From Bird to Bed – The Complete Story of Our Eiderdown

Eider duck sitting on nest

The story behind Icelandic Down is (almost!) worthy of the Icelandic sagas. Sustainably farmed in the wild fjords of Iceland and painstakingly handcrafted, our products follow a 1000-year-old legacy of traditional eiderdown production.

The sheer quantity of work, craftsmanship, care and, importantly, passion that goes into every duvet we create is matchless.

This article will give you an in-depth ‘behind the scenes’ of our entire process – from the raw eiderdown we gather to the duvet that warms your bed.

The eider duck sanctuary lies in the remote fjord of Lodmundarfjordur

The story begins with Oli and Johanna, two eider duck farmers. Every May, they set sail for Lodmundarfjordur – a draw-dropping fjord in the east of Iceland. The mountain road to reach the fjord is still covered by snow in late spring, making it completely inaccessible – except by boat.

There, Oli and Johanna have a small eider duck farm. Since 2001, they’ve been providing the birds with a safe sanctuary and sustainably collecting their down. With their help, the farm’s nest population has grown from one thousand to six thousand today.

When they arrive, they start preparing the site for nesting. For two weeks, they create 100-250 new nests, mend nets to keep out the foxes, and raise hundreds of colorful flags that encourage the eider ducks to settle down on the farm (and scare off predatory seagulls).

They go about their work completely isolated from civilization – in fact, there’s no modern electricity (just a diesel motor and solar panel). The house takes two days to warm up with a wood-fired stove, which also serves as a stove for cooking. And on the rare occasion that they receive a visitor, they often arrive by snowmobile!

During their two months at Lodmundarfjordur, it’s a frenzy of activity. Once the birds arrive, Oli and Johanna are constantly cleaning, fixing nets and replacing nests, and keeping watch night and day to protect the eider ducks from predators like foxes, seagulls, and minks. Despite the hard work, they cherish this time of year – even after two decades of doing it.

When the eider ducks return to the sea, Oli and Johanna finally collect the reward for their hard work – eiderdown. 

Collecting and cleaning eiderdown is a labour of love

Eiderdown farming is one of the most sustainable, animal-friendly practices imaginable. When the ducks abandon their nests and leave their man-made sanctuary, they voluntarily leave behind their precious down. If it weren’t for Oli and Johanna, the soft, featherless material would simply blow away with the wind and the birds would be under the threat of extinction by predators.

The farmers collect down from every nest by hand – a process that takes days. The down from 40-60 nests is needed just to fill a single duvet!

Once the eiderdown has been collected, it’s time for cleaning, which is a lengthy, seven-step process:

  1. Drying – First, the down is dried on metal racks in the sun for 48 hours.
  2. Sterilization – The down is heated in a custom-built (70+ year old!) Icelandic oven for 24-36 hours to kill any invertebrates.
  3. Machine Cleaning – A special tumbling machine separates the down from the majority of straw and dirt.
  4. Defeathering – Another machine removes 95% of feathers or quills to leave only the purest, softest down.
  5. Hand Cleaning – The down is inspected and cleaned by hand – which takes 8-10 hours per kg of eiderdown!
  6. Machine Washing – Finally, the down is machine-washed with special, down-proof soap to preserve its quality.
  7. Quality Inspection – After the eiderdown is thoroughly cleaned and sorted, it’s checked, approved and certified by an inspector from the Icelandic Government (that’s how important eiderdown is in Iceland!).

Oli and Ragna (our founder) take on the task of hand cleaning the eiderdown, sharing old stories about the eider ducks and Iceland while they go about their work. 

“It’s like a ritual…it’s meditative.” says Ragna. “And Oli is filled with fascinating stories about the past, so we’re never bored!”

After the nesting season ends and the eiderdown has been dried and stored, Oli and Johanna say goodbye to the eider ducks and the farm that has been their world for two months. They return to the nearby town of Borgarfjordur eystri and count down the months until next year’s eiderdown season.

The final product is tailored to every customer’s preferences

The production of each eiderdown duvet or comforter is done with precision. The finest-quality German-made, down-proof 442-thread silk (or 475-thread cotton) casings are filled with eiderdown into 24-60 individual baffle-box compartments by an air gun. This ensures a perfectly even spread of the down.

Then we stitch the duvet closed with a custom-built sewing machine – making sure to leave no detail unnoticed and no thread unstitched. Afterward, the duvet is shaken outside in the fresh Icelandic air to ensure the eiderdown adapts to fit the duvet casing. 

Finally, it’s ready for delivery. We carefully pack each duvet into our beautifully-branded Icelandic Down bags, and include with each a certificate from the Icelandic Government verifying the authenticity and quality of our eiderdown. 

Every single one of our products is made-to-order here in the town of Borgarfjordur eystri. That means they’re individually-tailored to each of our customers – we never mass-produce anything. This sets Icelandic Down apart in two ways:

Made to fit each customer’s needs – We tailor nearly everything – including dimensions, fill weight, and cover material of our duvets. This means our customers receive a product that’s uniquely made for them and their preferences.

Exceptional quality and attention to detail – Because our entire process – from collecting the down to each and every thread that we stitch – is done by hand, we can ensure a standard of quality that surpasses the vast majority of manufacturers.

Day in, day out, we’re inspired by the fascinating birds we work with and the seemingly magical down they produce. We’d be thrilled to share that same enthusiasm with you. If you’d like to learn more, feel free to reach out to us. You’ll be in direct contact with Ragna, our founder.