The origins of feather date back to the Jurassic: in 1860, the most ancient feather was discovered in Bavaria and can now be admired in the Munich Palaeontology Museum. In 1877, another discovery was made in Solnhofen, Germany: a specimen of Archaeopterys, the most ancient fossil bird, completely covered with feathers, even on its four paws, which belonged to the Saurornithoides was found and is now housed by the Berlin museum.

Birds have always been hunted, and often exploited, by man. However, they are now protected as some species are endangered.

As to the history of feather fillings, the German Royal House used to breed no less than 2000 semi-domesticated swans. These were plucked twice a year (May and August) and their feathers were used for bedding. Swans were grouped in ad hoc fences and then plucked. The first articulation of the youngest swans’ wing was broken to prevent them from flying.

Swan feathers were used for luxury quilts and precious ornaments, and their down was used for powder puffs.

Today swans are protected animals.



All existing geese species derive from the wild goose. They are classified as follows: common geese, giant geese and cygnoides. They are also classified according to their use. Common geese, grey Padua geese, white Piacenza geese and Normandy geese are bred for their meat. Embden geese and Toulouse geese are bred for meat and foie gras. Egypt geese, Guinea geese, Danube geese and Magellan geese are bred for hunting. White Poitou geese and geese from the Romagna area are bred for their leather and feathers. The Pyrenean goose is a crossbreed between the swan-goose and the Chinese goose and is bred for its liver. White geese are crossbreds because geese are naturally grey.

All existing species of domestic duck derive from the wild duck. From an industrial point of view, they can be classified as follows: common ducks (common Italian ducks, with a tuft and a hook-bill), Rouen ducks (Rouen, Duclair, Laplaigne, Sweden), Aylesbury ducks (Aylesbury, Orpington), Asian ducks (Beijing, Japan, Merthem), American or brown ducks (Labrador, Cajuga, musk duck). The Italian, Beijing and Aylesbury breeds are particularly appreciated for their down.


Eider down is the best of all. Eiders live in cold areas (Norway, Iceland, Greenland) and in arctic and sub arctic regions. They are seabirds and eat seafood and sea insects. Their meat is coarse and fat but their down is greatly demanded, as it is the softest and lightest of all. Eiders tear away their down to build their nests, where it is collected by hand after their hatching.



Magic rituals: from the secret spring in the extrasensory world to the making of talismans and casting of spells. There are many theories, hypotheses, proverbs and legends concerning animal “psi”, a sort of psychic energy believed to affect migration patterns and relationships between animals and humans. For instance, eight centuries ago, a swan was believed to announce the arrival of Saint Hugh by fluttering around his mansion in Lincoln.

Goose blood was used to make a paste believed to have healing effects. Goose feathers towered on this propitiatory costume worn to keep off evil spirits.

Goose is associated with the moon, which symbolises security, vegetative life, and peace of mind, inspiration, foresight, travel and quiet.

In the dream book, goose indicates persecution of enemies and, for bingo lovers, is represented by number 24.

Feathers were also burnt to treat people who experienced syncope.

The quill shaft was used to hold together two pads of cotton with camphor or other aromatic herbs in between. In case of epidemics these hygienic sticks were kept in the mouth.

The outermost wing feathers were preferred for writing because they were easily cut and sharpened.


index_seiThe indigenous population of the Celebes Islands used to wear a traditional costume made of a braided band and a turban, with a bird of paradise on top, which was bound around their forehead.

In Brazil’s forests, hummingbirds were allegedly desiccated, covered with feathers and then used as ornament for young Machineries girls. They were worn as earrings, as if they were sapphire, emerald or topaz jewels.

In France, a hat with a peacock feather on top was widely used in the Middle Ages; these peacock feathers were also used to make fans.

Back in ancient Rome, high-quality down pillows were highly valued. At that time, every bed had three pillows, different in size, one on top of the other, a custom that was initially adopted in the East. Carthaginians preferred feathers to vegetal fibres as filling material.

In ancient times, birds had a supernatural meaning. They were believed to be messengers from supernatural forces and divine symbols. Egyptians had several myths describing the origin of the earth: one of these told that at the beginning the world was just a mass of water and mud. Then water receded and a small island emerged on which there were only frogs, snakes and one egg. A divine goose came out of the egg and created the other gods, animals, plants, and men.

Arabs used ostrich skin, decorated with feathers, as cuirass. On September 14th 1590, during the Battle of Ivry, Henry IV wrote to his people: “If you lose your ensigns, your horns, or your standards, do not lose sight of my plumed helmet; you shall find it always in the path to honour and glory”.

In Rome, soldiers’ helmets were decorated with stiff feathers on top.

In the Middle Ages, cock feathers were used to make plumes, hence the name “cockade”. Modern cockades, made of ribbon, are still named after them.


The sectors manufacturing natural filling material (feather and down) witnessed a remarkable growth in recent years, hence the need to provide processing industries – from washers to sorters, and manufacturers as well as end users – with correct and clear information.

A set of terms and definitions is the first step to achieve clarity and help the consumers understand several features, above all the qualitative and quantitative composition of manufactured products. Here are some of the most widely used terms (for further information, please refer to UNI EN 1885):

Quill feather: stiff, coarse, wing and tail plumage. It has a longer and stiffer vane than a feather.

Feather: (general) plumage without quill feathers.

Feather: (specific) horny integument of fowls. It has a shorter and softer vane than quill feather and, unlike plumules, a well developed quill.

Down: plumage forming the undercoating of waterfowl, consisting of clusters of light, fluffy filaments growing from one scantly sketched down core but without any quill shaft or vane.
NOTE: conventionally at least two barbs connected at one point are considered as down.

Vane: the whole of feather barbs intimately connected among them by means of barbules; it branches off from the quill shaft.

Feather barb: main structure of the vane, directly growing from the quill shaft.

Down barb: filamentary structure which emanates directly from the down core.

Waterfowl feather: feather derived from the plucking of waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, and/or picked from eiderducks’ nests.

Landfowl feather: feather derived from the plucking of landfowl (gallinaceans); it includes chicken and turkey feather.

Chicken feather: feather derived from the plucking of chickens (Gallus Gallus); also feather of all kind of landfowls.

Finished feather: feather which has been passed through all the working processes, including washing, drying and all hygienic treatments.

New feather: feather not previously used after plucking as filling material.

Reprocessed feather: feather which has been previously used as filling material and again subjected to hygienic treatment.

Milled feather: new feather which has been chopped or curled by means of a mechanical process.

As to down and feather filled products two further definitions are important:

a bag made of cloth or leather which is filled with feather and is used for sitting, or as ornament on beds, sofas and the like.

a cloth bag filled with feather covered by a pillow-case, used for supporting a person’s head when they are in bed.

(from: Grande Dizionario della Lingua Italiana – Battaglia)