The Pillow Family

The very first pillows were likely just heaps of moss or grass in our ancestors’ cozy caves. However, even the more recognizable fabric-stuffed pillow reaches far back into history. Wealthy Greeks slept with their heads and feet resting on ornately embroidered cushions. Ancient Egyptians, who believed the head to be the seat of life, not only spent heavily on lavish pillows for themselves, they also placed them in the tombs of their honored dead. The Chinese thought soft pillows robbed the body of its vitality and therefore made their pillows from wood, leather or even ceramic.

Today, our cushy lifestyles demand comfortable and beautiful pillows of all shapes and sizes. If you want to impress your friends and family, throw out a few of these definitions at your next holiday gathering. Everyone will be impressed… or, they’ll all just ignore you like they always do.

The Pillow Family

The very first pillows were likely just heaps of moss or grass in our ancestors’ cozy caves. However, even the more recognizable fabric-stuffed pillow reaches far back into history. Wealthy Greeks slept with their heads and feet resting on ornately embroidered cushions. Ancient Egyptians, who believed the head to be the seat of life, not only spent heavily on lavish pillows for themselves, they also placed them in the tombs of their honored dead. The Chinese thought soft pillows robbed the body of its vitality and therefore made their pillows from wood, leather or even ceramic.

Today, our cushy lifestyles demand comfortable and beautiful pillows of all shapes and sizes. If you want to impress your friends and family, throw out a few of these definitions at your next holiday gathering. Everyone will be impressed… or, they’ll all just ignore you like they always do.

Toss Pillow

Click to EnlargeThe name says it all. These are small, decorator pillows you can toss onto a chair, a couch, a bed – anywhere you need a splash of color and design. They can be any shape and really any size, although if you go much larger than 24″ along one side, you are venturing into the realm of the pillow’s slightly bigger cousin, the cushion. The distinguishing trait is how the seam is finished.

  • Knife edge: Your basic pillow. The side seams taper into nice, sharp corners.
  • Flange: A flange is fabric that extends out from the side seams, usually at least two inches or more. It softens the look of the pillow, and can also be done in a contrasting fabric.
  • Welted: Also known as piping, this is a covered cord that is sewn into the seam as a decorative detail. It’s like an outline for the pillow. Self-welted means the cord is covered in the exact same fabric as the body of the pillow. Contrasting is just that: a different color, pattern or texture to define the edge.
  • Box: If your pillow has squared-off edges rather than rounded corners, you have a box-edge pillow. Usually the edges are defined with contrasting piping to show off the added dimension.
  • Embellished: This covers any pillow that is heavily decorated. It can include fancy trims around the edges, such as beading and fringes, or dimensional adornments attached to the front of the pillow, like embroidery, beading and buttons.

Cushion

The next step up in size from the pillow is the cushion. Giant floor pillows, chair pads and meditation rounds are all members of the cushion family. They can take any of the shapes described above, but since they are usually meant to be sat upon, be careful about adding too many embellishments to the top of a cushion. Unless you like to see your guests squirm.

Bolster or Roll

Cylindrical, which is a fancy word for tube-shaped, the bolster is a classic pillow shape. Bolsters are the manicotti pasta of the pillow world. Adding a bolster shape to any grouping of pillows always adds interest. And, it’s fun to decorate the ends with gathers, tassels and ties. If you can’t find the right size bolster pillow form or you just want to save some money, you can make your own by rolling up quilt batting. Just roll it snugly and fit it inside your bolster cover like you would a pillow form.

Bed Pillow

Our favorite pillow. The one our head crashes into at the end of a long, home-dec day. You’re better off just buying the actual pillow, but it’s fun to make your own pillow cases. And, they make great, personalized gifts! Just remember the four basic sizes:

  • Standard: 19″ x 26″
  • Queen: 19″ x 30″
  • King: 20″ x 36″
  • Euro: 26″ x 26″

Body Pillow

A bed pillow on steroids is a body pillow. Lots of people love to hug these while they sleep. They can also be lifesavers for pregnant women when positioned under a growing belly to allow a welcome alternative to flat-on-your-back sleeping. Body pillow forms can be purchased and you can simply make a giant pillowcase as a cover. Or, you can craft your own body pillow using wool, cotton or down stuffing, depending on your desired firmness.

Sham

Usually this word stands for an impostor or false promise. But, in the home decor world… a pillow sham is a lovely decorative covering for a pillow, often with a deep flanged edge. Pillow shams are a quick and easy way to change out the look of your pillows and update a room for a new season, a holiday celebration, or just because you feel like it.

Did you know that until the mid-1800s, people slept in a position that was closer to sitting up than lying down. Using a combination of a large bolster pillow and two or three smaller square pillows, the sleeper would prop himself against the bed’s headboard. This was thought to be a healthier position for repose. Of course, these were the same people who ate tape worms to lose weight and thought sweating expelled poisons from the body. So… go figure. 

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