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Re-purposing old down. How can I tell what fill I have?
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Ken K
(TheFatBoy) - F

Locale: St. Louis
Re-purposing old down. How can I tell what fill I have? on 12/21/2010 21:36:57 MST Print View

I've got an old down jacket and a giant down comforter. Both have developed enough holes and tears that they're no longer functional, but I just can't bring myself to throw them out. I was thinking about maybe making a light weight quilt or a vest with this stuff. I'm not terribly handy with a sewing machine, but if I was so inclined, how could I tell what the fill weight of the down is? Or is it even worth recycling the down?


Tyler Hughes
(catsnack) - F

Locale: Smoky Mountains
Re: Re-purposing old down on 12/21/2010 22:00:00 MST Print View

I am not a down expert, but I would get a kitchen or postal scale, stick a container on it and tare the scale to 0. Just add enough down to = 1oz. (if it is really high quality down, you may need up to a 5-gallon bucket, as 1oz of 800fp down can loft to take up almost 3.5 gallons. I would pre-mark on the inside of your container what level should be reached to indicate the different fillpowers. 3.5 gallons / ounce = 800fp, 2.8 gallons = 650fp, 2.6 gallons = 600fp, 2 gallons = 450fp, etc... I guess just determine if whatever quality down you have is what you want to use. If it is, then I want to see what you make with it!! I am sure it will be something important to you, and you would probably enjoy that item more than a similar store-bought item.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Re-purposing old down. How can I tell what fill I have? on 12/22/2010 05:02:50 MST Print View

Well, You could try the suggestion.
Older down was not really well graded. Often it was a mix of down feathers and down plumes. Volume testing, as was mentioned, works fine. But, if the items were that heavily used, I suspect the down will be dirty. This will effect the volume a lot.
Static charges will be much reduced, oils may cause the plumes to be less full than what a factory will measure. Moisture will have the same effect. Soo, be a bit cautious about the final numbers you get.

Typically, the down will be washed a couple times. Then fluffed as it is dried. Then it is measured. When you get a 2oz bag of 800 fill down, it will likely measure less than a standard measurement. It needs to be heated to about 200F and fluffed simultaneously. (Don't try this with a hair means down all over! It is really messy.) This will give it the maximum volume.

By visual inspection, if there is a lot of recognizable feathers, it is 500 to
600 fill. If there are any chopped feathers, it is less than 500. If there is some feathers, between 600-700. If there are no recognizable feathers, 700-800.
By EN measurements, 800 fp is as good as it gets. Then it starts over with the grade of down plume. A fully mature Eider Duck plucks fully mature down plumes from her belly/under wings to line her nest. The Chineese slaughter geese and pluck everything. Guess which is better? Eider down is considered as 900fp even though it never acheives this. It is just a better insulator. Goose down is not real bad. it can get to 830fp depending on the year. Anyway, this doesn't help you with grading.

Typically, most sleeping bags are overrated by about 100 points, since the weight of the shells compresses the down. Hence the temperature ratings of the EN measument scales. Hard to get an 800fp down to NOT compress with a simple breath of air. Soo, they put in 800, but, we never get that. But, it is what they advertise. Using what you have, I think I would simply visually inspect it, and let it go at that.

Larger down plumes are generally better. But, looking at stiffness is important, too. An immature plume will not have as many barbules off of it. It is hard to grade without a lot of experience... I don't have that expierence, either. I have enough info to know it is a difficult thing to do.

I would simply use what you have. Don't waste it. Get some spinnaker cloth and make a nice vest. I don't think I would want to trust sleeping in it, unless you have a LOT. It could go either way. Not that great. Or just warm and toasty. For a few yards of fabric, it is well worth the effort, IMHO.

Ken K
(TheFatBoy) - F

Locale: St. Louis
Re: Re: Re-purposing old down. How can I tell what fill I have? on 12/24/2010 11:23:25 MST Print View

Thinking more on it, I realized that it doesn't really matter what the fill power is... If it "looks" good enough to do something with (not a lot of crushed/chopped feathers), I need to be more concerns with volume/loft than weight. So I make whatever I'm making, and however much down it takes to fill it up, that's how much I use.

So now my biggest concern is cleaning and prepping the down before doing something with it. We normally just throw the quilt through the washer and dryer (front loaders). I don't recall that the down jacket has ever been washed (if it has, it hasn't been often). What's my best bet for prepping these items to maximize the usefulness of the down inside? And is there a resource that tells me what kind of loft I need for a particular application (say a quilt or vest good to 20 degrees)?

Thanks again,
Fat Boy

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Lots of patterens on 12/26/2010 12:40:40 MST Print View

There are a lot of patterns out there. More than I bother to keep track of. And, a lot of clothing patterens are easily modified. is a pretty good site for starters.

Quilts and bags are a bit different. A slightly larger baffle may be needed when stuffing with down. Just do a net search for patterens.


paul buzzard
(troop208) - F
sorting on 01/04/2011 08:27:13 MST Print View

I have done what you are looking at, and my tips would be:

I didn't wash any of my down, just stripped it out of the items it was in. Do this outside on non windy day. Cut slits in the pockets, use your hands to transfer the down to big paper grocery bags. The down won't stick to them like plastic. No plastic bags. If you are trying to sort, place some on rimmed baking/cookie sheet, use fingers and needle nose pliers to pull feathers out, discard. Put clean down in another paper bag. If the down has lots of very small pin feathers in it, use as is, or don't use at all, they are impossible to remove in quantity.

Jeremy Greene
(tippymcstagger) - F

Locale: North Texas
Re: Re: Re: Re-purposing old down. How can I tell what fill I have? on 01/04/2011 10:44:37 MST Print View

"And is there a resource that tells me what kind of loft I need for a particular application (say a quilt or vest good to 20 degrees)?"

I think the best you can do with an unknown fill power is to go by volume, as in the chart in the linked page above. This isn't as bad as it sounds, as even with a rating, we all have to add or subtract a sweater for personal factors.

Troy Ammons
(tammons) - F - MLife
Re-purposing old down. How can I tell what fill I have? on 01/04/2011 16:59:30 MST Print View

IMO its such a PIA to work with it would be best to start with quality fill and quality fabrics. Most likely the jacket unless top of the line is 550-600 fill. The comforter is probably feather down mix.

I have an old 900 fill 10" loft expedition bag that probably has close to 3# of down in it, but having worked with down before, I just cant talk myself into taking on that job.