Down, the fluffy layer of feathers insulating birds, is the warmest natural material for its weight available.
When you are raising poultry, ducks or geese for food, you will want to use as much of your birds as possible; plucking and saving the down for use in pillows, comforters, outerwear and padding will be a worthwhile investment of your time. The savvy homesteader will investigate traditional techniques for getting the most out of down, because with proper construction and care a down comforter will warm your family for generations.
Begin by separating your feathers from the down. This is most easily done right when plucking, as you needn’t handle the feathers more than once. Store washed and dried feathers for use in padding, and with down stored separately. If some larger feathers make their way into the down, don’t make yourself crazy trying to sort them all out. It’s true they will add weight, but they will also contribute structure and help the comforter maintain its bulk. Store the down in flour sacks, pillow cases, bread bags, or a similarly sized secure bag as down likes to try to float away on the slightest breeze.
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Next, choose fabric for your comforter. Sturdy cotton is best to prevent the tips of the down feathers from punching through the comforter and duvet cover and poking you in the night. Cotton is easy to clean and will let moisture move from the feathers to the fabric, allowing you to more easily dry the comforter when it becomes wet. You can repurpose old sheets if you like, but be certain they have a high thread count and no areas of wear. You don’t need very soft fabric for the comforter, as you will be making a duvet cover out of softer fabric.
There are two common structures for the sewing of down comforters. The first type, baffle box, involves sewing material between the top and bottom layers of the comforter to make individual boxes of down. It is an excellent choice for colder climates, as the down will capture more air and therefore is more insulating; however, it is much more labor intensive to make. For your first down comforter, use the box stitch instead, which will still keep the down distributed throughout the comforter. Box stitch is created by sewing the top and bottom cover together in a checkered pattern.
When you’re ready to start sewing, turn the outsides of your top and bottom together, pin them and seam them on three sides, leaving one of the narrow ends open. Turn the comforter right-side out, and sew channels evenly spaced across the length of the comforter, approximately six to 10 inches apart. You may choose to sew the channels and boxes by hand in order to greater control the precision; this will extend the life of your comforter. Work in a draft-free room to prevent down from getting away from you while you work. You will stuff the bottom of each channel with a measured amount of down, and then sew by hand across the width of the comforter to seal that portion of the channel and create a row of boxes. Weigh the down and stuff each channel with an equal amount to allow for four to eight evenly spaced boxes to be sewn across the width of the comforter. When you have completed the last row of boxes, finish the top edge of the comforter, turning the seam in as you go.
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To make a simple duvet cover, choose soft cotton in a pleasing pattern. Again, pin it with wrong sides together and seam on three sides, leaving a short end open. Turn the cover right-side out and finish the last seam with a snap, zipper or other closure. You can also attach snaps to the inside corners of your duvet cover and the outside corners of your comforter to help the cover stay in place. Slide your comforter into the cover, fasten the corners, close the end and get cozy.
The duvet cover will help you keep the comforter clean, since it protects the comforter and you can wash it separately. You should only need to wash the comforter seasonally — if that. When it comes time to wash the down comforter, use a gentle machine cycle or hand washing, taking care not to compact the feathers. Allow the comforter to fully line dry before storing. When removing from storage, airing the comforter on the line on a dry day will make it fluffy and fresh; you can air it out every few months of regular use, as well.
With proper care, your comforter should last a lifetime. Repair any tears or worn patches promptly, keep the comforter dry and well-aired, and cover it to keep it clean. Your family will be cozy beneath that comforter for a generation or more, and your hard work will be well worth it.
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