Befuddled over bedding

By Mir
December 10, 2007

The lovely Ann writes:

O Pretty Mir!

I am so hoping that you can dazzle me with your wisdom about comforters vs. duvet covers vs. bedspreads, as I need some direction. I have seen sage advice from you on sheets and thread counts, but now I need some advice about what goes on top!

I am looking to purchase a new comforter for my queen sized bed, but have been disappointed in the past with comforters that just don’t last. My current one has not stood up well at all, with the top fading terribly from the children sitting or laying on it (our bedroom often functions more as a family room than the family room!), plus the filling inside has practically disintegrated and is all bunched up at the bottom! I only had it about a year, and it wasn’t inexpensive.

I’m willing to pay for quality, but I just don’t know where to turn. I have been intrigued with duvets, but am not sure I would be happy with one. The sales staff at Macy’s tell me that they stay in place inside the cover and hold up well, but I’m not sure I believe that.

Do you have an opinion? Can you tell me how to research this? Who carries quality brands?

So many questions! Thank you for any help you can provide.

(I especially like how Ann asks if I have an opinion. Because I’m so shy and retiring, and hesitant to share my views.)

Anyway. Let’s get to it, shall we? Don’t despair, Ann! Help is on the way!

For those of you just joining us—or for anyone who wants a refresher—I did address the hows and whys of bed sheets previously, so you can consult that post if you have burning questions about thread counts and such. But this post will be about bed toppers.

Just as with sheets, a lot of this is going to depend on personal preference. But we’ll see what we can do in terms of some sort of universal wisdom.

I am one of those freakish humans with a busted internal thermostat. I am always cold, except when I’m too hot. I cannot sleep with no covers no matter how hot it is outside, and I need something very warm for the winter. My personal solution to this problem is that I have a summer cover and a winter cover for my bed, and in the spring and the fall my husband just bites his tongue as I switch the two back and forth and constantly complain about being either too hot or too cold. (My husband is a lucky guy, no?)

Let’s start with the summer cover. I like something heavier than a sheet, but not as heavy as a comforter. Just a blanket looks like I forgot to make the bed, I think, so that leaves me in the area of quilts, coverlets, and bedspreads.

What’s the difference? Well, a quilt is, well, quilted. The quality of quilts will vary widely, and the main problem I have with them is that the cheap ones tend to fall apart quickly, but the expensive ones are usually hand-made and very expensive, plus even the good ones often don’t hold up well in the wash, because they have a lot of stitching. Quilts are generally not a great bargain choice.

Bedspreads and coverlets are generally the same item, although the former is intended to cover your bed down to the floor and a coverlet is closer in size to a conventional comforter. I have a coverlet on my bed in the warmer weather, and I love it. (My exact coverlet is no longer available, but go here to see something similar to what I bought.) (I got mine on clearance, natch.) The Lands’ End matelasse is thick and strong and gorgeous; it washes well and is nice and soft; and like everything else they sell, it comes with an unconditional guarantee. If you can snag something like that on sale, it’s a great buy. For me, that’s an ideal solution for summer.

I suspect, though, that Ann is really itching to know what to do for a winter bed cover. And here is where we wander into the sticky territory of comforters.

About five years ago I bought a duvet, and since that time I haven’t looked back. Why didn’t anyone tell me? I had been buying comforters for years! They suffer wear and tear and the batting gets bunchy and/or I want to change the decor and somehow at the end I was always stuck buying a new comforter which generally disintegrated as quickly as its predecessor. So sad.

Here is why you will love a duvet:

  • You buy it once. Buy a good one, it will last a looooong time.
  • You buy a cover, and the cover is much easier to wash than an entire comforter, plus it has the advantage of keeping wear and tear on the batting of the duvet to a minimum.
  • Sick of the look? No problem! Go buy a new cover! It’s much cheaper than replacing the entire comforter.
  • The cover starts to wear out? No problem! Go buy a new cover!
  • I don’t really have a fifth point. I just wanted to say “cover” again.

My point, in case you missed it, is that a duvet and a cover (or two) will stand the test of time. Provided that you buy the right one, of course.

Now—which one is the right one?

Some people swear by down. Down is lightweight and warm, true. The downsides are that lots of people are allergic to it, and you can’t throw it in your washing machine. I would recommend a high-quality down alternative to most folks, as it’s nearly indistinguishable from the “real thing” and more durable.

I linked this duvet over the weekend, and it looks like the price is still holding steady at $39.99 (75% off). Overstock carries a good-quality down alternative comfortericon at $39.99 as well. You don’t need to pay more than that. That’s right. Around $40 is all you should be spending on this.

The reason you don’t want to be spending more on the comforter you’re going to cover is twofold: First, there are great options at that price point, and why would you pay more if you don’t have to? Second, duvet covers are not inexpensive.

If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can make on yourself out of two flat sheets you bought on clearance. (Here is what I can make with a sewing machine: A trip to the emergency room after I attempt to drop-kick it and fracture my foot.)

The good news about duvet covers is that if you’re willing to wait a bit, duvet covers are one of those things that do go on sale regularly. And—lean in closer, I’m going to whisper—despite my generally expensive taste and love of all things swanky, do you know where I love to buy duvet covers?


Yes, really! When Target does bedding clearance, you can pick up Isaac Mizrahi or Swell or whatever on the cheap, and they hold up great. We have several covers from Target. (I also have one from Overstock, but I like the Target ones better.)

But again—the beauty of the duvet and cover is that you can always buy another cover without losing your initial quality investment. So buy a cover. And if you don’t like it? Look around for another. Not a big deal.

Unless you’re doing Pilates in your sleep, I promise that a duvet will stay more or less in the right place inside your cover. The twisting/lumping problem generally occurs when you buy an inferior duvet (read: slightly small) that has too much room to move around inside the cover. A good duvet inside a nice cover will stay where it’s supposed to.

Readers, what have I missed? (I feel like I could’ve just written: “Buy a duvet and a cover. The end.”)


  1. When I got my first duvet — a present from my smart and pretty mother — I was also given a set of four clips meant to hold the corners of the duvet. They worked beautifully. To use them, I’d turn the duvet cover inside out, clamp the corners of the duvet and cover together, then turn it right-side out. The clips would be perfect for the paranoid or for anyone who does do Pilates while sleeping. (Yes, I do sit straight up to turn over. You don’t?)

  2. My German-born mom had us under twin size down comforters in duvet covers growing up, so I was so happy when my brother-in-law bought us a down comforter maybe 4 years ago (on, I believe). Thank you, K!! We love it and use it year around. We use a regular sheet set and the duvet on top. In winter I switch to a flannel duvet cover…so cozy. 🙂 The duvet stays in place inside the cover, even with nightly use and a dog jumping up to snuggle in her rightful spot before bedtime.
    I’m headed to Target this morning, so I’ll follow Mir’s advice and check what they have on sale, but I have also found inexpensive covers at Ikea. They aren’t the softest but when you have a sheet set in between, it’s just fine.

  3. IKEA has amazing duvet covers for tremendously low prices. We like very. bright. colors. and and enjoy change. So, for $24.99 with two pillow cases we can change our duvets with the seasons. It makes me happy.

  4. I love, love, love my duvet. I’d never go back to a regular comforter. We’ve never had a problem with it not staying in place, even with two active sleepers and a wild beastl of a dog. It’s so much easier to wash a duvet cover and I like having a couple of coordinating covers that I can switch out when I’m sick of one or the other.

  5. I was surprised to find when I moved here from Australia that EVERYONE didn’t use a duvet (or doona as we call it). They are the best thing ever to snuggle up to. It is also much cheaper to get new covers than comforters. You will not regret it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. We bought a down duvet a couple years ago from Overstock and it was a great purchase! I love it, but when living in Texas summers (and now Arizona Summers), I’d take the duvet out and just use the cover on the bed, otherwise I’d get too hot (like Mir, I must have something on me when sleeping, even in the summer!). The other thing I did was get some grossgrain ribbon and cut 8 good sized lengths of it – at least 12 inches each. I sewed 4 of the strips of ribbon into the 4 corners of the duvet cover (in the seam, so it wasn’t noticable on the outside), then sewed the other 4 to the corners of the duvet. You can do the sewing by hand or by machine, whatever you’re comfortable with. Then, when we put the duvet in the cover, we tie each corner together and viola(!) everything stays where it should!

  7. Just this weekend I got a new duvet cover from an ebay seller for $19. (Actually 99 cents plus $18 shipping). I use duvet covers year-round so I can use my summer-weight, ugly-as-heck bedspread and I happily cover it right up.

  8. I was going to say to check out Ikea, but Steph beat me too it. We have two cats of varying colors who like to sleep on our bed all day. No matter how many blankets or towels I put down for them they will always lay on our cover, soooo instead of using the lint roller every day we have two duvet covers from Ikea. I swap them out every weekend & then I just wash & dry all the cat hair away. Much easier, much cleaner. My cats can be rough (snags) on these covers (we’ve had a few from target) but the Ikea ones have been holding up beautifully.

  9. I sewed a cover from two sheets and velcro 16 years ago and it is still in fabulous shape–it even outlasted the first comforter. (The cats aren’t allowed in the bedroom, so that makes a huge difference.) These days I’d be much more likely to buy a new cover on sale rather than sew one; I’ve mended my ways.

  10. My personal preference is to always, always buy blankets/comforters/duvets one size larger than my bed. I want it to hang down and cover me, not barely cover my rear end when I’m curled up cold in bed!

  11. I second the little corner clips and Ikea! And I wish I had bought mine 1 size larger than our bed – when my son moves out of his crib I might give him our duvet and go buy a king size one for me.

  12. My problem is finding something big enough for our bed. We have a king sized bed with a very thick mattress and it is nearly impossible to find something to cover the bed at least as far as where the mattress meets the box spring. At least if we had a smaller bed I could just buy the next size up, but that’s not possible with a king. The problem is compounded by not being able to have anything too thick so it will fit in my washing machine at home (I don’t have time to take it to a commericial size washer) and it has to be machine washable (a must with 2 dogs, 2 cats and a toddler). I ended up buying a bedspread from Linen Source that I do not love but I could find no other options. Of course the bedspread is thin so the colder months are something of a problem. Sorry to go on and on but this issue infuriates me.

  13. Wait. You aren’t supposed to wash a down duvet in the washing machine? I’ve been washing mine and putting it in the dryer with clean tennis shoes to fluff it. Is this a big no-no?

    I stiched ties in the inside corners of the cover and just tie them around the corner of the duvet… I think Martha told me to do that….

    In the summer I have a light down duvet and in the winter… I put TWO down duvets in the cover. It is lovely and fluffy and toasty warm.

    But now, oh pretty-pretty Mir, I have a question…. what is your opinion on microfleece sheets? We just got a Bed, Bath & Beyond and they have microfleece… what say you?? How do they hold up? Are they as snuggly and fabulous as I hope they are?

  14. We used a light duvet in Los Angeles (from IKEA) and we never had any problems. I’m a tosser and turner so that’s saying a lot!

    Now that we are back in Ohio we needed something more. Target had their “bedsets” on sale over the summer randomly for like $30 (sheets, bedspread, bed ruffle, pillow cases). Anyhoo it’s really warm randomly. I think we would’ve switched back to a duvet had we not found it.

    (as a side note, we got our summer “blanket” also at Target when they got rid of their World Market line. $125 marked down to $15 dollars!!! omg it’s got this awesome orange indian print and it’s PERFECT for spring/summer/fall. We even take it camping…haha) What can I say I’m a targhetto-aholic)

  15. Just how warm is warm?

    Perhaps the combined wisdom of this group can help me.

    I don’t turn on the heat in my apartment here in Chicago, as I’m on a very strict budget. During the day I wear lots of layers, and have various tricks to keep warm.

    At night, I have six layers of covers, including two comforters, and that’s just about right. Neither of the comforters is down or down alternative, though.

    As you might imagine, this makes a rather heavy bed. I’d prefer to have something a bit lighter, but I need the warmth. So my question is, will this be warm enough to eliminate three or four of the other layers? Especially, will it be warm enough that I can eliminate the two comforters, and just go with the duvet and a couple of blankets?

    Thanks – you are all so smart and pretty!

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