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Properties of Down:

Breathability: Down has a remarkable ability to wick away moisture. It allows water vapour to pass right through it, keeping the sleeper comfortable, with none of the clamminess that is often felt with synthetics.

Cleanliness: High quality downs are carefully washed, rinsed and dried, using machinery developed for this
specific purpose. Special sanitizing processes are used to ensure the down is hypoallergenic. When this process is complete the finished product has a very high level of cleanliness.

Density: This describes how dense the fibers of down are at its center. The denser the down, the better it traps air, and the better insulator it is. High density is found only in very mature downs.

Loft: Loft is the number of cubic inches one ounce of down will fill under specific conditions: The larger, more mature the bird, the higher the loft of its down

Cling: Downs must be very mature to develop this trait. Tiny hooks develop as the down matures and these hooks cause down clusters to cling together giving a more even layer of insulation. Since it is costly to maintain birds to this level of maturity, the resulting down is very expensive, but exceptional.

Different types of feathers:

Feathers are used in pillows as well as featherbeds.

Chopped feathers are used in cheaper, lower quality pillows and featherbeds. It is made by chopping up large flight feathers. After use these feather pieces will lie flat on top of each other resulting in a flat product.
 
Small flight feathers are naturally flat and are also used in lower quality products and the resulting item is flat with no spring or bounce.
 
Body feathers have a natural bend or curve which prevents them from lying flat. They make for a much nicer pillow or featherbed. A product using higher quality body feathers will cost more, but will offer much more comfort and will last much longer than a cheaper item.

Countries of Origin:

Down feathers are an international commodity traded between countries all over the world. There are no countries which produce high quality downs at low cost.

Asia: About 50% of the world's supply comes from Asia. Most of this is lower to medium grades of down as they generally raise their geese to this stage of maturity.

Europe: Poland, Hungary, and other European nations have a long history of raising geese and ducks that are more mature. This results in generally higher grades of down.

Canada: Downs range from medium grades to superb grades of down. High quality Hutterite down comes from this area.

U.S.A: Very little down is produced other than small amounts of Hutterite down from N. Dakota and lower grade duck downs.

Sources:Down Association of Canada

 

Goose Down Feathers

Down refers to the undercoating of waterfowl, including goose, duck or swan, consisting of light fluffy filaments (barbs) growing from a quill point but without a quill shaft. Goose down is larger, yet lighter than duck down making it the down of preference. Down is soft and three-dimensional, used to hold air at high altitudes
and low temperatures with a minimum of weight.

Feather refers to the external horny structure that forms the body covering of birds and consists of a quill point, quill shaft and vanes, with or without an aftershaft. Duck or goose feathers are hard and heavy and are used for flying and swimming.

Many things affect the quality of a down product. Generally, the best down comes from larger, more mature birds. When age and maturity are equal, goose down is better than duck down. However, down from a mature duck is better than down from an immature goose. Down from immature birds not only tends to have poor lofting ability, it also tends to collapse in a relatively short time, because its fibers are so fragile. A duvet made with a mature down will be warmer, lighter and puffier. It will last much longer than one made with immature down.

What makes down such a good insulator?

Each ounce of high quality down has about 2 million fluffy filaments that interlock and overlap to form a protective layer of still air that keeps warmth in and cold out. It is these tiny pockets of air trapped by the down fibers that actually do the insulating. The more mature the down, the greater number of air pockets there are for more efficient insulating. Loft is directly related to insulating power. Because of its resilience, you can scrunch down up or flatten it out, and all it takes is a good shake for it to fluff up and bounce back.

Down gives approximately three times the warmth per ounce as synthetics. Far less down is needed by weight than other fillings, which means a much lighter, but warmer product. Synthetics mat and clump together in time, leaving empty cold spots, while down continually relofts, and molds itself to the body. Down also has the marvelous ability to breathe and wick away perspiration.

How does one judge quality?

Does color have any relationship to quality? Color does not affect the quality of a down at all. White down is generally preferred because it can be put into light colored coverings without showing through. Eiderdown, for instance, is dark brown. Again, quality is determined mainly by the maturity of the bird.

Does climate affect the quality of down? Climate doesn't affect the quality of the down, but it will affect quantity. A bird in cold weather will not grow bigger down to stay warm; it will simply grow more down to stay warm. Quality itself depends on the maturity of the bird.

How are down and feathers processed? Down and feathers are carefully washed with special processes, rinsed, dried and then separated into different grades by blowing. This is done in a separator consisting of several large bins. The largest feathers, which are the heaviest fall into the first bins, followed by medium, then small feathers. The large, mature down is next, followed lastly by the immature downs. The careful cleaning and grading process must be properly done, in order to permanently elimintate odors, and to ensure permanent lofting of the down.

Why do down products vary so much in price? You may find a wide range of pricing for down products. There are many factors which affect the quality, and therefore the price. An inexpensive product will be filled with immature down, which will provide little warmth, and will most likely collapse after relatively little use. Shortcuts in the cleaning and processing will have been taken, and this will often lead to odor problems. The Down Association of Canada has also found that a substantial number of inexpensive offshore products have contained high percentages of feathers, rather than down as promised on the label. Workmanship and design are generally inferior on cheap products. Overall, a "bargain" is usually a waste of money. A quality product will certainly cost more, but it will be warm and cozy and last for many years. Something that costs more but lasts 10 times as long is a better value.

When cared for properly, a high quality down will last for generations. Down Association of Canada members have recovered down duvets, several decades old, with fillings which were still in very good condition.

Won't down and feathers cause allergies?

Concern about allergies to down is a bit of an old wives tale. True allergies to down and feather are quite rare.
Most people who believe they are allergic to down or feather are actually allergic to dust mites. We know people who were told they were allergic to down and feather who have been using modern down products for many years with no problems.

High quality downs are put through rigorous cleaning processes which finish with special treatments to insure the down is hypoallergenic. People are usually allergic to dust mites rather than to either down or feather. Using a mite proof pillow protector on new or newly cleaned pillows will eliminate most of these problems.
to permanently elimintate odors, and to ensure permanent lofting of the down.