A term covering a multitude of types, textiles, shapes and sizes of bed coverings that fit over the bedding. Bedcovers fall broadly into two groups: dust covers to protect bed linen during the daytime, and thicker covers to provide extra warmth as and when needed. Either type can be purely functional or highly decorative.
* Dust covers at their simplest are white cotton squares, sometimes lined, laid over the bed like a big sheet, perhaps with the initials of the house or the owner or the room name outlined or embroidered simply in the centre.
* As the opportunity for decoration and creation is not to be missed by any artisan homemaker, most warming bedcovers or coverlets are made as decorative pieces in their own right: patchworked, appliquéd, quilted, woven or knitted. Such personal pieces have been created for centuries, even millenia – the winter evening occupation before electric lighting changed the way we live.
* Almost any woven fabric can be made into a bedcover, from the roughest felt to the finest silk. Knitted covers, lightweight wools, cashmere, alpaca, mohair and vicuna are luxurious beautiful and practical. To knit or crochet your own beautiful cover as a whole or in squares is less practiced but not so far removed from the craftsmanship and story of patchwork and appliqué.
* Fabrics woven in wide widths (280cm) are available in lovely practical matelasse, piqué and some double cloths, all with good texture and no lining necessary. Fur covers are warm, don’t show dirt or crease, and fold up easily so can be stored out of season.
* Home-made bedcovers have always been a matter of pride and of competition and are often the purpose of a group sewing session. Indeed, meeting to sew and chat is a worldwide custom, a sociable occasion to get together in a spirit of companionship and skill sharing. In many communities, bedcover work provides an opportunity to hone and display home making skills, and for young girls is an integral component of any respectable trousseau.
* Patchwork and appliquéd covers in particular are often planned and designed to tell a story, yet the random selection of fabrics also reveals a personal biography–small pieces of torn and worn clothing and bedding, re-made, stitched and embroidered into a new life. Some of the very best and oldest are exhibited in museums the world over.
* Each community has its own trademark bedcovers: Welsh quilts, Welsh blankets, and Northumberland quilts are best known in the UK, and North American Shaker quilts are famed. The distinctive, woolen Navajo, Peruvian and Argentinian bedcovers add a spice of life to many design projects, whether as originals or reproductions.
* The Provence boutis are also well known: these are wholecloth quilts with cotton on both sides, are always reversible, and may be in pure white both sides, white one side, or both sides in traditional Provençal prints called Les Indiennes. In many ways, these are similar to the Rajasthani ‘bootis’–the hand blocked textile home of ‘Les Indiennes’. The Indian quilts are always with printed fabrics and less decoratively stitched, most of them in parallel and straight lines known as kantha work.
Bed linen is the generally accepted term to describe anything that goes onto a bed, i.e. over the frame and the mattress – sheets, mattress covers, pillows, duvet covers, comforters, blankets, bolster covers, mattress toppers and light bedcovers. In Europe at least, bed sheets were originally made of linen. They still are, though most are made of cotton, silk or occasionaly cotton and polyester mix and more recently from other vegetal fibres such as ramie and bamboo. It’s important to have good qaulity fabric close to the skin for the approximately one third of our lives we spend sleeping.