Unlike sheets or blankets which most use daily, the term “coverlet” may seem unfamiliar. What defines this traditional bedding accessory? Below you’ll find a detailed overview explaining what exactly coverlets are, their origins and purposes, how they differ from similar bed layers, and tips for incorporating coverlets into your modern bedroom décor.
What is a Coverlet?
A coverlet is a thin, decorative top bedding layer designed to be aesthetically pleasing while offering light insulation. Coverlets feature intricate embroidered or woven designs, trims, panels and patterns. They add a stylish finishing touch layered over your bottom sheet and other bedding.
Coverlets traditionally get placed atop the flat sheet with pillows propped decoratively against the headboard. They generally do not get tucked under the mattress. A duvet set often layers atop a coverlet, but coverlets can also be used alone as your primary blanket.
History and Origins of Coverlets
Coverlets have been used to adorn beds for centuries:
- Originally referred to as “colvertures,” they date back to Medieval Europe.
- Intricately handwoven and embellished, they showcased fine craftsmanship.
- Early American Colonial coverlets featured regional weaving patterns.
- Pioneers and frontierswomen brought the craft with them west, incorporating regional flowers and plants into patterns.
- They reached peak popularity in America during the late 18th to mid-19th centuries.
- Originally functional as bedding, they evolved into more decorative heirloom showpieces.
Though less common in modern households, coverlets remain a staple for adding style, heritage and coziness to beds.
Distinguishing Coverlets vs. Similar Bedding
Coverlets resemble some other bedding pieces but have defining characteristics:
Coverlets vs. Quilts
- Coverlets feature woven, embroidered or jacquard patterns. Quilts consist of stitched fabric patches and fillers.
- Coverlets are thinner with no batting. Quilts are thicker and heavily stitched through batting.
- Coverlets simply drape over bedding. Quilts get tucked under like primary blankets.
Coverlets vs. Bedspreads
- Coverlets are thinner and more decorative. Bedspreads are thicker and act as main blankets.
- Coverlets traditionally layer over a flat sheet. Bedspreads replace a flat sheet.
- Coverlets feature elaborate designs. Bedspreads offer simpler textures.
Coverlets vs. Duvet Covers
- Coverlets are thin blankets. Duvet covers enclose insert blankets.
- Coverlets are used alone or with a duvet set. Duvet covers require an inner duvet.
- Coverlets have intricate embellished designs. Duvet covers have simpler patterns.
Modern Usage of Coverlets
While originally used as decorative top bed layers, how are coverlets incorporated into today’s beds?
At the Foot of the Bed
Folded at the foot of the bed, a coverlet displays its patterned side for ornamental value. Coordinate colors with your main bedding.
As a Lightweight Summer Blanket
Layer a thin cotton voile or linen coverlet over your bottom sheet in warm weather for airy, breathable coverage.
Folded at the edge of a chair or couch, coverlets make attractive lap throws or reading blankets, lending a traditional vibe.
Coverlets can cover a dining room or coffee table when not draped on beds to protect and decorate table tops.
Display as artwork by hanging a vintage quilt or family heirloom coverlet on the wall above a bed headboard.
Pack a washable cotton coverlet in the car for cozy outdoor concerts, picnics or activities.
Explore creative ways to get additional mileage from your decorative coverlet beyond just bed coverage.
Popular Types of Coverlets
Coverlets range widely in designs, weaves, colors and patterns. Popular styles include:
Featuring decorative stitched designs of flowers, scrolls, leaves, vines. Often embellished with lace, ribbon or other trims.
Woven Jacquard Coverlets
Using a special weave technique, these display elaborate allover floral, paisley and geometric designs.
Matelassé and Chenille
Deeply woven textures like matelassé and chenille create luxurious depth.
Mixing printed patches or woven patterns like log cabin and wedding ring quilts.
Country Quilted Coverlets
Quilted just like a quilt but remaining thin and more decorative versus functional.
White on White Coverlets
Crisp white-on-white intricate details like pin dot or blossom patterns.
Antique handcrafted pieces – often family heirlooms passed down.
Mix and match coverlet patterns and designs that complement your existing bedding themes.
Popular Coverlet Fabrics
Coverlets come in a vast array of fabrics – both natural and synthetic:
- Cotton – Lightweight, breathable and easy care. Ideal for warm climates.
- Linen – Natural fiber with beautiful drape but often pricier.
- Polyester – Colorfast and wrinkle resistant but not breathable.
- Cotton Blends – Blended with synthetics like polyester for mixed benefits.
- Rayon – Artificial silk-like sheen but less durable.
- Wool – Warm and insulating but pricier option.
- Silk – Very luxurious and soft but delicate and high maintenance.
Choose the fabric and blend that aligns with your priorities like affordability, breathability, maintenance and comfort level.
Advantages of Using a Coverlet
Coverlets offer unique benefits other basic bedding doesn’t provide:
The elaborate woven designs and patterns create eye-catching visual interest against the plainer underlayers.
Provide Light Warmth
The layer of fabric over you adds warmth, but thinner than a full blanket. Ideal for milder weather and climates.
They present an opportunity to display intricate handiwork craftsmanship and quilting.
Coverlets can relocate from bed to table, wall, couch or floor easily to refresh decor.
Vintage coverlets allow honoring family tradition and passing down heirlooms.
Wide selection allows matching specific patterns to your room’s color scheme and style.
Disadvantages of Coverlets
Some drawbacks to weigh about using coverlets:
- Require more delicate care than basic sheets and blankets – dry clean only
- Often made of less breathable non-natural fabrics that can feel stifling
- Intricate designs prone to snagging and tears
- Lighter weight provides less insulation than a substantial blanket
- Patterned colors may not precisely match current bedding palette
- Prone to slipping around since they don’t tuck under mattress
- Vintage pieces may appear too fragile for regular use
Evaluate benefits against limitations to determine if one suits your lifestyle and bedroom.
Caring for Coverlets
Follow these care guidelines to safely clean and store prized coverlets:
- Check labels closely and dry clean embellished coverlets when possible
- Handwash delicate vintage pieces using mild detergent in a tub or sink
- Wash machine friendly coverlets in large commercial machines only
- Use the gentle cool water cycle and mild detergent
- Never wash in hot water which risks dye bleed, shrinking and damage
- Lay flat to dry; do not place in the dryer
- Refold along original crease lines when dried to avoid new wrinkles
With proper care, treasured coverlets last for decades passing through generations.
You can find a wide selection of coverlets available:
Major home goods stores like Bed Bath & Beyond and department stores often stock coverlets along with sheets and comforters.
Home Décor Boutiques
Smaller specialty shops feature more unique handmade and imported coverlet designs you won’t find from standard brands.
Quilting and sewing shops sell coverlets along with quilts, frequently made locally by artisans.
Vintage and antique shops can have a treasure trove of collectible coverlets dating back decades.
Websites like Etsy allow browsing thousands of handcrafted coverlets from individual quilters and sewers worldwide.
Estate sales clearing out homes sometimes yield hidden gems of beautiful family quilts and coverlets decades old.
Coverlet Style Inspiration
Here are some ideas for incorporating different coverlets styles into your bedroom:
- A vintage handmade quilt draped over a chair by a sunny window makes an heirloom reading nook.
- Create a calming oasis with a pale blue and white matelassé coverlet layered over white linen bedding.
- Make a little girl’s room magical with a rainbow lattice quilt used as a bedspread.
- Bring Provence romance with a washed linen coverlet displaying oversized floral sprigs.
- Give beach cottage vibes using a striped seersucker cotton voile coverlet in sea glass hues.
- Bring cozy charm with a deep red and ivory buffalo check plaid wool coverlet at the foot of the bed.
- Create an urban rustic feel with a grey, black and cream geometric tribal-patterned cotton coverlet.
Are coverlets out of style?
While coverlets may seem like relics of the past, their vintage charm is cycling back into modern bedrooms. Layering a decorative heirloom or handcrafted coverlet over bedding brings heritage style.
Should coverlets match the sheets?
Unlike top sheets, matching coverlets to your existing sheets is not essential. Treat them more like throw blankets that contribute coordinating colors but don’t need to perfectly color match.
How do you use a coverlet on a bed?
Traditionally coverlets layer over the flat sheet with pillows propped against the headboard. But they can also cover the bed alone or be folded at the foot for just a decorative touch.
Are coverlets machine washable?
It depends on the fabric and construction. Simple cotton coverlets and vintage quilts are often machine washable. But many embroidered and embellished coverlets require professional dry cleaning.
What is the difference between a quilt and coverlet?
Quilts are thicker with batting fillers and get tucked in under bedding for warmth. Coverlets are thinner layers placed decoratively atop the flat sheet without tucking in.
What size coverlet do I need for my bed?
Standard coverlet sizes correspond to mattress sizes but can range from equal to your mattress length to nearly reaching the floor. Opt for a generous oversized look.
While not a necessity, adding a decorative coverlet layered atop your bedding can infuse bedrooms with added flair, heritage, and coziness. With myriad patterns and designs to choose from, you can find the perfect look to complement your existing décor and add personalized style. Use tips in this guide to start enjoying the visual warmth and whimsy a beautiful coverlet provides.