Pillows: How do you like yours?

Do you like hard or soft pillows? This might be a random question to ask but it may just depend on where you grew up!

Homemade pillows were used in ancient Egypt, medieval Europe and early America. In the mid 19th century, the Industrial Revolution and the evolving textile industry changed the way they were produced.

From homemade and hand-embroidered, they became machine-made. Bed pillows were stuffed with goose down or feathers to make them more cosy and comfortable.

However, in China pillows were very different. First they were smooth stones and later, by the late sixth century, they were rectangular blocks made of wood, jade, bronze, procelain or other ceramics. Most had a curved top surface for the head.

Porcelain pillows were made from the 10th to the 14th century, then were gradually replaced by ones of other materials or even European-style stuffed pillows. Porcelain and other hard pillows were decorated with animals, plants, people and mountains and even geometric designs. Some had colourful glazes. Many were shaped like animals or small children.

Many collectors today do not realise that the decorated rectangles were headrests. They are sometimes called ‘opium pillows’ because opium users liked to lie on their sides using hard pillows. They claimed after smoking opium for a while, even a hard headrest felt ‘like a cloud.’

Nowadays it is hard to find the very old, hard pillows, but 19th-and 20th century replicas are available. Ones shaped like a child are so popular as a decorative items that it is still being made.

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