not read a single blog on how to do this. I've read 1/2 page 'How To' that doesn't even get into how much feathers to use. This will be the guide on how to turn duck feathers into a warm and comfortable blanket that will give you years of use. I prefer to utilize as much as I can from our flock. They give their lives so we can eat and be warm. I figure it is the best way to honor their sacrifice.

How to Create a Feather Comforter from Your Own Feathers

Over the course of 3 months, Dave and I have processed 26 ducks that were hatched specifically for meat + feathers. All of them were Pekins, like the two shown here. They were hatched in April, brooded in our laundry room for two weeks and then had their own pen outside in the garage. Each day they were given free-range of the 40 acres; 5 pools in which to swim and all the All-Flock they needed to supplement their diet. After 4 months of growth, we started butchering them. 

It became apparent pretty quickly that a few things we had thought would work out fine didn't:

  1. The idea was to butchering, plucking and processing 4-6 ducks a weekend. Yeah, we ended up doing 2 a weekend. Killing takes less than a minute, plucking with the intent of saving the feathers takes about an hour a duck. Dressing them takes about 10 minutes. 
  2. The idea was to use a way to clean off pin feathers with wax. There's a youtube video of it. It works fine if you're not keeping the down of the duck, works horribly if a) it's hot outside and b) you're plucking 99% of the down off.  We ended up using a butane torch to singe off the remaining pin feathers and hairs. It takes less than a minute per duck. Remember to continuously keep your torch moving, or you'll start cooking the skin. 
  3. We probably should've waited until they were 5 months old due to feather growth. 
  4. Wait at least 1/2 an hour after you kill a duck before plucking. They will be in rigor, but it makes the plucking easier. Gently manipulate their wings and legs, then massage their breast to move the ATP from their muscle cells. This is the chemical that locks up a muscle and prevents it from moving after something has died. Also, keep their feet on and wait to dress them out AFTER you pluck. 

Plucking Ducks

Bags of feathers to be processed
In order to keep the feathers + down from the ducks, I plucked them one at a time until they were pretty much nude. Then Dave stepped in.  I did this outside, away from the wind and in full view of the ducks and geese. I was kinda wierd, because they'd come up and check out what I was doing.  I also played my ipod and sang mightily to Norah Jones and Patsy Cline while doing my thing. I think that was what they were more curious of, the singing and presence of Mom. 

In order to keep the feathers in the best condition possible, I used paper grocery bags in which to store them.  Why not plastic, you ask? Well they need to dry out a bit. Some of the feathers come with a bit of bodily fluid attached to them in their ends, plus ducks are known to bathe all the time. We corralled them for butcher about 2 hours after I let them out for the morning, so by then some of them have had their baths. This is a stack of bags in our laundry room waiting for me to pick through them. 

While plucking, I kept the feathers in one bag on my right side, and the bag with the down on my left. I learned to pluck feathers first from the breast, using my thumb and first finger to pluck just above the level of the down. Yep, you get a bit of down, but just a bit. While plucking a Pekin, you'll spot feathers that are a few shades more yellow than the others. They come out easy and should be thrown out. They are the start of blood feathers and have so much tissue w/them that they'll just rot and ruin a batch of feathers. 

You'll see these darker yellow feathers in specific areas: The neck, under each wing at the start of the breast and in the butt. If you have big fingers, invest in a good pair of pointy tweezers, or even needle-nosed pliers to help out with this plucking.  Once the feathers have been plucked from the breast, neck, and upper back. I start plucking the down and tossing it into the grocery bag on my right. They're easier to pluck and I pluck two passes on the duck, dump my down into the bag, rinse-wash-repeat. The feathers on the lower part of the duck are really soft, so I kept them with the down. Now that does not mean tail feathers, which were kept separate. 

I did try to pluck wing feathers of some of the ducks. You'll need to get at least some of the feathers off the wing so that you can get to the down. I would recommend that you get a basket or something  to put those types of rigid-quill type feathers in. I was stupid and just threw them in with the other feathers. Now I get to spend time picking them out of the box of feathers. 

Processing Feathers 

Plastic Storage bin with feathers.

In order to get at those rigid-quill feathers within a bag of soft nice warm feathers, I got a plastic storage bin with a lid and dumped the bag into it. 

Now remember: NO WIND! or you'll be picking feathers up all over your house. What you see here is the feathers off of two ducks - just the feathers. the down is in another bag.  

Those rigid-quill feathers are in there somewhere, so as I was washing the fabric that will make the cover, I picked through the box and got the bigger feathers out. 
Primary, secondary, coverts...big feathers
These can be saved as well. There is a small, but consistent demand for primary feathers among those who do re-enactments and such. I have been selling primary goose feathers to those who make their own arrows. A person who makes their own arrows is called a fletcher, and fletching is the process of making your own arrows. 

I've known persons who prefer 100% down comforters,  and that's fine. However, most commercially prepared comforters are a mix of down and feathers: Mostly about 40% down and 60% feathers.  The higher the price for a comforter, the higher the percentage of down to feather inside. 

a bag filled with down. 
I'm going for warmth and loft, so I will we doing about  a 70/40 mix or more. I intend on using the feathers + down of two ducks for each row in my comforter. The comforter itself is 60" square, so I intend on using the feathers + down of 6 - 8 ducks. I'll weigh it before and after filling to get a good gauge of how much is in there.  
the down is just soo light and fluffy that I do not intend on adding it to the box of feathers until I am ready to fill the comforter. 

I really could not think of a good way to wash the feathers before creating the comforters, so I intend on washing the entire comforter after it is sewn.  My fabric for the comforter is a 120" wide muslin purchased from the fabric store.  I cut it into a 61" wide piece, then sewed the two sides with 1/4" seam with a teeny stitch count per inch so that no feathers would leak out...hopefully.  Right now it resembles a big bag and is in the washer going through a wash cycle to make sure it is pre-shrunk.  I'm also washing a crib sized bag sewn in the same way with the dimensions of 31" wide by 60" long...again sewn like a big bag. 

Next Up: 

My intentions are to sew by hand (needle and thread, y'all) a channel 10" from the bottom of the bag with embroidery thread. I'll leave a bit open at one end so I can place the feathers inside. Then it will get sewn up. Another channel will be sewn up 10" from that one, feathers placed inside, then sewn...repeated until I am at the top end. Then after all the long tube-like channels are made, I'll sew channels perpendicular to those to make square baffles. 

Now, in order to control the flow of the feathers to the channel, I'm thinking of using recyled bread bags. I'll stuff them with the mixture of feather/down close it shut temporarily, stuff that end into the channel and squeeze until the feathers move from the bag into the channel. It's an idea, and it might not work. 

If I had a shop vac with a blower end, I'd put the feathers inside the vac (cleaned out before this) and use the vac to blow the feathers in, but I don't have a shop vac. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

In a lighter mood...

Yep, sometimes I can get pretty serious. Admittedly, I usually keep that kind of thought to myself. Sometimes it's good for others to know that actually think of more serious things than poultry and knitting and spinning. Oddly enough, some of my more deep thoughts come when I am knitting.

Friends of ours welcomed a new daughter into their family on All Hallow's Eve. She's a beautiful gal; born at home with Mom, Dad and Midwife in attendance. It's with a bit of wistfulness that I have to admit, that if Dave and I were able to have kids 1) there would be many of them, 2) they would be born at home and 3) they would be beautiful, sassy AND smart.

Instead, we shamelessly spoil all the kids we come in contact with. This little lassie was being held by her Godfather as we spoke about her adjusting to the outside world.  As you see on Mom's lap in the background, I knitted her a Lady Eleanor Stole to use as a nursing shawl.  It's out of Lion Brand amazing, so I am comfortable telling her she can throw it in the wash if little one spews on it.

With Fall & Winter babies, the nursing shawls should be a bit more substantial than a summer shawl. This gives Mom and baby a wooly band to wrap around the chest to keep both warm.

Anyone who has ever sold Plasma knows what that bottle is. The funny part is the reason I took this picture was because I needed to know if I was almost done with my 'donation.' They place you on these beds and I cannot really see around the machine to gauge how far I've got, so I open up my camer on my ipod, swing it down and take a picture.  Then I go back to reading whatever trashy book I'm on.

Handy tip: Look for a website called Book Bub.  They send you daily emails on low cost, or free ebooks through Amazon and other sources. I read these books while going through the whole plasmaphoresis routine twice a week.  It takes about an hour. You really can't do anything else while it's going on, as one hand is out of commission. That's where Alfred the squishy toy comes in handy.   He now has an added leg and a key ring stuck through the back of his head.