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What is a sham in a comforter set?

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What is a sham in a comforter set?

We all recognize very well what pillowcases are, but do you know anything about pillow shams? It seems that it is mostly related to outdated bedding, but that is not the case. Keep reading this guide to learn more about pillow shams, all its difference with pillowcases, their basic types, dimensions, and how you can use it to decorate your bedroom.

What is a Pillow Sham?

A pillow sham is a decorative pillowcase that transforms normal-sized pillow fills into useful accessories for one’s bedding set. Unlike the typical pillowcase, the pillow sham is often open in the middle of the back, with slightly overlapped fabric, or is closed with a hidden zipper. In a few words, a sham is a pillowcase with a facade. Although they can definitely be slept on like regular pillowcases, pillow shams are usually used as support when sitting in bed and as decoration during the day. Sham pillows can be placed behind normal pillows when sleeping or just removed from the bed completely. Pillow shams are usually sold in pairs made out of fabric from a matching duvet cover. Unlike a throw pillow, which is used exclusively for ornamental purposes, a sham can be easily removed from their fills to be washed or replaced with a traditional pillowcase for normal use. Perfect for people with children or pets, or for those who prefer to clean pillowcases in the washing machine.

Pros And Cons Of Getting A Pillow Sham

The benefits of using a pillow shams are: Improves your bedroom ambiance: Not only can a decorative pillow make your made bed look polished, but they can also tie a room together by incorporating an accent color or design that fits with the rest of your interior decor. With a pillow sham, your bedroom will be fully enriched with the ooze of calm, rest, and beauty. Eventually, you’ll feel good and enjoy your bedroom. Protection for your pillows: With pillow shams in your house, you a high chance of saving the money. Purchasing decorative pillows is usually costly when done regularly. However, shams are here to protect your pillows. Variety of designs and colors: Pillow shams come with different designs, colors, patterns, and fabrics. This diversity gives you a chance to make a better choice. Easier To Clean: Bed shams are an affordable, easy way to change the mood of your bedroom. Easily removable: Decorative pillow shams can be readily taken off or put on a pillow whenever needed. On the other hand, there is just one disadvantage of them: It is not recommended to be used during sleep: Due to the fabric weight for a sham, compared to a pillowcase, it might not be ideal or comfortable to sleep on a sham. Unlike standard cotton or tencel pillowcases, bed shams are often constructed from heavier fabrics or knits and adorned with applique, lace, or quilting—making them less than ideal sleep partners.

How to Pick the Right Sham

Multiple Sizes

Bed shams come in multiple sizes. The dimensions are as follows: Standard Sham: 26″ x 20″ Queen Sham: 20-by-30-inch King Sham: 36″ x 20″ European/Continental Sham: 26″ x 26″ Some other non-standard sizes mentioned above are: Boudoir Sham: A small rectangular decorative pillow covering that fits a 12″ x 16″ boudoir pillow. Neckroll Sham: A cylindrical decorative covering for a neckroll or bolster pillow. While ready-made pillow shams come in the above sizes, some bedding brands also sell travel-sized pillow shams, and made-to-order, custom-sized pillow shams.


Decorative pillow hams come in a variety of styles and materials, from silk to cotton, polyester, silk, velvet, or fabric blends.

Open and Shut Case

Shams also differ in their closures, which is how you can secure them around your intended pillow. Most can be put on a pillow through a slit on the back of the shame that overlaps (also called “envelope style”), unlike regular pillow covers that typically have a wide opening on the side. If you’re looking for the most fool-proof design, we recommend opting for a pillow sham with a zipper, though shams with buttons can add a decorative touch that many people prefer and, in most cases, gives the sham a closer fit around the pillow.

Common Designs

When it comes to the shams’ designs, they are multifarious, suited to every fancy. Decorative pillow shams may come with elaborate embroidery or charming patterns.

Historic Textiles

Pillow shams are nothing new. Shams made centuries ago by skilled sewers and designers are collectibles and museum pieces today. In the 1700s, specially made pillowcases were made to create decorative pillows with removable covers. Young girls might learn lace-making and apply developing skills to create one or more shams. A fine linen sham, embroidered with a family initial, might have gone into a young woman’s hope chest. Fanciful patchwork shams mirrored the patterns of handmade quilts. A decorative style of art needlework called redwork was a trendy sham technique in late 19th-century America; the outline of a pattern or design was stitched on a white or cream fabric background in a high-contrast thread. Over time, bed shams have come to include quilting, lace, heavy stitching, and patchwork.

What Is The Point of Pillow Shams?  Transform Your Bedroom

While there are many ways to style your bed pillows, a few standard arrangements are most common. No well-made bed is complete without pillows shams. Nothing says “bedroom luxury” quite like a soft, inviting nest of well-placed pillows and pillow shams, but striking the right balance between a comfy bed and one that must be excavated to sleep in can be tricky. Don’t worry — you don’t need to use them all to have a stylish bedroom. You can choose as many or as few as you want, and there are no hard and fast design rules for stacking your pillows and shams. There are a few things to know; however, that will help you choose the best pillow shams for creating a bed that looks as good as it feels when you climb in it. Let’s look at some ways to decorate using pillowcases and pillow shams on your bedding.

Option 1: Stacked pillows

The easiest method would be to stack the pillows on top of each other, starting with the pillowcases at the bottom and then pillow shams sitting at the top. Typically, the cuffs are pointed outward toward the edges of the bed. If you have matching accent pillows, those can be placed against the stack of other pillows, or you don’t need them at all for a more minimalist look. Then stack pillows with decorative pillow sham on top of them. This creates a quick but pleasing arrangement.

Option 2: Layering Pillows

For an eclectic yet harmonious look, add pillow shams to the pillowcases, and coordinate them with the layers of the bed: the sheets, the quilt, a comforter or blanket. This is simpler if you get a complete bed set. You can use different sized pillows and covers to layer on top of each other to create depth and ultimate comfort. Depending on your preference, there are endless possibilities on how to decorate your bedding with pillowcases, pillow shams, euro shams, and accent pillow covers. This allows you to display pillows of different sizes, fabrics, textures, and colors in an eye-catching way. Start by leaning your sleeping pillows against the headboard, again with the cuffs toward the edge of the bed. Leaning against those, display several Euro size pillows dressed in shams in a clean or overlapping row. Next, place two standard or king-sized pillows, also in shams, in front. Finally, add decorative pillows such as boudoir, bolster, or neck roll sizes in front if desired.

Option 3: Symmetry And Scale

You can stack the pillows flat, one on top of the other, or stand them up vertically, layering various styles and sizes to replicate a look that resembles a city skyline. This one makes for a less structured, more creative sense of style. The arrangement is similar to the layered option above but using larger or smaller pillows on only one side of the bed or the other. Shams often have flange borders or are embellished to make them look a little more substantial next to their standard pillowcase counterparts. You can use pillow shams to conceal your sleep pillows or try layering them behind for contrasting height and added plushness. You don’t need to go crazy with different colors or styles, but a different sleep setup can add a little extra character to your room.

Option 4: Color-Block Effect

One of our favorite decorating trends is to create bold color-block effects by incorporating contrasting colors. Get creative: mix solid colors from the sheets and top layers to create “blocks” of color as you arrange your pillows. For added depth and dimension, try inserting a print or pattern to keep the look fresh and fun.

Option 5: Work On A Chair Or A Couch

Nestled on a chair, spaced on a couch, tossed on a window seat, arranged along a wall on the floor. More and more people are using pillow shams as alternatives to decorative pillow covers in places other than the bed. Pillow shams from our Dream Quilt collection are popular picks because their hand-stitched quilting adds pattern while retaining the simplicity of a solid-colored accent. We love how they look arranged with accent pillows and throws.

How Do You Care for Pillow Shams?

A pillow sham is useful for supporting the head, neck, and back when not sleeping but in the bed. When not using a bed, shams serve the purpose of making a bed look aesthetically appealing. Since shams are a considerable investment in the look and treatment of a bed, it is advisable to hand-wash pillow shams to ensure their longevity and texture. Some shams are made with texture at the forefront, with delicate decorative embellishments that must be treated with utmost care. Yes, it is possible to throw a sham into the washing machine, but it may be better for a sham to be washed gently via hand and hung dry until its next use.

Frequently Asked Questions

Before you buy bedding, you might have some questions or concerns. You want to ensure you are making the right choice. To help you do this, here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about shams.

How Do You Use a Bed Sham?

A sham is slipped over a pillow and placed for visual appeal atop a bed. Sham-covered pillows are placed in front of or behind pillows encased in pillowcases at the head of the bed. Putting pillows in shams helps keep pillows clean and safe from kids, pets, and makes a bed look good. A set of shams paired with a duvet help tie-together a bed’s overall look for aesthetic value. A sham can be easily put on or removed from a pillow and placed in the wash if needed. A sham is for mostly decorative properties and enhancing the look of a bed. Adding pillows covered in shams looks best on a queen or king-sized bed, adds height to the head of a bed, and gives a bedroom a luxurious, royal treatment.

What Is the Difference Between a Sham and a Pillowcase?

Most people may not know this, but there is an actual difference between pillowcases and pillow shams, and it can change the way your bedding looks by the fit, feel, style, and texture of a pillow cover. As a customer, a pillowcase and pillow sham offer different benefits and uses. Of course, both serve as slipcovers for pillows; you would lay your head-on. However, the differences are mentioned below.

Material and Appearance

Pillowcases are usually made of simple sheet fabric, and open at one end or have a slit and no closure. Bedding shams, on the other hand, are typically made of fancier materials that match or complement your duvet and often have a slit in the middle of their backs (or on one or both sides) that closes with an overlapping length of fabric. Decorative ties, buttons, and hidden zippers can also be used to secure shams.

Design Purpose

In terms of design purposes, the two are categorically different. Pillowcases are more functional, while pillow shams tend to be more decorative. This means that a pillowcase is designed to provide an extra layer to you while you sleep. Moreover, it protects the pillow from unnecessary and external particles that may come from your skin oil, hair, sweat, and drool. Conversely, a pillow sham is mostly designed as a ‘decorative pillowcase.’ You’ll love its decorative touch. If you want to add a fantastic touch to the decoration of your room, just go for a sham. No doubt, it’s a perfect addition. They’re designed to complement your duvet cover, quilt or coverlet. And while you technically could sleep on shams, they’re meant to give your bed a more sophisticated, finished look.

Design Elements

Because of the differences between their purposes, shams and pillowcases are also totally different when you assess their individual design elements. For example, you’ll find pillowcases in just plain colors. If lucky, you may get some with trimmings. Whereas, shams predominantly feature more intricate patterns than pillowcases. Shams are more beautiful because they’re adorned with ornate and embroidery laces. A pillowcase is made of unique light fabrics while a sham is made of the same or sometimes thicker fabrics. A sham sometimes is more cushioned, such as it can easily lie on top of the bedspread and comforter. A pillowcase is generally open at one end and a fabulous decorative finishes on the cuff in addition to a tuck. If you look at the pillow sham, you’ll discover it also has the unique tuck fluff that is designed at the back. Because of their decorative nature, pillow shams might be a fantastic solution to your boring pillow. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for maximum comfort and optimal sleeping habits, just get a pillowcase. Differences Between Pillowcases And Pillow Shams The following criteria define pillowcases:

  • Typically pillowcases are open at one end, with no type of closure.
  • It contains a flange on the opening.
  • The purpose is to protect the pillow.
  • They are intended for sleeping on.
  • They tend to be simpler, and therefore less decorative. Better quality pillowcases may include decorative touches, typically along the open cuff.
  • They’re often made from the same fabric as the sheets they accompany.

The following criteria define pillow Shams:

  • The opening typically includes a tuck flap on the back of the sham, sometimes with hidden closure, and other times with an overlapping length of fabric.
  • All four sides are finished with flange or cording. The flange may be decorated with embroidery or other accents, or it can be plain.
  • Mainly for decoration.
  • Sheeting fabric on shams can be used for sleeping on with no issue.

Can you sleep on a sham?

While technically yes, you can sleep on a pillow sham, and certainly some people do, that’s not their purpose. Many shams may be less comfortable to sleep on, either because they’re made from textured decorative fabrics, or because the flanges may be bulky and awkwardly bunch up as you sleep. So what do you do with them when it’s time for bed? Some choose to place their shams behind their bed pillows as they sleep, adding a layering of padding between the sleeper’s head and the headboard of the bed. More commonly, shams can simply be removed from the bed entirely during the night, to help keep them clean and avoid soiling them with oils from skin or hair.

What Size Shams Should You Use On a Queen or King Bed?

  • Use two standard shams on a queen or full-size bed.
  • Use two king shams on a king or Cal-king size bed.
  • With Euro shams, one can use 2 or 3 on a queen- or full-size bed and 3 or 4 on a king-size bed.
  • Concerning the boudoir or decorative pillow shams, it is a personal preference.

What Is The Best Filling for Decorative Pillow Shams?

Related to the filling material, it may be feather. As it is inexpensive and never bunches up. But if you suffer from allergy issues with feather, poly-filled pillows will work, but they have a tendency to get lumpy over time and may not fill the corners out well. Ideally, the best type of pillows to use in a pillow sham or overstuffed with down feathers or shams may have a generous amount of synthetic filling. Why feathers and down? Because they will expand to the exact shape of your sham, filling it entirely even in the tight corners. Whatever your preference, a firmer pillow is usually a better option when it comes to decorative accent pieces because they tend to hold their shape better. Foam pillows are a great option if you’re looking to fill a standard sham, it can also double as headrests when you’re lounging or reading in bed. You might be tempted to insert old pillows you no longer use for sleeping. Resist that urge! Those old lifeless pillows will not fill your sham appropriately and leave gaps. Without the proper tension, decorative edges, like flanges or cording, will not stand up straight.


Pillow shams are great accessories when it comes to embellishing your bedroom. The beauty of them is that they come in many pretty designs, colors, patterns, and fabrics. Let’s give your bedroom a nice change!

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