Winter Tea Party winners: Angela's book,THE SCARLET COAT, will go to: Print copy- Andrea Stephens; e-book copy - Catherine Wight!

LUCY REYNOLDS has a table topper quilt on the way, and winners of the Valentine Ebook Collection are: Deanna Stevens, Caryl Kane, Anne Payne and Winnie Thomas. With thanks to all who joined in!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Nighty-night, Sleep Tight"

“Nighty-night, sleep tight.” Why, just last night, I said those very words to my triplet grandchildren.

 It seemed as natural as saying “I love you.”

 All these years of hearing it and saying it to my progeny, and I never wondered about its origin.

 There are a few masters of the English language that claim that “tight” in colonial days meant “soundly,” as in “sleep well.” But many lean towards the explanation that sleeping tight was a reference to the rope sling beneath one’s mattress during colonial times. If the ropes were not “tight,” that sagging night’s sleep would be a bit less restful!
While I would not deign to describe myself as a language expert, Noah Webster was quite adept at English usage. In his 1828 dictionary, not one definition of “tight” refers to soundly or well; but it does define “tight” as “Hardy; this is the taught of seamen applied to a rope stretched.” So let us assume that a good, sound night’s rest meant having the ropes under the mattress stretched well.

These suspended straps were occasionally made from leather, but rope appeared to be more commonly used.

 Ropes ran along the edges of the bed and were either wrapped around pegs or slung through holes in the wood frame. How did Colonial Americans tighten those sagging strands? They used a rope wrench or “key,” which was a wood tool used to grab and twist the rope.
It usually took men or strong boys to do this labor-intensive job. They would twist the handles of this large key, which stretched and pulled the twine into submission. It sometimes required two workers—but it was worth it to get a good night’s sleep.

 Colonial comfort for the wee hours of the night then involved a mattress of sorts. These were usually made from rough ticking material or linen, then stuffed with a variety of fillers, from straw to wool to horsehair. But feather-filled beds, with their softness and warmth, were the best of all.

 An interesting video from a BBC program called “Tales of the Green Valley” shows the stuffing of an old mattress. Fun stuff! (Excuse the pun)

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfLgnBwhBwI&feature=youtu.be&t=13m33s

 Many bedrooms in Colonial America were not heated, so warmth became a decidedly important issue.
From "Home and Child Life in Colonial Days" by Shirley Glubok it reads:

  “President John Adams so dreaded the bleak New England winter and the ill-warmed houses that he longed to sleep like a dormouse every year, from autumn to spring. In the Southern colonies, during the fewer cold days of the winter months, the temperature was not so low, but the houses were more open and lightly built than in the North. They were without cellars and had fewer fireplaces; hence the discomfort from the cold was as great. 


 The first chilling entrance into the ice-cold bed of a winter bedroom was sometimes mitigated by heating the inner sheets with a warming pan. This usually hung by the side of the kitchen fireplace, and when used was filled with hot coals, thrust within the bed, and constantly and rapidly moved back and forth to keep from scorching the bed linen. 


 The warming pan was a circular metal pan about a foot in diameter, four or five inches deep, with a long wooden handle and a perforated metal cover, usually of copper or brass, which was kept highly polished and formed, as it hung on the wall, one of the cheerful kitchen discs to reflect light of the glowing fire.”

Colonial American homes were often cozy—that is, quite small. Beds took up considerable space. One solution was the “press bed,” which stood on its end during the day, and was pulled down for sleeping at night. Quite clever!
Rope beds were used from around 1600 until the late 1800’s when coil spring mattresses became popular.

 My favorite story of Colonial beds comes from my 97-year-old mother, who recently recalled visiting our ancestors’ farm in Massachusetts when she was very young. She remembered two things from her visit: It was the first time she had ever tasted blueberries, and it was the first time she had ever slept on a feather-filled mattress. She said it enveloped her with a softness unlike any other. It was such a sweet memory for her—and a sweet conversation for me to treasure as I watch her reminiscences begin to fade into history.

14 comments:

  1. Very fascinating!! I have never thought about the phrase either. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. You're so welcome! And thanks for commenting.

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  2. Wonderful post, Elaine! Love your mom's memories - so poignant and lasting. I don't think I would have dealt well with the cold back then though that warming pan and feather mattress look so very inviting!

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  3. It DOES look inviting, although I wonder how long the effects of that warming pan lasted!! Brrrr!! I love these reminiscences of my Mom as well. They are few and far between these days. Thanks for commenting!

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  4. I've seen a number of rope beds and am grateful we don't have to tighten up our own bed before me go to sleep. I can't imagine having to do that just to get a good night's rest! The cold I can well imagine - I lived in the attic room of an old three story house in upper Michigan in college. The heat did not rise that far and the window panes of my room had ice on the inside of them every morning when I woke up. I believe the temperature was below 50 in there! Could have used a warming pan!

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  5. I bet you dreamed of a warming pan, Carrie! I remember shivering for the first hour or so every morning in our old house in Massachusetts when I got up to get ready for school. We had an ancient furnace that was not very effective, shall we say. By the time I was dressed and warm, it was time to head out in the cold to walk to school! Those were the cold, old days!

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  6. Great article, Elaine! Makes me glad to have my box spring and mattress and my heating blanket today!!

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  7. Elaine, I have one of those mattresses that can be adjusted for firmness, so in a sense I tighten up my mattress every night before going to sleep. Don't need two strong men to push a little button though. And for warmth, I heat a rice pillow in the microwave for three minutes. It stays warm at the foot of the bed for hours. Oh, the hardships we endure.

    Thanks for a great article. I've always wondered how comfortable rope beds were, and if you could feel the rope through the mattress, as the stuffing bunched and shifted through the night.

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    1. Yes, the hardships...LOL! I imagine the rope beds were cosy right AFTER the tightening. After that....I can picture my shoulders folding in on each other!!

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  8. I've always wanted to make a rope bed. Hubby, however, is less adventuresome and not at all keen on the idea. :)

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    1. Maybe he knows that HE would have to tighten the sagging strands! LOL Perhaps one day he'll make one for you. ;-) I hope so!

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  9. Hmm, I remember hearing a bit about the origins of that saying before, but not in so much detail. Thanks for the interesting post! :)

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    1. You're very welcome, Sarah! Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for commenting. :-)

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