Define Bolster Pillow

Written by laura bramble
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Define Bolster Pillow
Bolster pillows are decorative pillows like the long narrow pillows on this sofa. (pillows on a sofa - home interiors image by Gina Smith from

Bolster pillows have enjoyed a long history. They are remnants of the days when pillows were not only to rest your head on, but were used as a means of support. Today bolster pillows can be practical, but also provide visual interest on a bed, sofa or outdoor furniture.


Bolster pillows are long, narrow pillows. The form of bolster pillow most people are familiar with is the oblong, cylinder-shaped pillow that sits in front of a mass of bed throw pillows. Bolster pillows can also be long, flat and rectangular or wedge shaped.


The key to a bolster pillow's function is in its name. Bolster pillows are supposed to "bolster" or support the user. You can find them at the ends of sofas with hard ends and daybeds, to create comfort. They are also used as back support for porch swings and daybeds. The Chinese used these as end cushions for their sleeping platforms.


The original use for a bolster pillow in beds was under the bed pillows to prop the sleeper up in bed. In the United States, up until the 19th century, it was considered unhealthy to sleep lying down. Sleepers propped their bodies up into a half-sitting position in order to sleep. Firm cylindrical or wedge-shaped bolster pillows ran the width of the bed to make this sleeping position possible, and a smaller, softer pillow went directly under the head and neck.


Bolster pillows are used by some in bed to support them while reading. Other smaller bolsters are used under the neck or under the ankles to help with proper spine alignment to eliminate back and neck problems. Other larger bolster pillows are used by side sleepers as support, such as "body pillows." Small bolster pillows can act as lumbar support by resting in the small of your back while you are sitting.


Bolster pillows come with all sorts of fillings. Traditional pillow stuffing materials such as feathers, foam, nylon or polyester fiberfill, down or cotton batting are common. Since bolster pillows often perform a practical purpose, however, you can find them filled with buckwheat hulls and other small, round organic materials like millet hulls. These kinds of fillings are popular in neck pillows due to their supportive, yet adaptable, qualities as a pillow filling.

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