October 17, 2021

Bolster is a strong, tightly woven fabric, often with stripes, either longitudinally (warp effect) or transversely (weft effect). The material, both for warping and weft, is usually natural materials such as cotton, linen or wool. Bolster was originally the term for a stuffed or stuffed part of the bedding, mainly something you lay on, a duvet filled with straw, wool, down or other material. Later, bolsters were used about the duvet cover (bolster fabric) and eventually about the type of fabric.


The word bolster comes from Norse bolster and means something that is stopped or filled and swells. The word is related to bellows, formed from Germanic root bellows (swell). Germanic basic form bolhstra-. Bolsters are available in several languages, including Danish, Swedish and English. In Danish and Swedish dictionaries, there are "bolsters" used for duvets, duvet covers and fabrics. In English dictionaries, bolsters are usually defined as the type of pillow that in Norwegian is called pølle. In Denmark, different terms are used for the cover of the lower and upper duvet. Bolsters were covered on the lower cushion, and olmer cloth was used to cover the upper cushion. In Norway, bolsters are used for both.


The oldest upholstery known in the Nordic countries is Danish, from the late Middle Ages, 16th century. In the work Cultural History Lexicon for the Nordic Middle Ages from the Viking Age to the Reformation period, beds and bedding in the Nordic countries are discussed, based on written sources. The terms used in the sources indicate that the bedding equipment has been fairly similar throughout the Nordic region and in Western Europe. It was common to have hay or straw as a base, whether you were lying on a bench, in bed or on the floor. This has been used into our days. In a bed that did not have a solid wooden base, but a braided game base, the straw had to lie in a sack so as not to fall to the floor. The filled straw sacks were called bolsters. Such beds originally only belonged to higher social strata. Others slept on a flat bed or directly on straw on the floor, with a blanket of wadding on top. In Denmark and southern Sweden, the bolster weaving was carried out by professional weavers who were affiliated with guilds. In Finland and Iceland, there are no major differences in technique and patterns from district to district, while weaving traditions vary greatly from place to place in Norway and parts of Sweden. In 1865, the first spring mattress was patented. As new mattress constructions were developed, the need for the strong, tight bolts decreased. The material is still popular as upholstery on furniture and pillows, and is manufactured both industrially and woven as handicrafts.

Materials and technique

Linen, hemp and wool were the earliest bolster materials. Linen and hemp were used for both warp and weft, wool only for weft. When cotton came on the market towards the end of the 19th century, people stopped using hemp. The cotton was first used for warping, later also as a weft. The weaving technique depended on which weaving tools were available. Two-shaft tissue allowed only canvas binding. Four-shaft weaving gave stronger bolsters, because one could weave twill bindings of various kinds. If the weaver had fabric with several shafts, satin fabric was also used in the upholstery. With twill and satin binding, one could choose between stripes as a warp or weft effect. What was most used varied from place to place. In areas where there was poor access to straw and hay, the upholstery could be filled with other materials, such as moss, seaweed or leaves. Curly hair has also been used as a bolster filling. It was important that the upholstery was tight, so it was often smeared on the inside with wax or soap.


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