The Feather Bed

The 3 story house of my childhood was built in 1900. It featured an oil furnace that had floor registers, only one of which was on the lowest landing of the stairway and had to service all the upstairs bedrooms.

The room I always shared with at least 2 sisters was at the end of the hallway, and received little or no heat. The huge windows and cold linoleum floor were no help.

feather bed


So along came the feather bed. It had survived from my grandmother’s early days of marriage, living on a farm. They raised dairy cows, but also had a huge flock of geese and ducks. These provided the filler for the feather bed, which was like a full-sized pillow that covered the iron framed, open spring double bed that I remember so well.

1920 bed

From a 1920’s catalog.

The down feathers were covered in that sturdy, striped pillow ticking fabric that was very popular at the turn of the century. I can hardly imagine how long it took to acquire the feathers to fill something so large. There are funny stories about how my grandmother would pluck the feathers off of living birds. My dad and his sister remember a lot of naked ducks on the farm.

ticking 2

Pillow ticking. Fading fast.

Now almost 100 years old, the cover is beginning to deteriorate. A few years back, I started to extract the feathers, thinking I would use them to make pillows to give as gifts to my siblings. I was warned by my stepmother that this would be a very difficult task. She was right.

After I filled about 20 or 30 plastic bags with down, I realized I had barely made a dent. And the feathers were airborne. What a mess.

I sought out some Amish quilt makers in my area, to seek advice and see if they could be hired for the task. None of them would take on the challenge.

For now, it is sitting in my grandmother’s steamer trunk, about 75 % intact, with the cover still fading fast. I just can’t bring myself to get rid of it. Maybe some day.

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2 Responses to The Feather Bed

  1. lbeth1950 says:

    Can you just put a new cover over without taking off the old one?

    • It’s more complicated than that, Linda. There are some sad stories surrounding this thing, which I no doubt will never talk about. My first instinct was to burn it, but I settled for simply dismantling it and saving bits as pillows, but only to honor my grandmother’s efforts. The project is on hold for now.

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