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The Low Down on Down Bedding

May 31 2010

Is there any other textile for the bed or bath that feels more luxurious than down bedding?

There are many reasons you may want to choose down for your new bedding. It’s lightweight, warm and fluffy, with a unique breathability that has yet to be equaled by synthetic fibers. Explains the Down Association of Canada,  down serves to wick away moisture, allowing water vapor to pass through the down fibers. This keeps you warm without clamminess or heaviness, and you can sleep in cooler air while staying warmer, saving on energy bills.

Down is part of the plumage grown by waterfowl for warmth. It clusters under and around the flight and body feathers, on the breast and under the wings. The geese and duck molt or shed the down just as they shed their larger feathers. 

While there is some controversy surrounding the collection of down, it is a derivative of the poultry industry, which means the down is collected after the birds have been slaughtered for their meat. Geese are also kept on farms where they are manually plucked when they molt their feathers.  As they molt, the geese preen their feathers, loosening the down and feathers for “dry-harvesting.” Reputable farmers don’t pull feathers from live birds, but preen loose down and feathers in the same humane way one would brush a dog to get rid of loose fur.

The down side, pardon the pun, is cost. The collection process is tedious with low yields per bird. 

The upside is investment. One comforter can last for generations if properly cared for, making it arguably the most eco-friendly textile there is.

How do you buy down products? The finer the quality, the higher the cost. Basically, down products are priced according to the ratio of down to feathers and by construction. 

 A top-quality comforter should have at least 90% down, according to down-feather-bedding.com. The advantage is more “loft” which means the fibers buoyantly trap air for warmth while remaining fluffy and uncompressed.

The technical way to measure loft is “fill power” or fluffiness, which is determined by how much down it takes to fill a cubic inch, after being compressed and allowed to expand again. A poor quality comforter has a fill power number of 500 or so, while superlative bedding is 800 or higher. A higher number is also lighter in weight, giving you more freedom of movement.

Second, how the pillow or comforter is constructed is also important. Just as higher thread counts denote quality in cotton sheets, wool rugs and other textiles, you want a higher thread-count in your pillow or comforter.  For comforters, you want baffle box construction that compartmentalizes the down to keep it from shifting while allowing plenty of room for the down to compress and re-expand.  The advantage is no overly warm or cold spots in your covers. The warmth is evenly distributed.

You can buy comforters and pillows ready made and check the specifications before you buy, and you can also have duvets, feather beds and other products custom made for you at bulk down manufacturers from Canada or Hungary. 

You can also request custom bedding from an interior design professional who can coordinate your bedding with the rest of your bedroom.  Award-winning ASID interior designer Charlotte Comer specializes in fine antique linens which are not the standard sizes of today. Through her sources, she orders custom duvets, pillows, shams and other bedding to fit these priceless linens through a bulk down supplier and seamstress who works exclusively with fine eiderdown and goose down.

To learn more about down, visit Downmark.com and QueenDownComforter.net.