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Fashion fad flows with emu feathers

Color choices will be offered at Haunted Zoo

October 2, 2011
By SANDY MICKELSON, Messenger staff writer , Messenger News

Choices. So many choices.

There's a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one, and they're all made out of emu feathers and they all look just the same. Well, almost just the same.

These colorful feathers are a new fashion trend. They can be put into hair, either permanently or with a removable clip, said Diane Happel, who collected feathers from the Oleson Park Zoo, washed them and dyed them in a myriad of colors.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Sandy Mickelson
Diane Happel, of Fort Dodge, a volunteer at the Oleson Park Zoo, has dyed feathers to be sold during the Haunted Zoo on Saturday at the park. She’s helping her daughter, Emily, pick out feathers to put in Emily’s hair

A zoo volunteer, Happel, of rural Fort Dodge, said she'd heard about the hair feather trend. At the zoo there was an almost unlimited supply of feathers that had only to be picked up.

So coming up with the idea of selling hair feathers at Saturday's Haunted Zoo was easy.

Even cleaning and dyeing the feathers was easy, if a little time-consuming, she said.

New York City jeweler and handbag designer Wendy Nichol offers feather hair extensions, a trend in New York called "rad accessories," for just $45.

Feathers at the Haunted Zoo won't cost $45.

In fact, Happel said, "We'll probably just ask for a donation. A $2 donation."

The feathers can be clamped into hair that day, she said. Feathers also can be taken home to attach to a hair clip for easy use.

It isn't only emu feathers that have been dyed, she said. "We have rhea feathers, goose feathers, pheasant, peacock, even macaw feathers."

Then she grinned before adding, "No animals were harmed in the procuring of the feathers."

They weren't plucked; they were picked up.

Her daughter, Emily, 11, a four-year bunny house volunteer at the Oleson Park Zoo, helped pick up feathers.

"Emily's friends started showing up with hair feathers," Happel said. "They're synthetic feathers. It seems like an up-and-coming fad. Then someone asked about buying zoo feathers to do the hair feathers."

An idea was born.

"My father used to dye feathers," Happel said. "He made fishing lures from them. So, I guess it's in my blood. It just took 40-some years to do it. I called my mom and said, 'How did Dad dye those feathers?' I kind of learned over time when you lay them down to dry them, you have to lay them flat or they curl up."

She's also learned that dye loses its potency if kept too long - "it must be one of those chemistry things" - and that math actually plays a big part in the process.

"Yeah, I had to do math," she said. "I told Emily that's why you have to know math."

Because she uses fabric dye, there's more dye than is necessary in any packet, so she's developed a recipe using 1 1/2 teaspoons dye to 8 ounces of hot water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

The salt helps set the colors.

Clean feathers are dipped into the dye and usually left overnight for a good, strong color.

Happel said emu feathers make attractive hair feathers because of their properties. They are bifurcated - they start as one feather, then split into two. They're soft and wispy and can be washed with regular shampoo as often as hair is washed.

But sometimes, she said, "they have to be foofed a little." That's using your fingers to spread out the feather.

"We use that world a lot," Emily Happel said. "We foof them."

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or



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