Monday, 8 June 2015

A Feather Headdress

The feather headdress on the Tahitian Mourner's costume surprised us when we dismantled the Cook-voyage display back in 2009 and took the costume apart for the first time for over 20 years.  We expected the headdress to be a single object, when in reality is was made up of seven bundles of feathers tied around the top of the hat. 

Detail of construction of feather bundles

Each feather is split along the vane from the tip almost to the end. They are then bound, both individually and in groups of two or three, by coconut fibre cord. Four of these small bundles of bound feathers are then attached to a loop of coconut fibre. Four, or sometimes more, of these loops are then threaded on to a thicker cord made from twined barkcloth to form an individual feather bundle. There appears to be some distinction in size of feather used between bundles: feathers of approximately the same size are used in each bundle. The bundles were attached to the headdress with a string made from loosely twined barkcloth.

Feather headdress and mounts before assembly

The feather headdress is the final part of the costume to be mounted.  Chris and Al, the museum technicians working on the display, made a ring from firm, inert Plastazote foam which fits over the top of the hat and rests on the bindings. 

Plastazote ring covered in linen scrim

The ring was covered with scrim, a loosely woven linen fabric, to disguise the ring. Separate wire mounts, covered in a plastic covering to protect the feather bundles, were inserted into the foam around the ring, spaced to hold the bundles in position to give the appearance of a headdress.

The headdress in postion on the costume