Winter has finally arrived, two weeks ago, and with it the joy of taking out of storage all the lovely things that keep us warm. Number One on my list is down.
When the boys were little, I made an investment and bought Four Seasons down duvets for all the beds in our house. Pure Goose Down. Airy and light and when two duvets are clipped together, incredibly warm for the deepest winter. The Four Seasons from Granny Goose, or All Seasons from Royal Comfort or Makoti are such a practical solution, offering you three duvets in one: Summer, Autumn/Spring, and Winter.
But what I miss, are the down quilts I grew up with. Starting out my life as a child sleeping under heavy cotton sheets and blankets, the way I got to know life, every bed was topped with what we called an ‘eiderdown’ in winter. No matter that the fluffy down inside never saw an Eider duck in its life, it was an eiderdown. And my grandmother made them all. She lived in the farmhouse where I was later to grow up, being an absolute domestic goddess capable of the finest tatting, embroidery and lace making, choux pastry and delicacies like pickled tongue and then, without blinking an eye, being able to deftly skin a rabbit and pluck the down feathers from her own ducks.
The fabrics, oh those beautiful ,tightly woven fabrics that no feather could poke through. The colours, the patterns, the choices! I wonder why they have disappeared, when down products are still available. The best you can do, is dig out what you inherited from your granny or trawl through antique shops. If you like the busy patterns, that is. Personally I think an eiderdown must have a pretty fabric, whether paisley or sprigs of flowers or granny print. Especially if you have a bed with plain linen, the prettiness of the quilt will be even more striking.
Recently the vintage shop Gister in Somerset West posted this picture (below) of a few quilts for sale and they looked so beautiful, I thought I should go and see them for myself. Gister is a very well curated, small treasure trove. The displays are like story boards. Needless to say, the quilts were already sold.
But it did make me remember that deep in a drawer I still had a single bed eiderdown quilt from my childhood. I’d put it away because it has suffered a fair amount of abuse from the long line of children that slept under it and it has been roughly darned as well as (yes, you may be horrified) a few ink blots, no doubt from school homework being done on the bed in the days of fountain pens.
There is no chintz, patterned, down-proof fabric to be found these days, so my solution was to choose a very pretty cotton quilting fabric, sew up a cover to the exact measurement of the eiderdown and then enclose it. The most difficult part was to pin all the channels precisely, then with a triple-stitch zigzag, sew right through the whole thing, all along the seam line of the inner quilt, with my sewing machine. It worked, and now my old eiderdown is back in play.
You can do exactly the same, if you have the patience. Alternatively you can make a cover from the prettiest cotton fabric you can find and then fill it with puffy polyester, which is very light. Some may shoot me for even mentioning the word polyester but hey, are you about to go and pluck a duck? I know I couldn’t. Quilts were filled with anything at hand – if polyester was available 100 years ago, they may well have used that too. Though, in truth, it is not nearly as cosy and warm as down. A few years ago I restored another ancient quilt – and found that all the pockets had been stuffed with silk stockings!
Down is almost impossible to work with. Once upon a time I had the bright idea to make my own down duvet and ordered the 900 grams of goose down that was needed. Carefully, with my hands deep inside the bag, I managed to divide up all the down into nine small bags, each intended for one of the channels in the duvet. The down didn’t want to cooperate, it wanted to go everywhere. My husband suggested I should blow the down from the small bag into the duvet’s channel with a hairdryer. I gave this a try and at first it seemed to work, until the plastic of the bag got melted by the heat of the hairdryer and WHOOSH! all the down shot up into the air. It was literally airborne, like a blizzard of fluff. And just then, there was a knock at the door. I think there was somebody very startled that day, when two downy white apparitions with fluffy white eyelashes opened the door! Let’s just say, that first duvet did not lead to a long and happy and successful career in duvets. It ended before it even began.
For further reading, go to: http://www.oldandinteresting.com/history-feather-beds.aspx