Feather-slip Wings and Tails
October 23, 2006
Paired feather-slips are used for tails and wings on many patterns including the Butcher, Invicta, Muddler Minnow, and March Brown. Paired feathers come from various birds including, turkey, mallard, starling, grouse to name a few. Mostly the slips come from secondary wing feathers, one from each of matching pairs. The following guide will work for wings or tails.
Toggle sequence Left/Right Handed ↔
1. Select a matching pair of wing feathers. In this example I’m using mottled turkey secondary wing feathers.
2. Cut a slip of feather from the same section of the opposing feathers.
3. Marry the feather slips concave faces innermost. When you squeeze them together the slips will form a flat unified pair ready for tying in.
4. With the bobbin and tying thread hanging at the tying in point, offer the feather-slips up to the hook with your left index finger and thumb (right handed people) and gauge for length. It is crucial that the thread base is flat and even.
5. Now transfer your grip on the feather-slips to your opposite index finger and thumb. Make your grip over the top of the tying in point and bring the thread forward and up between the feather-slips and your thumb.
6. Take the thread down the other side of the slips and between your index finger and the slips.
7. Now pinch the free ends of the slips with your left hand. Try as best possible to keep the thread and feather-slips from pulling down onto the hook shank.
8. Maneuver your grip until you have a hold both ends of the feather slip, positioned either side of the tying in point, and with the feather held off the shank.
9. Allow your weighty bobbin to crumple the feather down onto the tying in point. Make sure the thread pulls down on top of the last wrap of thread. This first securing wrap must be complete and as close as possible to a 90-degree angle transverse to the shank.
10. When you are happy with the position of the wing or tail, firmly grip the slips over the tying in point with your right index finger and thumb, and pull firmly down on the bobbin.
11. Make two further wraps of thread in front of the first to fully secure the tail or wing.
12. In this example wind the thread forward in close touching turns and stop the feather from twisting round the shank as you go. Cut away the waste material. For a wing on a wet fly you would now be making a whip finish at the head.
I haven’t indicated the width you should make the feather-slips because this should be established pattern by pattern, and according to personal taste. If I had any opinion on the matter, it would be to air on the side of conservatism. Try using narrow slips before wider ones.
When you have arrived at some established dimensions, instead of measuring widths of slips using scissor points, there are two alternative solutions. One solution is to create a permanent ruled scale and set a pair of sharp geometry dividers by it. Alternatively you can push dress making ball headed pins through the side of a small balsawood stick, it the manner of a cabinetmakers mortise gauge. With the addition of a little cement and varnish you can quickly make a set of measures for different patterns and hook sizes.