Whenever possible, open the package and take the feathers out so you can inspect them closely. Flex the cape back and fan the feathers. The feathers should be clean, not oily or showing any greasy fat spots. You should also inspect how straight the feathers in the cape are — it’s almost impossible to tie properly when the feathers you are using have kinks or sharp bends in the stem. There will always be some curvature to the feathers located at the far left and right sides of the cape, and that’s OK, but for the most part, the feathers located in the center of the cape should be relatively straight. Be sure to look closely at the tips, barbs and stems of the feathers as well. What you don’t want are feathers with broken tips or twisted, crooked, bent or brittle stems. Older feathers have a tendency to become brittle and are easily broken when palmered. Bent tips are pretty common; this happens frequently when a natural material is too long for the packaging and it’s stuffed in at an angle to make it fit. Although soaking or steaming can correct many of these problems, it is better to avoid the headaches right off the bat. Larger capes may contain more fly-tying fodder, but bigger is not necessarily better. The quality of the materials is far more important than the quantity.