A sham is essentially a ‘decorative pillow case’. Traditionally a pillow sham is used to describe a pillow cover with a flange-trim bordering the edges. The trim can be smooth or ruffled.
But these days the definition has been watered down and is of to refer to any pillow used for a decorative purpose. However usage of the term pillow shame is incorrect.
While a pillow sham is a decorative pillow, a decorative pillow is not a pillow sham. This is because decorative pillows are not designed to support or comfort and typically have cases that cannot be removed. A pillow sham on the other hand covers your standard bed pillow and can be removed, allowing you to wash it.
Why is it called a Pillow sham?
The word sham means something that is false. A pillow sham is essentially a false decorative pillow. While it looks like you have purchased a fancy accent pillow, you are instead just covering a standard bed pillow that you already have on hand.
It is rumored that the name first came into use in the 1700’s to describe this unusual style of bedding.
How do you use a pillow sham?
Pillow shams are typically used to furnish a bed or lounge. You can pair pillow shams with throw pillows for a more diverse look to your comforter set.
Pillow shams come in a wide variety of styles and designs allowing you to choose a sham that matches your existing decor.
If you have seen a master bed loaded to the brim with pillows then chances are that one of them had a sham covering it.
Whether or not you choose to use a pillow sham is a matter of personal taste.
Pillow Sham vs. Pillow Case
Now you may be asking yourself:
Which should I choose, a pillow case or pillow sham?
The answer to this question all depends on what you want to do with it.
To put it super simply, a pillow case is for sleeping on while a sham is used to cover pillows that are used for decorating your bed or lounge.
A pillow case is designed to simply cover the pillow you sleep on while being form fitting, light and comfortable. Oh, and easy to clean after spending a night with adrool monster.
Pillow Shams on the other hand are attention seekers. They scream “look at me!” While they can be made from light, sleep safe material; many people find that the decorative flange annoys them in their sleep.
That said, there are pillow shams that have been purpose made to sleep on. These shams have the flange-trim boarder three edges, the top and sides. The bottom side is left edge-less, like your pillow case, so that it does not irritate your neck and shoulders in your sleep.
Pillow shams that have embroidery, print or are made from thick or scratchy material are not suitable to be slept on. However you can use place these behind your sleeping pillow for more support if you so choose.
Different types of pillow sham
Pillow shams are typically available in 5 different sizes to suit your bed pillow. Be sure to pick the right size, too big and you will have to deal with excess material; too small and your pillow won’t fit.
Size: 20” x 26”
The right sized sham for standard sized pillows. Two will fit comfortably side by side on a full/double bed.
Size: 20” x 30”
The right sized sham for queen sized pillows. Two will fit comfortably side by side on a Queen bed.
Size: 20” x 36”
The right sized sham for king sized pillows. Two will fit comfortably side by side on a king bed.
Size: 26″ x 26″
European shams are also known as Euro or continental shams. Euro shams for the big square pillows you place on your bed. Typically used on king and queen beds, Euro shams are not only decorative but also functional, you can use them to prop yourself up while you watch read or watch TV in bed.
Euro Shams sit at the very back of your pillow set, against the headboard of your bed. Because of their large size they give the feeling that there are lots of pillows when you layer your bed pillows in front.
If you don’t have a headboard, Euro Shams create a element of height to your bed, making the wall behind seem less bare.
Size: 12” x 16”
A sham designed to fit smaller boudoir pillows. Boudoir shams are generally placed at the very front of your pillow set.
How to get your pillow inside a sham
Unlike pillow cases, which have an opening on the side to quickly insert and remove your pillow, pillow shams have the opening on the rear.
The reason for the entrance located being located on the rear of the sham is simple. The flange trim that runs around the edge prevents an opening from being placed in the side.
To prevent the pillow from being seen when turned over, the fabric at the opening of the rear overlaps. Rarely, the opening is zippered.
The layover pillow sham
Now before I wrap up the article I would like to mention that there is one other type of sham. The layover pillow sham.
As the name suggests, this sham has no back. A layover pillow sham is simply piece of material that is placed over the top of your pillow case. When the time comes for sleep, the layover sham is removed.
Layover shams are typically decorative, made from intricate needle work, and often lace. Sizewise, a layover sham can either be a large sham designed to cover two pillows or a smaller sham to cover a single pillow.
Unless your grandmother had a layover sham hiding around her house it is unlikely that you stumble across one in retail stores today. That said, antique layover shams can still be found at craft markets and vintage stores.
Do you use a pillow sham in your home? I would love to know more, please let me know why in the comments below.