In some Native American spiritual traditions feather fans are used in smudging ceremonies to waft smoke from smoldering sacred herbs around a space or person to clear negative energy or to fan smoke skyward during prayer. Native Americans follow specific traditions to create these sacred tools, but you can make a smudge fan for personal use with feathers you've collected on nature walks. Because this is a tool for spiritual ceremony start by clarifying your intention and proceed in a prayerful, respectful way.
What you need
1 square of red cloth such as cotton, linen or wool – keep it natural. The material should be approximately as long as your longest feather.
Ceremonial herbs (sage, cedar, tobacco or a combination)
Wax-treated leather twine
1 square of leather, approximately the same size as the red cloth
Don’t use feathers if you don’t know what they are. From a spiritual perspective every bird carries its own “medicine” and feathers represent that energy. Use a resource like Jamie Sams’ Medicine Cards or the book Animal Speak by Ted Andrews to better understand the symbolism of specific birds. Be aware that possessing feathers from raptors such as eagles, hawks or owls may be a crime –even if you found the feathers on the ground.
Clear and center your mind. Hold a handful of sacred herbs and “put” a prayer into them, in other words, imagine that the herbs represent your intent to use this fan in a respectable way, for bringing positive energy and benefiting your family or community. Sprinkle the herbs into the square of material and fold it in half. As you work keep the open end of the fold “up” so the herbs don’t fall out.
Assemble your feathers in a pleasing way. All the feathers should be placed with their fronts forward. The back of a feather typically has lighter colored plumage and the shafts are more prominent. Use your intuition; if a certain feather doesn’t seem to fit or won’t stay in position maybe it shouldn’t be there. Wind the waxed twine around the shaft ends to secure them.
Place the bundled feathers at the edge of the red fabric. Roll the wound shafts cinnamon-roll style in the material. Cut and adjust the size of the material if needed, it should be only as long as the end of the feather shafts and not too bulky for the number and size of feathers.
Start at the top, closest to the plumage and wind a length of waxed twine around the material in a criss-cross pattern (cross the twine ends in back the tuck one end under the other in the front as if tying a shoe). Keep the twine taught to create a firm handle for your fan. Tie off the twine at the bottom.
Measure and cut the leather so it’s approximately ½ wider than the circumference of the red handle. If you wish to make fringe at the bottom the leather can be any length you desire. If you don’t want fringe cut the leather long enough to cover the shafts by about ¼ inch.
Complete fringe before moving to the next step.
Place the fan handle in the center of the leather so the “seam” will be in the center front. Pull the leather snugly from both sides and secure it with leather cording – use the same criss-cross pattern you used with the waxed twine. This process requires patience: pull the leather, wrap one section and repeat, while all the time keeping the seam straight and the leather cording taught. If you have difficulty just get the leather secured on the handle then go back and make adjustments. Tie the cording at the bottom.
To make perfect fringe: It’s nearly impossible for a beginner to hand-cut fringe and make it even. Use a straight edge and a pen to mark your cuts on the wrong side of the leather then cut with a very sharp pair of scissors or utility blade.
Add a crystal, stone or embellishment to the handle by tucking it under the leather cording as you wrap the handle.