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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In defense of modern pillows

Almost everything in my house is vintage, except for my linens...and my throw pillows. Maybe I haven't located the right source for vintage pillows, but all the ones I find seem to fall into three categories:  1) Flat and Worn Out, 2) Gaudy and Ugly or 3) Childish and Cheesy.

I grew up surrounded by pillows in categories #2 and #3. My paternal grandmother was very crafty, so she always had a project in the works. For some reason, making gaudy and/or cheesy pillows was a fad in the 1950s and 1960s, even among women who otherwise had good taste, and my dear departed grandmother made one of every kind that came down the pike. Pillows that looked like dolls with starched crocheted skirts. Cat-shaped pillows with embroidered faces. And pillows that were tucked and tufted, like these:

She and everyone she knew must have made a million of these pillows, usually in satin or velveteen. (She made one for my bedroom out of pink velveteen, and I remember a gold one very much like the one on the right placed prominently on her bed, as well as some turquoise ones on my parents' sofa.) Every home had them. People even filled the parcel shelves of their cars with them. They were everywhere, as common as fuzzy dice and poodle skirts. In fairness to my maternal grandmother, I do remember some really classy, round peacock blue silk pillows on her sofa, but those seemed to be the exception, not the rule. And in fairness to the rest of the world, the really-gaudy-ones-on-the-parcel-shelf phenomenon may only have been a Texas thing.

Or what about the ubiquitous crocheted pillow, whether it be granny squares or something like this? Almost every one of these I see is flat and sad-looking, leaving me with the unfortunate impression that it has seen either too much Vitalis hair tonic or too many dust mites...or both.

Call me a heretic, but when it comes to pillows, I don't want old. I love my vintage furniture, but I'll make my own pillows or look to stores like Crate and Barrel, CB2 and West Elm for nice, pretty, fluffy ones.
My sofa pillows...from Steinmart and Crate and Barrel

Thanks to Jane for her comment about the tasteful modern version of the pin-tucked pillow at Urban Outfitters. They come in some very nice colors, and I may have to buy one. They even have a pastel pink like the one my grandmother made for me!


  1. Sometimes, it turns out that the past wasn't actually as well-designed as we thought it was. I'm all for mixing things up.

  2. For sure, cotton batting can't compete with fiberfill for keeping its shape, and old foam rubber doesn't have the most pleasant smell...or texture, for that matter, once in hardens and starts to crumble into dust. Sometimes newer is better.

  3. Oh I do like the two you have!

    I'm trying to think if I ever bought vintage pillows...

    I've bought pillow slips and covers (that can be washed!!) and vintage material to make my own, but never vintage stuffed or filled pillows. No. You never know who did what on those pillows!

    While I appreciate the new retro designs, they often cost more for material or slips than "real" vintage, and the designs look too "new" for me, but it's simply a matter of personal taste. :)

  4. Given your examples, I too shall pass on vintage pillows! Lol. Yours are gorgeous.

  5. I found the velvety version of the tuck pillows at Urban Outfitters (.com). As a child I was totally fascinated by my Grandma's tuck pillows and now that I have my own.... well, I still am.

  6. With you on the pillows, esp when new vintage looking knockoffs are so cute!

  7. @Jane!: I remember my pink velveteen pillow fondly, and I know my grandmother put a lot of work into it. I checked out the ones at Urban Outfitters, and I may actually have to buy one of those. I think the ones I remember with such horror are the garish satin ones like the multicolored pinwheel one in the picture. Way too much going on with the tucks and buttons and colors and SHINE.

  8. Oh, see I had no idea these were ever a "thing." I saw the ones at UO recently and thought they were neat. I would never have thought of them being a handmade phenomenon because all of that pleating and tucking would take forever! I have a pair of brown cushions I bought at Ikea a few years ago. They do not have pleats and tucks but are generally the same size and shape.