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Various Feathers and Barts

Subject: To address the care, cleaning and storage of the various feathers and barts currently worn by the Gau Vereine.

     First, a brief history! As you know, our Tracht is a Gebirgs Tracht, or mountain Tracht, and was worn by the hunters. Hunting was a part of their livelihood, and because they were typically poor, they utilized everything from the animal or bird they hunted. For example, claws and teeth were used for decoration on the tracht; hair was made into Barts and/or household items; hides were tanned and used to make Lederhosen or shoes etc.; and horns became knife handles, buttons, candle stick holders, chandeliers, or various other items. These items were also bartered for other items needed in the home.

Eagle Feathers

     Because the Eagle is now protected from hunting, the real feathers are no longer for sale. To obtain one, it would need to be passed down in your family, or you’ll need to get adopted into a family that has a stock of them! Seriously, if you are lucky enough to own a real eagle feather, the following tips should help it have a long life.
          1. Handle the quill of the feather only. The feather itself is very sensitive to the oil from your skin, and it will attract dirt and dust. The only time you should be touching the feather is if you are storing it in a tube, and it needs a little help going in, or if you are cleaning or fixing it.
          2. The best place to store a feather is in a plastic, seal tight container, with moth balls or cedar inside. Do not let the feather be in direct contact with the moth balls or cedar.
          3. You may wash a feather when it is dirty, but do not make this a habit! Put a few inches of water in a dish pan and use a mild, fragrance free, pure soap such as Ivory, or the product “Rei” from Germany. Swish the feather gently back and forth in the soapy water. (Be sure not to put the quill into the water!) Next, between your thumb and first finger, run the feather through from quill to tip. This is your “squeegee”! Be careful, and remember, you’re holding the feather only by it’s quill. Now your feather looks like a rat tail and you’re sure you’ve ruined it. Just wait, it will look normal again. Next, swish the feather in clear water until the soap is out. “Squeegy” again. Now you’re ready for drying!

     You may use a hair dryer, ONLY if it has a COLD setting on it. If not, use a regular household fan. Start by waving the feather upside down, in front of the dryer. Next, move way from the dryer and swing your arm through the air, starting with your arm straight in front of you, moving downward to behind you. Try to keep the feather upside down through this motion. Repeat these steps until the feather looks fluffy (and normal!).

     The storage, care and cleaning of the Eagle feather can also be applied to the imitation feathers that many Verein members have. Be very careful though, there is a lot of glue used in the feathers, and they may come loose with water.


     Ranging in value from most expensive to least, are the following Barts: Gamsbart (Chamois Goat), Dachsbart (Badger), Hirschbart (Elk), Thar or Wildziege (mountain goat from Spain) and Antelopenbart (Antelope). The Dachsbart is the only Bart mentioned that is very different than the others. It is mostly worn by the ladies, and is white in color with a black/brown ring near the top. They are, actually, equal in value to the Gamsbart. Because of the length of hair on a Badger, the Dachsbart is typically short, making it the ladies preference. “Short” versions of a Gamsbart or Hirschbart can also be purchased for the ladies. The color of a Bart depends on the time of year and elevation the animal was “harvested”, however, all natural Barts will get lighter in color the longer they are worn. A natural Bart is typically hand made and tied. There are many machine bound Barts, that also use glue to keep them together. Keep this in mind when cleaning. Try to avoid rain when wearing your Bart, especially the machine tied Barts. Once again, do not touch the hair of your Bart!

     The cleaning or washing of a Bart follows the same steps as washing the Eagle feather, but the drying is a little different. It is best to let the Bart air dry, upside down, near a fan. Wave it gently through the air periodically – always upside down. You may use a wide tooth comb to gently comb out any snarls, be careful not to pull. The comb used should be perfectly clean, and used only for the Bart, NEVER on your own hair.

     Training your Bart to “fall” properly is not as hard as it seems, it just takes time. The proper storage, combing and handling can ensure a beautiful Bart. You can even correct an older Bart that has taken on a “lovely bend”! In this case, wash and dry the Bart, then store it in a tight tube for a few days to help the straightening. A Bart should not be consistently stored in a tube at home, however, it is acceptable to use the tube when traveling. Be sure that it is the last item you pack, and the first one unpacked.

     Storage of a Bart at home can be done in two ways. First, is in a dark room or closet, hanging upside down from the ceiling. The second is recommended by a Gamsbart binder (tier), Edward Zaiser, from Linz, Austria. According to Edward, storage in a box can increase the life of your Bart by 10 years! Find a deep box with a cover, put a hole in the center of the cover that will fit the bound end partially through, use a clothes pin to hold it in place and put the cover back on! Simple! Now you need a box! Try a hat box or perhaps a box that had copy paper in it.

     Training your Bart happens within the few days before you intend to wear it, or every couple months during prolonged storage. First, you need to stand the Bart up. You may use your hat, but better yet, do the following: get a glass, a large clothes pin long enough to lay across the glass, then clip your bart into the clothes pin! This “holder” allows you to keep the Bart standing straight, and gives you access all the way around. If you intend to wear it, when you take it out of storage depends on the weather. If it is humid, just a day or two should do it. If it is dry, plan on a few extra days.

     Now you’re ready to comb and train your Bart. Using your special wide tooth Bart comb, gently comb just a few hairs at a time, from the top edge down. Your comb will only go down into the Bart an inch or two (depending on it’s length). Do this combing all the way around. You should start to notice a couple hairs “falling”. As the outer edge starts to fall, move the comb a few hairs in towards the center and repeat all the way around the Bart. You shouldn’t need to comb all of the Bart this way, you’re simply training the hairs to lay a certain way, loosening them up in the process. Before you know it, you’ll be a pro!

     The proper holder on your hat is also critical to the longevity of your Bart. A Bart should be worn straight on a hat, never on an angle. (and please, only one Bart per hat!) The holder should be the right size for your Bart, and should have feet on it to keep the Bart stable on the hat. Most important, the ring should be smooth and chrome plated. Why? Other metals will erode or rust over time, leaving a ring mark around the base of the Bart. This mark will eventually cause the deterioration of the hairs and breakage too. The erosion can also cause a rough surface which can act as a saw on the hairs. The ring should also be just wide enough and short enough to support the bottom to the Bart. This will prevent the hairs from breaking.

     One last subject about the care of Barts. There are two schools of thought on using a product on the hair to keep it strong, shiny and resilient. One is to use a pure lanolin sparingly by applying it to the tips of the comb and then combing it through the hair. The second comes from the Gamsbart binder, Edward. It is his experience that the storage upside down in the dark box, relieves you of needing to use a product and increases the longevity of the Bart’s life. That one is up to you!

     *VERY IMPORTANT * If you are wearing your Eagle feather or Bart and the weather starts to turn bad, Please, take it out of your hat! Find a napkin or paper and wrap it up. Put it inside your jacket or a Bart may fit in a purse. Even a short, misty rain can make your treasure fall apart! One of the members in my Verein just had this experience just 2 weeks ago, he’s now buying a new Bart!!!

Auerhahn / Spielhahn and Reiher Feathers

     There are a variety of feathers worn in Germany and Austria. The Auerhahn and Spielhahn are one in the same. The name you give it depends on the area you live in Germany or Austria. The Auerhahn is similar to the American Partridge. You may be familiar with the Auerhahn feathers worn in Tirol, Austria. They wear the two white feathers standing up on the back of the hat, one feather curled one way, the other opposite. This is called an Auerhahn Stoss, meaning two. The Spielhahn Haken means a single feather, and is worn of the side of the hat. D’Lustig’n Wendlstoana, Milwaukee, and Edelweiss, Passiac wear this feather. It is said, that when the feather is worn curled up, it means the wearer is cocky and ready for a fight. If the feather is worn with the curl down, the wearer is content and peaceful.

     There are several types of Reiher feathers such as Fisch and Schlangen. The birds are a loon species and are named after what they eat. The Fisch Reiher eat fish, and the Schlangen Reiher eat snakes and frogs. Most of you may be familiar with the Schlangen Reiher feather, as it is worn by Die Heimat Taenzer from Omaha and the Schlierlachtaler Stamm in New York. The birds, like the eagle, are also protected from hunters. Take a good look at the Schlangen Reiher feather, and you’ll see that it has markings similar to species of snakes!

     There is no need to wash these types of feathers. Proper storage would be a sealed container with cedar or moth balls inside. Once again, keep the cedar or moth balls from direct contact with the feathers.

     Many feathers and Barts can be repaired or rejuvenated, the trick is the proper craftsman! If I can be of help in directing you to a craftsman or in the purchase of any of these feathers or Barts, please contact me!

Remember, all these items are treasures, and if cared for properly, can be handed down for generations!