The Complete Guide To Bedding

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You spend around a third of your life in bed, and after a good mattress, your sheets and bed coverings do the most to provide a comfortable night's sleep.

Walk into any bed and bath shop, and you will find a wide range of bed coverings in various materials, colors and styles, and with a wide price range to match. It can be confusing to make sense of it all, and you might be tempted to just purchase a bed-in-a-bag set and be done with it.

While that is certainly one option, picking each element of your bedding separately lets you customize your bedroom look and upgrade the quality of your sheets. That can make a big difference when it comes to getting a good night's sleep.


Sheets come in almost endless colors and styles. As your sheets are the bedding right next to your skin, they play the biggest part in providing a comfortable feel. There are many options to choose from, and it helps to know the different terms used to describe bed sheets.

Thread Count - This is the number of threads-per-square inch of fabric, and is used to determine softness and quality of the sheet. Generally, inexpensive sheets such as those in a bed-in-the-bag are 150 - 175 thread count. Soft, durable sheets for daily use are usually in the 250 - 400 thread count range. 500 and above are luxury sheets, generally quite expensive and not as durable as lower thread counts.

Ready for Planting

Bed Skirt, Comforter, Sheets & Pillow Shams

Finished Product

Pillow Shams, Bed Skirt & Bedspread

Materials - There are several options in sheet fabrics. The following are some of the most popular options.

  • Cotton sheets are the most popular, and for good reason. Quality cotton sheets are soft, durable, and comfortable and will keep you cool and dry through the night.
  • Silk sheets are luxurious and soft, but difficult to wash and not so durable.
  • Bamboo is a new material for sheets, with natural antimicrobial properties, and a feel comparable to Egyptian cotton, but bamboo sheets are expensive and do not come in a wide range of patterns.
  • Egyptian and Pima Cotton - These are two different varieties of cotton with long fibers. The longer the fiber, the softer the cotton fabric made from it. Egyptian and pima cotton are high quality cotton sheets, and will be soft and durable.
  • Sateen - This refers to how the sheet is woven. Sateen weaves have more threads going vertically than horizontally. This produces a very soft sheet, but one that is likelier to pill or tear.
  • Modal is made from beech tree fiber, and is comfortable and durable, but not available in a wide range of patterns.
  • Cotton/polyester blends resist wrinkling, but are generally not as soft as 100% natural materials and can be hot.


A warm, snuggly blanket is a joy on a cold night. Blankets are useful for providing an extra layer of warmth between the sheets and top layer of bedding, or as a lightweight chill-chaser on warmer nights.

There are several choices in blanket materials. As the blanket is not right against your skin, softness is not as much of an issue, but texture and warmth are still important to consider when choosing a blanket.

  • Wool - Wool is very warm and heavy, but can make some people itch and can become moth eaten if not stored properly.
  • Cotton - Cotton blankets are perfect for a lighter-weight choice in warmer months.
  • Polar Fleece - A synthetic material, polar fleece is soft and warm, and wicks moisture away from the skin. It generates static electricity, however, and holds onto dust and lint. It is also prone to pilling.
  • Vellux - Another synthetic material, vellux has a velvety finish, and is warm yet lightweight. Vellux holds up well to hot-water washing, and is an excellent choice for those suffering from allergies.


A comforter is the most common top layer of bedding. Thick and fluffy, with a filling that can be synthetic materials, feather down or silk, comforters come in different weights for every season. Design options are nearly endless, with colors and styles available for every decorating theme from the most contemporary to the most rustic.


A duvet is like a pillowcase for a comforter. Commonly used over feather down comforters, a duvet provides a layer of protection to the comforter, and generally fastens along one side with large buttons. You can easily remove the duvet for laundering, or to change the decor of your room. Duvets come in a wide range of colors, styles and fabrics.


Traditionally on country, rustic, shabby chic and colonial bedding, quilts can be handmade or machine-sewn. A traditional American craft, quilts are defined by the lines of stitching holding layers of fabric and padding together. Usually lighter weight than comforters, add a blanket underneath a quilt for more warmth. Cotton is the most common quilt fabric.


Bedspreads are thin covers that cover the entire bed down to the floor, and often are pulled up over the pillows. They are commonly made of synthetic materials in solid colors, and with elaborate stitching or quilting. Somewhat out of fashion, bedspreads are not as popular as comforters, quilts or duvets.

Bed skirts and Shams

Bed skirts and shams are decorative touches used to finish off the bed.

  • Bed skirts cover the box springs and legs of the bed, hanging to the floor. Lacy fabrics, or solids in cottons and synthetics are popular.
  • Pillow shams are decorative covers for pillows, used for display, not sleeping. Shams generally match the comforter or duvet, and can be made of any material, as well as decorated with elaborate stitching, trims, ruffles or tassels.

Your choice of bedding keeps you comfortable and warm while you sleep, and also creates the focal point of your bedroom. Choose the best quality sheets you can afford, a comfortable blanket for extra warmth in the winter, and a comforter, quilt or duvet that makes you smile when you see it, knowing you have completed your bedroom with your own signature style.

Last Updated: September 28, 2011
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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