two teddy bear and pillows on bed

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I've never really been the type of person to load my bed down with a bunch of pillows, but I recently got some new bedding and made a note of the pillow shams that came with it. I always thought these were just for people who decorate their beds with tons of little pillows. But it did get me wondering about what is a pillow sham?

Do they serve a purpose? Do you sleep on them? I had many questions about these slips of fabric, and I wanted to find out the answers to them.

I discovered a pillow sham is essentially just a decorative pillow case. However, they are not your standard pillowcase. Plus, there are many ways to use them.

I guess you could say that I fell down a rabbit hole learning about pillow shams. Now, I want to share everything I learned with you, so you can appreciate the shams that come with the next bedding set you buy.

Where Did Shams Come From?

bedroom with lampshade and two round painting above

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One of the first things I wanted to know when I started searching what is a pillow sham is where they came from. I thought they were a more modern invention, but what I discovered was pillow shams have been around for quite a while.

According to Crane & Canopy, people first used pillow shams in the 1700s. The term "sham" means a false front. So, essentially, they are a false covering for a pillow to make them look better. People would use shams all over their home in decorating.

They really caught on because a person could change up the décor in their home or bedroom without having to buy a whole new pillow. It was an economical solution. Instead of buying a new pillow, the lady of the house just put on a pillow sham and changed the look of an ordinary old pillow.

People loved this idea, and so pillow shams became a staple in décor. You can find them in living rooms and bedrooms all over, transforming pillows into decorative design details.

What's The Difference Between A Pillow Sham And Pillowcase?

There is some confusion about the difference between a pillow sham and a pillowcase. I admit that I always thought a sham was just a decorative version of a standard pillowcase. As I researched what is a pillow sham, I discovered that shams and pillowcases are similar, but they are certainly not the same thing.

Peacock Alley explains that pillowcases are functional, while pillow shams are decorative. That is the main difference and leads to all the other differences between the two.

Pillowcases have an opening on one end. They usually have a simple design, often being made of the same material as the sheets in a bedding set. They don't have a lot of decorative features. If they do, it is generally around the open end of the case. This makes them functional and comfortable for use when sleeping.

A pillow sham, on the other hand, is decorative. It often features embellishments, which may include embroidery, buttons, pearls, and sequins. You'll also find the material used for a sham is higher-end and fancier than standard pillowcase material.

A sham has a back opening that closes up neatly. It often has a border of fabric that runs around the outside.

The bottom line is that a pillow is designed to protect a pillow when you use it for sleeping. A pillow sham makes a pillow look good for display purposes.

What Are The Different Types Of Shams?

Another discovery I made when learning what is a pillow sham is that they come in a range of sizes. I always thought they were just fit a standard bed pillow, but I found out there is a range of sizes that make them perfect for decorating in the bedroom and other areas of a home.

The size that I was familiar with is considered standard. It measures 20 inches by 26 inches and fits your standard bed pillow. If you have larger pillows for a queen or king-size bed, they make shams for those too. Queen-size shams measure 20 inches by 30 inches, and king-size shams run 20 inches by 36 inches.

Beyond the typical bed pillow sizes, you can also find shams for larger and smaller pillows. European shams are square and measure in at 26 inches by 26 inches. Boudoir shams fit accent pillows that measure 12 inches by 16 inches.

You may also find special made shams that fit a variety of other sized pillows. These may include the accent pillows you use on your couch or a chair in the living room. You may also be able to order shams from crafters who make them to order if you have a specific pillow you wish to cover.

How Do I Use A Pillow Sham?

bed with pillows and two open lamp beside

Image Via pixabay

Perhaps one of the best things I got out researching what is a pillow sham is some direction on how to use them. I never really gave them much thought. There have been many times I have just used them as extra pillowcases.

That is not the proper way to use them. You should not sleep on a pillow sham. A sham is for purely decorative use. The design of sham may not stand up to the wear and tear when you use it as a pillowcase.

You want to be gentle with them to maintain the decorative elements and overall quality of the sham. Plus, they are often not very comfortable to sleep on because of those decorative features.

Some people may remove them from the bed before going to sleep at night, but they can stay on the bed when you sleep. They can be quite functional if you know how to use them. The best way to do it is to use them is as some extra padding between the headboard and your sleeping pillow.

Before you start layering and stacking, you want to put the sham on your pillows. It is pretty easy. You just open the flap in the back and carefully slide your pillow in. Make sure to close the flap, so it lays flat once the pillow is entirely inside.

What Are Some Arrangement Options?

If you have the desire to learn how to use pillow shams in an arrangement of pillows as a décor element, then there are a few different ways to organize them on your bed. If you have differently-sized pillows, you will usually lay the European pillows in the back at the headboard with the sleeping sized pillows, the standard, queen, or king, being on top of that. Then add the boudoir pillows in the front as accent pieces.

Now, there are a few different styles of arrangements you can use. The stacked style starts with laying the sleeping pillows flat on the bed. Then, layer accent pillows against the sleeping pillows.

The layered style allows you to use a range of sizes of pillows. You start with the same idea of stacking but ensure the pillows in the back are leaning against the headboard. Then, layer the other pillows leaning against each other.

The last option is asymmetrical. This is a very creative option for using pillows from small to large sizes. Start at one side of the bed and begin layering or stacking the larger pillows. As you move across the bed, switch to medium and then small pillows. This creates a nice sloping visual effect.

What Should I Look For When Buying A Sham?

kid sitting on couch covered by three brown throw pillows

Image Via pexels

While you may get shams with a bedding set as I did, you may also buy them separately. This is another thing I learned about what is a pillow sham. I never knew before that I could buy them separately, but there are many options out there. It really is nice because it lets you get creative with your décor.

When choosing a pillow sham, the main thing you want to look for is high-quality fabric. You want the sham to last and to look good for a long time. Buying one made of a good fabric will ensure you get your money's worth. Plus, it also means your sham will look great and not end up looking cheap. An excellent option is a Pinzon Ivy Matelasse Cotton Sham.

Another important consideration is the overall construction quality. Again, you need it to be high quality so that it looks good and lasts a long time. Check out how well a sham holds its shape. It should hold its shape well even when there is no pillow inside it.

Lastly, just make sure it matches your bedding or the décor where you plan to use it. There are tons of choices in shams, so you can just let yourself get artistic. Try experimenting with different colors, patterns, and designs to create a décor look that suits you.

One final note: You will find some shams come with inserts. An insert is a thin pillow that contains a fill of feathers or other similar materials. You put them in the sham on top of the pillow to fluff it up a bit. This can be nice if your pillows are getting older or if you just want a very full-looking sham.

What Is A Pillow Sham?

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Image Via pexels

This adventure of learning what is a pillow sham was quite fun. Something I had never given much thought to became very interesting for me.

I found out they are not some new invention but have been around for centuries. They are quite practical and serve a great purpose in the home, not only in the bedroom but around the house.

Pillow shams are a great way to personalize décor without having to spend a lot of money. You can buy an inexpensive bedding set and transform it into a luxurious look just by adding a few pillows covered with shams. I encourage you to explore more about pillow shams so you can put them to use in your home.

Do you have anything to say about using pillow shams to freshen your decor? Let us know in the comments below.

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