Tracing the pillow through history

Pillow HistoryRemember the last time you slept without your pillow?  I know someone who simply will not travel –no matter when, no matter where– without his own pillow, (my hubby)..  The “thing weighs a ton” and enjoys a ritual:  1. spread the “thing” flat in the suitcase taking half of the available space.  2. When reaching the new location take out of the suitcase, punch it back in shape and display on the right side of the bed.  I simply can not imagine him sleeping without his favorite pillow for, as most of you women know, the man becomes the pain in the neck he’s got.  If  you’re like him you may even think about skipping sleep if you don’t have your favorite pillow.  Yes, a life without pillows is a hard life indeed and pillows covered in dainty pillowcases sure make life a lot softer!


Pillow History


Stone Pillow from Ancient China

Tracing the pillow through history shouldn’t be hard.  Humans have been using pillows since we found the need to lie down and sleep –which basically means from the very beginning.  But because soft things don’t last forever, no caveman pillow has survived today. However, we do find enough evidence that pillows were used since ancient times especially in China and Egypt.

pillow history

Ancient Egyptian Pillow

In fact, if you go to a museum, you may find an unwrapped Egyptian mummy whose head still rests on his original pillow. The Chinese, on the other hand, believe soft pillows rob the body of its vitality. This is why you will find pillows made from wood, leather and ceramic in Chinese museums.


Bamboo Pillow

It was actually the wealthy Greeks who were first recorded to have slept with their heads resting in ornately embroidered pillow covers. Early Egyptians were also known to have spent lots of money on lavish pillows for themselves and for their honored dead, a tradition which many world cultures still practice until today. For them, pillows in exquisite pillow covers were a sign of wealth and prestige.  The Egyptians started the practice of carrying ornamental items such as precious gems using these pillows. And later, the Romans used pillows during wedding ceremonies in presenting precious items to the bride and groom. This practice survives until today when a ring and coin bearer transports wedding rings in ornate pillows along the aisle.

ring pillow

Mother Pillows

Pillow lovers have recently discovered the existence of historic military and family pillow covers that date back to the first and second world wars. Many of them contain poems that honor a mother, sister, aunt, friend, or a girlfriend. These are actually pillows sent home by military men who fought in the war and since many of them did not survive, their families started collecting them. Dr. Lyell D. Henry, who wrote the paper “The Significance of Mother Pillows in American History and Culture,” has a vast collection of historic pillows and pillow covers that were produced during this time.

Another book worth reading that is sure to become a wonderful addition to a library and would make a great gift is the Sweetheart and Mother Military Pillows by Patricia Cumming. 

Today, the pillow and it’s cover comes in many different forms and it is becoming a labor of love for those who sew them especially for their loved ones.  Neither the pillow nor the pillowcase need be expensive because it is the thought that make them priceless. And to say that life is hard without pillows is surely an understatement. Make lives lovelier by sewing covers with a twist for your friends and family.  You don’t even have to sleep on this idea!

Free Pillow Applique Templates

Many sewers use appliques to decorate their pillows.  Here are some free applique templates in the shapes of happy butterflies to get you started.  Just follow this link over to our sister site at for the free download:  Free Applique Templates

applique templates

Also, here’s a video tutorial that will guide you through the process of making a simple pillow case.

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