A bedding glossary: what do you call the thing that covers your bed?

vintage bedding

At the end of a long day when all you can think about is laying your weary head on your pillow, the question of what the proper name is for that top layer of bedding you peel back so you can crawl between the sheets probably does not cross your mind. But as a vintage seller who occasionally writes a listing for that top layer of bedding, it does cross my mind. And it often makes me wrinkle my brow because there is a surprising amount of nomenclature for the big rectangular things that sit on top of your blanket and sheets. And all those coverings have slightly different characteristics which define them.

Establishing ground rules: The words “bedding,” “bed linens” and “bedclothes” can be used pretty interchangeably here in the USA. Those words mean the whole enchilada from mattress cover to sheets to pillowcases to blankets to that top layer that is the subject of the glossary that follows. 


vintage bedspread

Bedspread is the term most of us are most familiar with. It can be made of all kinds of material, usually a single layer, and it covers the pillows and reaches all the way to the floor on three sides of the bed. Summer bedspreads are usually light and thin, winter bedspreads are a little thicker. (photo: Betty Pepis Interior Decoration A to Z, 1965)


vintage coverlet

A coverlet is also a single layer of fabric, it also covers the pillows but it only reaches down just past the top of the box spring, just below the place a bedskirt starts on a traditional bed. (photo: Billy Baldwin Decorates, 1972)


A bedcover is a generic term that is used for both bedspreads and coverlets.


vintage daybed

A slipcover or fitted bedspread is tailored to fit a bed’s dimensions precisely. Usually used on daybeds or perhaps in a guest room, it’s not all that commonly seen currently, but it was a definite fave in the 1950s and 1960s. (photo: House and Garden Complete Guide to Interior Decoration, 1953)


vintage quilt

A quilt is two layers of fabric, sewn together with a layer of something warm in the middle like flannel, wool or batting. The top can be a single piece of fabric or it can be made with a patchwork of many pieces of fabric. The quilting stitches go though all layers and generally are an important design feature. (photo: www.countryliving.com)


rayon comforter

A comforter is two layers of fabric sewn together to be puffy and warm. It might be filled with a polyester batting, down, or synthetic down substitutes. It is stitched or tufted through all layers to prevent the filling from shifting.


vintage duvet

A duvet is thick and puffy like a comforter, but unlike a comforter which is used with sheets, duvets have a removable cover that acts as the top sheet. For those Ikea fans out there, their bedding department sells a lot of plain white comforters that fit inside their many patterned duvet colors. (photo: Fabric Magic, 1987)


A couple of quaint old terms you may hear are eiderdown, a luxe comforter filled with feathers from the eider duck, and counterpane, yet another old word for a bedspread, but used with charm galore in the Robert Louis Stevenson poem from his collection A Child’s Garden of Verses.

the land of counterpane



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  1. Very nice article! in French, we call the thing that covers bed: “Couette”, “Parure de Lit”, or “Edredon”; common-used in the past though:), dating from the middle ages yet!:), it was made of pure goose feather and traditionally offered as a wedding gif.

  2. I’ve enjoyed this article! Fun to see the pictures of so many bed covers. Bedspreads make me crazy – too much material for me. I really like the fitted bed cover look – might have to try that!

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