Thursday, 10 July 2014


There are a charming pair of French prints circa 18c. titled the 'slumbering' and 'awakening', of a very prettily dressed young woman in a very fancy bed, all embellished with frills and flounces, and behind her is a little mountain of pillows and bolsters - this harks back to the tradition amongst the gentry of sleeping in an upright sitting position because they thought it unhealthy to lie flat on the bed. I have been told that this went back to a very ancient medieval superstition that if you were prone and snoring with your mouth open, this would let the Devil into your body - but if you were upright with your trap closed, you were safe!

Anyway, French bolsters seem to be a very important part of bed-making; the best are stuffed with goose feathers which are stiffer and stronger than chickens', and they are packed tight to make a rigid platform for the head, covered in those lovely dark blue indigo and white striped tickings with ovals or circles of stripes each end. The loose linen  covers, known as 'traversins' are usually simple tubes of white linen, open each end and the flaps can hang or be tucked under the mattress.  I have had sheets 14ft long, enough to cover a  pile of many bolsters and pillows.
The best pillows are filled with curled duck feathers and down, and are firmer and less liable to lumps than chicken feathers which often have a disagreeable smell and are liable to shatter and become very dusty with long use. You can wash both pillows and cushions pads, feathers and all, in a gentle bath dip and mild detergent, adding borax which keeps the feathers from sticking in a ball, and hanging outside on a windy day, shaking frequently, or using a hot cupboard and tumble dryer for the last stages. Make sure there are no tiny faults in fabric or sewing, or you will have a real mess to clear up! but frankly, when they have got to that stage you are much better off with new fillings.  The trouble is that the  cover of the pillow gets stained with the wet mass of feathers inside and it is almost impossible to get it Persil white! Even the new synthetic fillings, which are good for those with dust, feather and dust-mite allergies, eventually discolour and start to crumble. I always use an under-pillow case, of heavy linen or flanelette, and this greatly improves their appearance and lifespan. I am told you can sterilize feathers by putting them overnight in the lower warm oven of an Aga or Rayburn.    In pre-war years department stores sold gift boxes of two pillow cases and a bolster case with matching embroidery (often machine work) in Irish linen or fine cotton, SEE PICTURE ABOVE. It made a good 'minor' wedding present.

No comments:

Post a Comment