Stripping feathers in old Poland
This is another entry from the month of February from the diary of Marianna Malinowska Jasiecka in the years 1890-1914 compiled by Janina Fedorowicz and Joanna Konopinska. It describes the custom of women getting together during the long, cold (and often tedious) winter nights to strip feathers. The women got together at each other's homes to help each other strip the down off the quill of feathers obtained from ducks, geese and chickens in order to make pillows and comforters. Done alone, it was an onerous task. Done together it was a social event lightened with talk, music and food. These get-togethers lasted only until the beginning of Lent when all such social activities ended.
Polwica, February 1895
Besides the domestic help, a few women and girls from the manor farm and from the village have come to strip feathers. Sometimes there's twenty people who gather together. The feathers from ducks and geese and the better feathers from chickens are stored in white bags in the attic. We've brought them down to the room designated for stripping and so as not to mix the different types of feathers, the contents of each bag is placed on separate tables. The best down is obtained from geese and these are later made into pillows. The kołdry and pierzyny (feather quilts) are made from mixed down. The feathers that aren't stripped that is, the worst ones mixed with chicken feathers are cut with scissors instead and made into spodków----or as some call it, a feather bed, which is placed on the mattress to make it soft and warm. Recently I've been hearing some talk that sleeping on feather beds is not healthy. Even my girls refused to sleep on the feather bed the last time they were home during winter recess saying that nobody slept on them at school. I can see I'm old fashioned since I sleep on a feather bed from November to April. Michael does the same.
Stripping feathers generally starts in country cottages right after the feast of Three Kings and lasts until the middle of February. Here it will probably last till the end of the month. After supper, around 7pm the women start arriving and take seats on long benches and work until 9 or 10 in the evening while at the same time sharing news, gossip from the entire neighborhood and even legends. One of the favored themes are tales about unusual happenings, about spirits. It happens at times that some of the local young men stop by to see the girls and play on the harmonic or fiddle, everyone sings and its very merry...these evenings have a charm all their own. Outside it is cold and snowing, a frequent storm and darkness with the wind howling beyond the windows and we sit in warmth with kerosene lamps lighting the interior and the roll of pleasant conversation. At the end of the work, Bejmowa(servant) brings out coffee made from grain with milk and large chunks of freshly baked sweet bread and offers it to everyone.
Stripping feathers is a bit of a fashion show. On such a night the girls and younger women dress up to show each other their clothes, explain how to embroider a particular motif for an apron or ruffle, how to crochet a scarf or trim stockings that are knitted from wool. I always wonder when they have time to crochet and embroider. The country woman is always overburdened with work in the house and field, has a passle of children. Where does she find the time for something like hand work. But the women manage to do so and often very nicely. Mama encourages the girls to knit, believing that it is an indispensible skill in the life of even the most well to do women. So even small Jadzia knows how to make wool socks and knows some basic crochet work.
2/18/2019 02:57:42 pm
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2/10/2021 08:35:56 am
My husband’s Ukrainian grandmother had a stick about 2 feet long and more pointy at one end that she used to smooth out her feather bed. Do you you know the Ukrainian or Polish word for this tool? I enjoyed reading your description of the feather stripping. It reminded me of visiting the Polish Hall in Burlington ON to buy perogies and watching the women sitting at tables in an assembly line creating them. I do miss the ones my mother-in-law used to make. Also her strudel!
2/13/2023 01:51:56 am
Thank you for the info! Found a letter from Feb. 1899 where two young ladies were invited to a feather stripping bee and couldn't figure out what it was. They seemed really excited about it. They were of German/Polish descent so this makes sense.
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One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.