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Feather pillows aren’t as common as they used to be, and the fabric holding all those feathers isn’t as common, either. Ticking is the general term for a heavy cotton or cotton and linen blend fabric used to cover pillows or upholstery.
In the days when people slept on straw ticks for mattresses, and used feather pillows, they needed a fabric that was sturdy and closely-woven enough to keep the feather shafts (or straw fragments) from working their way out and poking the skin. Ticking fabric was the answer. It is a heavy, sturdy fabric with a close, even weave. Feathers usually have a difficult time breaching this material.
Pillow ticking can be distinguished from other heavy fabrics by its print. Most has narrow, vertical stripes — darker colors on a white or beige background. This pattern has been used for many years and most people recognize it at once. When buying this cloth, a person should hold the free end up to the light. No light should show through the weave, or it isn’t close enough. The fabric also should not drape easily over the hand — it should feel a little stiff and heavy. Some of the stiffness will wash out and will soften through use, but the stiffness is a sign of good quality.
Upholstery ticking is an even heavier material, and it has to be similar in weight to good denim in order to stand up to being used on furniture. People like the pattern on furniture because it is a clean, neat design, and easily matched with solid color accessories, such as throw pillows or rugs. This fabric gives a room a homey, casual feel that many people find attractive and reassuring.
Good pillow ticking is fairly expensive. It can be purchased from most stores that sell fabric and is usually 54 inches (137 centimeters) wide. Upholstery ticking may be 72 inches (182 centimeters) wide, so as to more easily cover a sofa or chair. Fabric for upholstery will often be quite expensive, but its durability offsets the price.