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Arrow Cock Fletching colour

Posted: Wed May 07, 2014 3:39 pm
by Phoenix Rising
Looking at my rather old and battered copy of 'English Longbowman 1330 - 1513' (Bartlett), there is an illustration of an arrow where the cock fletching has a red band across it to denote it as being that. So two questions arise:

1) Is this actually historically accurate (ie, was the cock feather ever actually identified by colour or mark)?

2) If so, what paint / dye etc could be used now to achieve this without damaging the fletching, or is it even possible to paint them in such a way?

All thoughts appreciated, thanks! :)

Re: Arrow Cock Fletching colour

Posted: Thu May 08, 2014 8:16 pm
by Will.S
Not sure about dying/painting, but the way it's usually done is by laying in a small piece of a different colour feather into the fletch. You basically take your normal fletch, use a sharp knife to cut through the quill in two places, removing the piece you've cut to give you the shape you want, and cutting an identical piece out of the other coloured feather to place it in the cut-out. This whole assembly of two contrasting feathers is placed in the fletching jig and glued/whipped as usual.

A lot of the primitive hunter guys over in the states who hunt deer/bear/turkey etc with self bows and primitive arrows use this technique for a bit of panache, and you often see white turkey feathers with barred pieces laid in, or totally different colour feathers like those of a peacock or bird just to look a bit different.

As for specifically red pieces - I assume you would have to dye a feather red to get the piece, in which case it makes far more sense to just dye a strip rather than going to all the fuss of removing tiny pieces.

As a side-thought - have you ever shot a badly made arrow (fletching ends not whipped properly, or quill too large at the end) without bow-hand protection? After a couple of shots you get blood all over the arrow and fletching very quickly, and it's tricky to remove. It doesn't affect the arrow flight at all, so you could almost certainly get away with using any type of dye to stain the fletching as long as it isn't too thick or dries hard like varnish. Then again (what a concise, helpful reply this is....!) if it's the cock feather, it doesn't matter too much if it gets stiff with paint etc, as it's not brushing over the hand or against the bow so maybe you could even get away with simply painting it and not worrying about whether it's drying hard.

Re: Arrow Cock Fletching colour

Posted: Fri May 09, 2014 2:03 pm
by Phoenix Rising
Thanks for the reply Will - some good tips, but can't do the first as the arrows are already made and whipped, but something to bear in mind for the next time.

Might well have a look at the dye though, as, although I use a glove on my bow hand, I have heard often of archers having been 'spiked' by stray parts of the feather as it passes over their fingers and can see what you mean. Think the trick will be to have a spare fletching and use it to experiment as to what dye might work best. Would of course be looking for a waterproof one, as don't want it running to stain the whole feather, but also as you say not to 'glue' the dyed section together.

Something to have a play with, I think!

Re: Arrow Cock Fletching colour

Posted: Fri May 09, 2014 3:02 pm
by Brother Ranulf
Apparently liquid leather dye works well and doesn't harden the feather; some people producing imitation eagle feathers from white turkey wing use shoe polish applied sparingly with a cloth.

The question remains whether anyone really marked the cock feather like this - why not simply use two white or grey flight feathers and a brown (or otherwise) cock feather?

Re: Arrow Cock Fletching colour

Posted: Fri May 09, 2014 3:26 pm
by John Waller
Acid dye can be used on feathers. Mix the powder with white vinegar. I have also used it on vegtan leather and had good results on medieval belts and purses. ... -dyes.html

Re: Arrow Cock Fletching colour

Posted: Fri May 09, 2014 6:02 pm
by Grymm
There's a thread on cock fletchings ... 10&t=29134

As to dying feathers, the same dyes that work on wool will work on feathers as they are both protein based. The dyes for plant based fabric, cellulose, ent s'good.

Re: Arrow Cock Fletching colour

Posted: Tue May 20, 2014 6:37 pm
by Phoenix Rising
Thanks to all for the replies - unfortunately the connections whilst I'm away at sea can be a little tenuous (not to mention temperamental!) so had to leave posting until now.

Will have a look at all info.



Re: Arrow Cock Fletching colour

Posted: Wed May 21, 2014 8:19 am
by ETFox
Multi-coloured cocks in this Rubens painting: ... roject.jpg

Re: Arrow Cock Fletching colour

Posted: Wed May 21, 2014 1:19 pm
by simonw
Ascham refers to it being done sometimes.
Contempoary art refers to it too although one needs to be careful of using art at face value, then, and even now, the artist will embellish something to 'look better' than it might do in real lfe.
In practice
- nocking an arrow the right way without an indicated cock fletching is hardly more difficult than it is with one.
- War arrows were made in such large numbers that the idea of having to dye or otherwise colour a 3rd of the fletchings seems a lot of extra work.
- Shooting 15/20 arrows a minute in battle into the air , blanket shooting, would hardly need the fairly marginal increased accuracy afforded by putting an arrow the right way round on the string, fletching wise.