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Turkey feather blankets used to keep Native Americans warm

Turkey feather blankets used to keep Native Americans warm

Turkey accessorizing

When the weather turns cold in winter, it sure is nice to crawl into bed under a pile of blankets. A blanket can also come in handy to stay warm while watching TV or reading a book.

Thousands of years ago, Native Americans living in the Southwest made some pretty amazing blankets. They took fibers from yucca plants to create string. Then they wove about 200 yards of the string together to create a blanket-shaped rectangle.

The warm part of the blanket came from wild turkey feathers. The feathers were woven into the string. One small blanket – a little more than 3 feet wide and less than 4-feet long – would have needed thousands of turkey feathers, the fluffy ones close to the bird’s body.

Two years ago an archaeologist tried to make a similar blanket. It took her a year-and-a-half to make a 2-foot, by 3-foot blanket using 17,000 feathers.

To get so many feathers, scientists think the Native Americans kept flocks of turkeys around like livestock, rather than killing the birds to get feathers. That way they had a constant supply.

Some of the scientists’ information comes from the remains of a turkey feather blanket made by the Pueblo Indians about 800 years ago. The creation was found in southeastern Utah and can now be seen at Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding, Utah.

Although we will probably never have a turkey blanket to stay warm under, there are comforters made with goose feathers. Instead of weaving the feathers into a string, they are trapped between two sewn layers of cloth. Similar down feathers are also used in some sleeping bags and clothing as insulation. When I was young, puffy down jackets and vests were a big deal.

A down jacket or comforter is good insulation because the feathers trap warm air. When the feathers get wet, however, the down doesn’t work because it gets all matted down. That’s why it’s so important to keep a down sleeping bag dry.

— Brett French,


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