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Guide to Feather and Down


Feathers are the rigid plumage found on the outside of ducks and geese. They have a flat appearance and are two-dimensional in construction. As a two-dimensional structure, feathers are unable to trap air effectively and have little insulation value. The main purpose of feathers in bedding is to provide bulk and support.


Down is the light fluffy coating found beneath the feathers of ducks and geese. Most down grows on the breast and underbelly of the bird.  Down is a three-dimensional cluster with dozens of soft fine filaments that radiate from its centre. Lighter than a feather, down is the most important ingredient in a feather and down duvet as it is responsible for generating the insulation and warmth.  Down creates warmth through a process called ‘lofting’. Down clusters expand or loft to fill space and trap tiny pockets of air within their filaments to create thousands of insulating pockets. The more down cluster a duvet contains, the higher it can loft and thus the warmer the duvet is.

Goose down vs Duck down

Feather and down products are generally filled with down from either geese or ducks. When selecting a feather & down product, it is important to note that there is a significant warmth difference between goose down and duck down. Geese are larger birds than ducks and generally have bigger down clusters.  Their filaments are therefore able to trap more air and provide more insulation. The general rule of thumb is the bigger the down cluster, the warmer the duvet.  Given all other factors are equal, a 95% goose down duvet will be warmer than a 95% duck down duvet.

Why down is such a good bedding material

Warmth without weight

Per volume and weight, down is the lightest and warmest natural insulator known to man. As down expands to fill space, it generates warmth with a minimum use of weight.

No space for draughts

Down is light and pliable so it molds to your body shape leaving no space for draughts to creep in.  This allows complete movement in bed as the duvet will follow the contours of your body and adapt to changes in sleeping position.

Down can breathe

Down has the ability to absorb the moisture we release in our sleep and pass it off into the atmosphere.  This ensures you are cosy but not clammy. Down’s ability to breathe means it can regulate and achieve a comfortable temperature between you and your bedding, keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer.

Fill blend

All down products are filled with a mixture of feathers and down clusters. The precise blend is usually described as a percentage e.g. 95%. This percentage refers to the minimum amount of down cluster content in the product with the remaining percentage consisting of small feathers. Since 2004, labelling requirements in New Zealand require that the down content specified on a product only includes the down cluster content i.e. specifies the minimum amount of actual down cluster contained in the product.  All Fairydown feather and down products comply with these new labelling requirements and the down cluster content is clearly stated on all packaging and care and content labels.  Fill blend is the most important factor in choosing a duvet as the amount of down cluster content will determine the products relative warmth. Assuming all other factors are equal, a product with a higher down cluster content is warmer to sleep under than one with less down cluster.

Fill Weight

The relative warmth of a feather and down product is also influenced by its fill weight. Fill weight refers to the quantity of feather and down contained within the product and is usually displayed in grams (gms).  Assuming all other factors are equal when comparing a product, the product with the greatest weight of down fill will be warmer to sleep under.


Fairydown uses cotton which is the preferred and most popular type of fabric used on feather and down products. As a natural fibre, cotton complements feather and down by allowing it to breathe which helps maintain a healthy sleeping environment.

Channel Construction

Vertical channels are sewn through the top and bottom layers of the duvet case. The feather and down filling is contained within each channel but is free to move up and down the channel. The main advantage of channel construction is that you can vary the warmth of the duvet by moving the filling up or down the channels. However as the filling tends to settle at the bottom of the duvet, it will need to be shaken and the filling redistributed up the channels more often than with other construction methods. In addition, there is less warmth at the stitch lines as the filling is unable to loft in these areas.

Boxed Construction

The top and bottom layers of the cotton casing are stitched right through together in a grid of square compartments. Each compartment is completely sealed so feather and down filling cannot move between the compartments.  Boxed construction is the most common type of construction in feather and down product.

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Fairydown was founded in the Kaikorai Valley on the South Island of New Zealand in 1877. Fairydown has a strong connection to the New Zealand landscape, climate, and people.

Like the people of New Zealand, Fairydown has a pioneering spirit and proudly holds its head high on the global stage. Fairydown built its reputation for quality and durability by providing feather and down products that helped pioneering world explorers survive in the harshest cold climates on the planet, in places like the South Pole and mountains of Nepal.

Fairydown Heritage
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