Monday, March 11, 2013

There's more to beds than you might imagine...

We watched this video recently - "Grandma's Feather Bed" from John Denver's visit to the muppet show:

This got me thinking about the lyrics, and once I'd read them (here), I started wondering what in the world was meant by "a whole bolt of cloth for the tick." This took me to Wikipedia, here.

Just reading the article was fascinating. Here's an excerpt:

"Featherbeds were only for the rich in the 14th century, but by the 19th century they were a comfort that ordinary people could aspire to - especially if they kept a few geese. The beds, also called feather ticks or feather mattresses, were valuable possessions. People made wills promising them to the next generation, and emigrants, travelling to the New World from Europe, packed up bulky featherbeds and took them on the voyage. If you didn't inherit one, you needed to buy up to 50 pounds of feathers, or save feathers from years of plucking until there were enough for a new bed.
The feathers could be saved from geese or ducks being prepared for cooking. In England servant-girls were often allowed to keep feathers from poultry they'd plucked, and could save them to make a featherbed or pillows for their future married life."
You may have noticed the word "tick" in there. These days the striped fabric used for mattresses and pillows is called "ticking fabric." What I found most interesting is how something that we currently take for granted, a soft mattress, could be something that people worked toward achieving for years, and cared for enough to take it on a lengthy ship voyage.

Beds as we treat them now are an object of value, but that has changed a lot over time. That means if you're using beds the way we use them now, they have to have a similar basis within the culture. Not only that, but people are probably pretty much the same size that they are now. I remember seeing the bed that Abraham Lincoln died in, and it was so short that he had to be laid on it diagonally. Similarly, in Europe, we see a lot of very short beds.

In Japan, they have futons, and those are not at all like the wooden frames plus mattress objects that we find here in the US. They have two parts: the shikibuton, which plays the part of the mattress, but has no box spring and is essentially a thicker-than-usual comforter sort of object, and the kakebuton, which is the top comforter part. That top part gets tied into the inside of a cloth envelope like a duvet cover, which typically has an oval window in the top of it, covered by netting. Both parts get folded up in the morning and tucked in the closet until they are brought out again and laid on the tatami mats for bedtime.

How do you think beds might be different in your world? It's something to think about.

I'll put up a report on my weekend at ConDor tomorrow!


  1. Possibly a tiny bit to add to "people are probably pretty much the same size that they are now. I remember seeing the bed that Abraham Lincoln died in, and it was so short that he had to be laid on it diagonally."

    We visited a Canal House on the Delaware when the kids were little (part of teaching them Colonial history), where the docent told us the reason the beds were so short was that people didn't believe it was safe to actually lie down, and slept half propped up.

    I wondered if that were actually possible - being myself of the fetal-position sleeping tribe, but people did all sorts of things in the past - such as bathing very infrequently - that we 'modern' Western types don't do any more.

    Human beliefs have evolved much more quickly than human bodies can possibly change - we still see that in what people eat. I myself can't tolerate large quantities of carbohydrates - but humans couldn't grow into larger numbers until the development of agriculture with the massive influx of CHs into the diet.

    1. Thanks for this comment, ABE. Much appreciated - and I do see your point about the reclining in bed. That's another rich cultural tidbit! You are certainly right about how quickly cultural beliefs change in comparison to biology (like lightning!).