Pillows are used as head-rests for sleeping on, mostly replacing the earlier, long bolster. They come in several ‘standard’ sizes, as do pillow covers, or pillowcases, and are designed to fit standard beds.
Beds have become larger and the ubiquitous double bed – 135cm ( 4’6 “) – of the 20C has all but disappeared except as a generous single, the 150 cm size ( 5′ ) that replaced it has, for most of us changed up to 180 cm ( 6′ ) or 200 cm ( 6′ 8″). Not least because these beds are often made of two 90 or 100 cm ( 36″ or 39 1/2” ) single beds that are zip- linked together, providing each with their own choice of mattress density and filling.
For a long time standard pillows were 75 x 50 cm ( approx. 20″ x 29-30″ ), however most are now 90 x 50 ( approx. 36″ x 20 ‘ ) to suit the larger bed sizes.
Traditional bed dressing allows two pillows per person: an under pillow, which is made of a feather/down mix, and a softer, down-filled top pillow. With bigger beds we now tend to have five to six pillows per bed, so that the gap in the middle is also filled.
Dressing the bed for show requires four larger pillows placed in pairs at the top of the bed with two- six small cushions arranged in front. These pillows either join the smaller cushions on a chair or somewhere overnight or are re-arranged and dovetailed for more or less height as the sleeper requires.
For those allergic to feather and down, there are very good alternatives, such as folded wool, silk, or silk and fibre. Full width bolsters, although not strictly pillows are worth mentioning here as they seem to be making something of a comeback – not as the hard and rigid rolls of the past, more as a continuous under pillow, and are often filled with wool.
The big square pillows that are often known as ‘continental’ pillows have been used more and more internationally over the last couple of decades. They are the best sizes to support those who like to prop themselves up for morning tea and newspapers. Although we mostly don’t need to soften the bed-head itself, as bed heads today are mostly upholstered, they do protect the upholstery fabric from wear, tear, and hair products. Big pillows at the top of the bed help to keep it all warm and cosy whatever the weather or heating arrangements.
These are anything between 60 cms ( 24″ ) and 90 cms ( 36″ ) square. They do need a really good quality filling with a high percentage of down or perhaps silk – too much feather and they are heavy and not very enjoyable, fibre looks Ok for the first two minutes then goes as flat as a pancake and is supremely uncomfortable, and ugly. The best covers still come from the vintage linen stalls in French markets.
Pillow covers can be the easiest furnishing item to make, without any of the tricky physical closure such as buttons, zipper or ties, and instead just an overlapping flap across the centre back or at the end.