Featherbeds and Duvets, or Down Comforters have a somewhat similar history even though they are used in different ways, by using them together, people have, for centuries kept warm in the coldest of climates.
Somewhere around the 14th century, wealthy land owners began to make what we now know as a featherbed. Most people slept on mattresses made of hay. Hay was plentiful and cheap. It was only the wealthy who could afford a bed made of feathers because it took a lot of geese and ducks to supply enough down to make a bed. Live birds could have their downy breast feathers harvested several times a year, even so, it usually it took years to gather the 50+ pounds of feathers needed to make a full mattress. These featherbed mattresses were so difficult to obtain and such a luxury that they were considered part of a dowry for an unwed woman or heirlooms to be passed down from one generation to the next. By the 19th century, regular folk had figured out that they too could gather enough down to make their own featherbeds.
Usually featherbeds were used in conjunction with an existing mattress much firmer and usually filled with hay. The featherbed was laid on top of the other mattress to provide softness and warmth while sleeping. Today, featherbeds are utilized in much the same way as those people did centuries ago; featherbeds are placed on top of a mattress to provide comfort and warmth.
Duvets originally developed in northern Europe where the winters are long and cold. Duvets are actually called fedderbetten, or featherbeds, in German, and their use has been reported since the 1700s. Having a ‘featherbed’ underneath you as well as on top assured the sleeper of a warm, soft night’s sleep.
A duvet is a loosely quilted comforter that is generally placed into a large fabric sheeting envelope which is fastened with buttons or snaps. It has quilted channels or baffles sewn into the construction to prevent the loose down from shifting. Early duvets were a large, single space that allowed for the down to shift in the night causing ‘cold spots’; spots that had no down provided no more covering than a sheet and afforded no warmth. Eventually, channels or baffles were sewn into the duvet to prevent down shifting as well as to make smoothing out the duvet easier for the bed maker.
In Europe, a duvet is traditionally used alone with only a bottom sheet while in the U.S. we use a comforter inside a duvet cover as a blanket. Duvets covers are washable and provide a protective covering for your down comforter which can be difficult to clean and must be aired out on occasion just as a featherbed would need.
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