Down 101: Down vs. Feathers

a feather floating through the air into a waiting hand

Heidi, from the St.Genève marketing team, had a confession to make: “Before coming to St.Genève, I thought that down and feathers were the same thing; that there was no difference between a down pillow and a feather pillow. In fact, I associated down pillows with the crunchy, uncomfortable pillows at my grandparents’ house. Boy, was I wrong!”

This is a common misconception, and today we’re going to talk about the difference between down and feathers.

Feathers

Feathers are the part of the bird most of us are well-associated with. They are quite large and usually have a stiff, heavy quill running through the center — these range in size from small body feathers to large flight feathers. Feathers are large and plentiful and much cheaper than down.

Down

Down, on the other hand, is soft under plumage that geese and ducks grow to keep them warm. Unlike the feather, with its stiff quill, a down cluster looks like a dandelion puff. Feathers are flat and two-dimensional, whereas down is three-dimensional, with tiny filaments that reach out, interlock with one another, and form pockets to capture warm air. This dimensionality is why down is such a powerful insulator and why St.Genève chooses down for all of our luxurious products.

Are Feathers Bad?

That’s not to say that feathers are bad – high-quality body feathers are extremely useful, and St.Genève uses them in select products. Body feathers, unlike the large flight feathers, are small, soft, and have a curve in the quill that creates a lovely spring. They are ideal for uses like featherbeds, cushion forms, and down blends.

Low-quality products tend to use chopped flight feathers, which are cheap but make for crunchy, uncomfortable products.