A pillow is a large cushion support for the head, usually used while sleeping in a bed, or for the body as used on a couch or chair. There are also throw pillows (also called toss pillows), which are pillows that are purely decorative and not designed for support or comfort. Outside the USA these are generally considered a type of cushion, with the term pillow reserved for the pillows on a bed.
Pillows were originally used mainly by the wealthy, and have been found in Ancient Egyptian
tombs. The difficulty of sophisticated dyes and sewing techniques led to the development of pillows as an art
form, with highly decorated pillows becoming prized commodities first in China
and later in Medieval Europe
. The Industrial Revolution
saw the mass production of decorated textiles and decorated pillows.
Traditional Chinese pillows are often hard boxes made from stone, wood, metal, or porcelain
instead of stuffed fabric
Construction and parts
Internally, a pillow comprises a filler made from foam
, synthetic fills, feathers
, or down
. Traditionally straw was a filler, but this is uncomfortable and rarely used today. Feathers
were the choice of the rich; these offered the advantage of softness and their ability to conform to shapes desired by the user, more so than foam or fibre pillows. There are currently hypoallergenic
varieties of down pillows to allow people sensitive to down to enjoy the comfort of feather or down pillows. In Asia, buckwheat
is a common filler, as are plastic imitations. Such pillows tend to be smaller than a standard pillow.
The fill is surrounded with a cover or shell made of cloth or silk, known as the pillow case or pillow slip. Some pillows often have a fancier cover called a sham which is closed on all sides and usually has a slit in the back through which the pillow is placed. Rectangular bed pillows usually do not have zippers, but instead have one side open all the time. It is recommended that all types of pillow covers be laundered periodically since they are the part that is in contact with a person's body. But even with regular washing, pillows tend to accumulate large amounts of dust and vast numbers of microbes among the fill and it is recommended that they be replaced every few years, especially for those with allergies.
A pillow is designed to provide support and comfort to the body. There are three main types of pillows; Bed pillows, Orthopedic pillows
and Decorative pillows, with some overlapping of use between these.
The classic bed pillow shape is a square or rectangle, often with four corners reminiscent of the shape of the ears of a cat. They are common in these three sizes (in inches); Standard (20x26), Queen (20x30), King (20x36). These pillows are generally covered with a removable pillow case, which facilitate laundering, keeping the bedding fresh. The 'Oxford Size' used in many English speaking countries is 50cm x 75cm (20 x 30 inches), while the 'Continental Size' used in many parts of Continental Europe (i.e. not UK) is 66cm x 66cm (26 x 26 inches). German pillow sizes are 80cm x 80cm (older) or 40cm x 80cm (newer). When considered as a subset of Bed Pillow, Euro pillows finish 26x26 and older style Travel Pillows commonly finished 12x16.
Body pillows are as long as a full adult body, providing support to the head and neck at the top and to the knees and legs lower down. This type of pillow can be especially useful in providing support for those who sleep on their sides and for pregnant women. Size is 40cm x 140cm.
pillows support the neck by providing a deep area for the head to rest and a supportive area to keep the neck in alignment with the spine while sleeping. These can also be known as cervical pillows.
Travel pillows provide support for the neck and head in a sitting position. Their "U" shape fits around the back of the neck and keeps the head from slipping into an uncomfortable and possibly harmful position during sleep. However, U-shaped pillows often force the head forwards creating neck stiffness.
Donut pillows are firm pillows shaped like a torus, with a space in the middle to alleviate pressure on the tailbone area while sitting. These pillows are used primarily by individuals who have suffered an injury to the tailbone area or who suffer pain from hemorrhoids or another ailment of the colon.
Lumbar pillows are designed to support the inward curve of the lower back, filling the space created between the lower back and the back of the chair when in a sitting position. These pillows are generally used to support the lower back while driving or sitting, such as in an office chair.
Decorative Pillows serve a dual purpose. They likely have fancy cover material which serves to decorate the room where they are found. Since Decorative Textiles are commonly 54 inches in width, many decorative pillows finish about 17x17 inches. (54/3 = 18 less seam allowance) When used to decorate a fully made up bed, decorative pillows are likely thrown aside at bedtime, since they are not covered with a laundrable pillow case, thus, while found on the bed, they are primarily there for decoration, hence they fall under this category.
Decorative pillows are also found on furnishings in more public parts of the home, such as sofas, chairs and window seats. Here, their common use may overlap both orthopedic and bed pillows. For example, unless a person has some particular medical condition, they will likely use a handy decorative pillow for lumbar support, as needed, while seated on a sofa. Likewise, for the occasional nap, decorative pillows are handy for supporting the head or neck, even though they are not covered with a pillow case, as are bed pillows.
There are five common synonyms for decorative pillows which are descriptive of their use in the home. "Accent" Pillows emphasize or accent some other part of the home decor. The terms Sofa Pillow and Couch Pillow refer to the place these decorative pillows are likely found. The terms Toss pillow and Throw pillow refer to the way they generally arrive in their places.
Novelty Pillows are shaped like humorous objects (a banana, tweety bird, a human leg, a former president), and are meant to brighten up and add humor to a room or lounge area.
Floor Pillows are another subset of decorative pillows. These pillows often finish 26x26 inches (one half of the width of the textile, less seam allowance)
- Dakimakura is a hugging pillow originating in Japan.
- Abrazador is a long hugging pillow originating from the Philippines.
- Firestop pillows are technical firestop products, used in passive fire protection.
- A Boyfriend pillow (also know as the husband pillow) is a large, high-backed pillow with two "arms". It is used to prop the user upright while in bed or on the floor, as for reading or watching television.
- A takiya is a pillow used as an arm rest in India & Pakistan.
- Zhitozhento(Chinese for rock pillow) plays an important role in ancient China. Made from jade, it is believed to translate the energy from the stone to the human brain. Derived from the Ming dynesty, this piece of material is trusted to cure headaches, depressions or simply to better the intelligence of those who use it. It was more common in the royalties because it is expensive and rare.