Quilts vs. Coverlets: What’s the Difference?

The bed is often the focal point of a bedroom. When choosing its top layer, be sure to select one with a style that matches the room’s atmosphere.

By Teri Olcott

 

The top covering of your bed is probably the most important part of a bedroom when it comes to bedroom décor. You have many options for completing the look of your bed, but two of the most common choices are quilts and coverlets. Although similar in design, quilts and coverlets differ in function and size. To emphasize your bed’s most attractive layer, consider how your bed covering will be used (for warmth or for style), and how the appearance of the top layer will interact with other elements of the room.

 

The following information will help explain the difference between quilts and coverlets and which will work best for you.

 

What is a Quilt?

A quilt is one of the most traditional bed coverings. The first quilts were little more than layers of rags, old clothing, and feed sacks sewn together by hand. Grass and horsehair were sandwiched in between the layers for added warmth. Today, quilts still make use of the layering system with a decorative top layer, a middle-padded layer, and a solid bottom piece that holds it all together. The middle layer is usually made from synthetic batting that’s lightweight and flexible. The layers are then “quilted” which is stitching by hand or machine that creates a pattern and also keeps the layers together. The top layer of most quilts is made from many different squares of fabric which are sewn together to form some kind of design or pattern. Quilt block patterns can be a mix of bright colors or more subdued patterns. The quilt squares are often made from leftover material or old clothing. There may be a theme to the color scheme, or it can be totally random. Traditional quilt patterns include diamonds, squares, and circles that are mixed and matched to form intricate patterns. Pretty much any pattern can be made into a quilt.


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Modern quilts are made with sewing machines and may have a single top layer that’s made to look like it’s comprised of many squares. They are usually made from cotton or cotton blends and good for summer or cold weather use. Although technically a quilt, machine quilts don’t have the nostalgic feel of a handmade quilt.

 

What is a Coverlet?

Coverlets are similar to quilts but don’t have a middle, padded layer. They usually consist of two layers of lightweight fabric with one being a solid color and the other more decorative. They are also usually not quilted. Coverlets are typically for decoration purposes and help show off the bed. They are smaller than quilts and only drape halfway down the side of the bed. They do provide some warmth, but not as much as a quilt. A coverlet is more like a bedspread with some design elements borrowed from quilts. The job of the coverlet is to cover and dress up the top of the bed.


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Size, Design, and Function

Quilts can be any size but typically come in standard bed sizes. They can be left to hang over the sides of the bed or tucked in to provide a neat and tidy look. Coverlets are smaller than quilts and made to cover just the top of the bed with some overhang that usually covers the depth of the mattress. Unlike a bedspread, they don’t cover the pillows or touch the floor. Matching dust ruffles and bed skirts can hide the box spring and area under the bed if desired.


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Coverlets come in all designs and colors, but typical patterns are stripes, squares, paisley, zigzags, and plaids. The reverse side is a solid color. Coverlets can be quilted to look like a quilt, but are usually just sewn at the edges. In the early days, quilts were made from a variety of materials and used strictly for warmth. Today much thought goes into planning the design of a quilt which is more like a work of art than a bed covering. A homemade, hand-stitched quilt can become a family heirloom that preserves the past for many generations.


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Coverlet fabric tends to be light and made from cotton and cotton blends. Quilts are heavier and made from any fabric that has a loose weave to allow it to be easily quilted. The middle layer of the quilt gives the quilt bulk. Quilts can be used as bed coverings, wrap around blankets, or wall hangings.

 

When considering a new look for your bed, there are many options to choose from. A hand-crafted quilt or a decorative coverlet will certainly infuse your entire bedroom with color, texture, and style.

 

Images used with permission, courtesy of Teri Olcott and www.shutterstock.com

Next: Using Color to Customize Bedroom Ambiance