Since I've been working in upholstery since last summer (has it been that long already???), I've come to find a huge appreciation for down & feather pillows.
Those who know me well know that I have a deep love for old things. This is evident if you've ever visited my home, browsed my blogs, or know of my interests (fine antique clocks, antiques, and cabinetmaking - to name a few). There's just something wonderful about the level of quality and craftsmanship that is found in antique items, and isn't seen these days anymore (unless you pay a premium).
Getting back to upholstery, a lot of people are shocked and appalled when they find out that some of the old pieces are stuffed with straw, horsehair, cotton, and jute. Some of our clients find that the pieces are too stiff and uncomfortable, and choose to have the upholstery changed to foam (which is sad). What a lot of people don't realize is that foam may be more comfortable, but it only lasts about 20-30 years, and then it's no good. It either becomes too soft (a common problem on sofas - where you sink into them), or it hardens and crumbles into dust (as I've seen on several chairs). This is not true for horsehair and cotton. While straw does eventually break down, for the most part it can be reused, and will usually last around 100+ years. We have done dozens of antique Victorian or early 1900s pieces with this kind of stuffing, and we can usually reuse it successfully. Horsehair and cotton will last indefinitely, and the rest of antique upholstery (the jute webbing and burlap covers) needs occasional replacement.
This brings me to feather pillows. Lately we've been working with a lot of them (a huge sofa cushion, and half a dozen loose pillows). We did a beautiful little wing chair recently which had horsehair stuffing in the arms, back, and wings (the bottom had been previously replaced), and it had a wonderful feather seat pillow. The pillow was almost 90-ish years old (we estimated the chair was around 1920-30), and despite a few small tears to the pillow lining, it was still beautiful, fluffy, and comfortable.
There isn't really anything comparable to the feel of feather pillows these days. Down pillows are even less common (feathers are much cheaper and more plentiful, whereas down is only the thin and supper fluffy "under feather" stuff). What is generally used these days as "down alternative" is just Dacron pillow stuffing, which is a fluffy polyester material, or something similar. This is what you'll find in most throw pillows and bed pillows. They feel nothing like feather pillows, and the material is much cheaper to produce. Generally, a Dacron throw pillow is 2$ while a feather throw pillow is at least 12$. Feather pillows have almost a memory foam springiness to them, and you can fluff them, and arrange them very easily. They also don't really ever form lumps (which can be a common problem with Dacron). Feather pillows also last pretty much forever (100+ years and more, occasionally needing new "down proof covers" made for them).
Here's the original label from a set of pillows we worked on recently.
The main reason for this post was to share my new-found love for down/feather pillows. I decided to buy one for my bed to see if I'd like it more than a standard pillow. Feather pillows are actually not too easy to find locally anymore. Out of the wide selection of standard pillows at the store I visited, they had ONE option for a Standard/Queen feather pillow (made in Canada!) and they were 14.95$ each. Not cheap, considering you can get a standard pillow for 4$, but also pretty standard pricing for a feather pillow, and you're paying for a much higher quality item. I tried it last night, and I actually found it very comfortable, much easier to adjust, and I'm not sorry I spent the money on it. Time will tell, but it's possible I might never go back to a standard pillow again.