What Is A Bed Sham?

What Is A Bed Sham?

In decorating your bedroom, you probably thought of adding luxurious linens, colors, and textures. One item you can easily throw into the mix is the bed sham. A bed what? Before you think it’s a sort of fake sleeping space, let’s dip into its history to know what it truly is.

A bed sham, also known as a pillow sham, is a decorative pillow cover whose name means “false front.” It was created in the 1700s, so it’s been around for a long time. 

More often than not, its purpose is as its name suggests. If someone asks you, “What is a bed sham?” tell them it jazzes things up on your mattress. This accessory can match your duvet, for instance, and both items can come in sets.

When do you need it? How can you choose the right ones for your room? These are just 2 of the things we’ll discuss in this guide.

What Is A Bed Sham?

To better understand what a bed sham is, just think about what it isn’t. This is not your ordinary pillowcase. The typical cover for a pillow, on which you lay your head at night, is open on one end. It can come in different styles and colors. But at the end of the day, it serves to support your head, neck, and shoulders while you snooze.

On the other hand, a pillow sham exists to beautify your bed. Its design is made for aesthetics. And it is likely to be placed behind your actual pillow instead of under your head. The flap of a bed sham is also often found in the middle of the back part. And its print or pattern complements the duvet.

Pillow Sham Types

Standard Pillow Shams

Also called knife-edge pillow sham, a standard pillow sham looks as typically rectangular as an ordinary pillow. It’s often made of cotton in a solid color. A fancier version can use silk. It also features a trim or embroidery to differentiate it from non-decorative ones.

Flanged Pillow Shams

You probably remember having flanged pillow shams. These look similar to standard pillow shams. What sets them apart is their decorative borders, which can be 3 to 5 inches long. They are also used to prop up the main pillows. This type can come in an envelope back.

Quilted Pillow Shams

Often sold in a quilt set, quilted shams have decorative stitching at the front that usually creates tiny dimples. These can range from geometric shapes to florals. Underneath the front fabric, there may be a layer of thin batting. Overall, this kind of sham is really soft.

Pillow Sham Sizes

Most bed shams come in standard pillow sizes. This makes it easy for you to find a filling for them. However, you can divide them into 2 categories. In the United States, the dimensions are as follows:

  • Standard – 20 x 26 inches
  • Queen – 20 x 30 inches
  • King – 20 x 36 inches

Meanwhile, the European size is square, measuring 26 x 26 inches. All of these sizes have some allowance that creates some space between them and the filling. It makes for easy placement and removal of the shams.

Read our full review of the Best Memory Foam Pillows in 2020.

When to Use A Sham

It’s a shame that shams are meant for decoration alone. But that’s what makes them so much more interesting. For the Millenials and Gen Z who are not accustomed to this piece of bedding, here are a few uses of the pillow sham:

pillow sham tips


This is the most obvious purpose of pillow shams. In the daytime, when you make your bed, you want it to look clean and neat. With pillows and sheets, you can also easily create an appealing centerpiece out of your bed. This is the focal point of your bedroom’s interior design.

Pillow shams can then be stacked, layered, or arranged in asymmetrical fashion for this purpose.


This is used by many because of its simplicity. It features a no-fuss approach that favors minimalist bedrooms.

Go ahead and place your sleeping pillows flat on the mattress. You would want to have the open side of the pillowcases pointing toward the bed’s edges. Next, stack the bed shams on top of them. And that’s it. Some people add accent pillows, but there’s no need for that to complete the look.

Read: How Can I Create A Minimalist Bedroom Design?


Following the rules of symmetry, this arrangement lets you mix and match various fabrics, textures, sizes, and colors.

You’ll often find this in images and videos: the sleeping pillows propped against the headboard. Then, Euro pillow-size shams lean on them, creating their own row. You can add as many rows as you want. Another pair of standard pillows dressed in shams. Accent pillows follow. Let the design reflect your style as much as you want.


As opposed to the first 2, this style is named as such because one side of the bed can have a different composition. Using the layered styled as your base, you can put a larger or smaller set of pillows on one side. Just make sure they have the same color and texture. Or the components complement each other.


When you just want to lounge in bed, you can prop some pillows at the headboard. Then you sit and read a book, watch television, listen to a podcast, or whatever you like. This is an ideal time to use the bed shams.

These are the first line of pillows that lean on the headboard. They support the main pillows, which in turn support you. Pillow shams also give that extra dimension and angle so you are reclining on the bed–not sitting up straight like a ramrod.

How to Pick the Right Sham

Know the Measurements

Get acquainted with your pillow sizes. If you’re off to shop for fillings, know their measurements. For your reference, we laid them out in the “Pillow Sham Sizes” sub-section. There are many sham options out there. This information should make your search easier. Remember that the king- or queen-size sham will be a bit larger than the pillow. The allowance itself adds to the style.

You can also try using a king version to fit a queen pillow. The Euro sham does an excellent job of accentuating any space, from the bed to the love seat. It’s especially nice to have for reading in bed.

Zippered or Buttoned Shut?

We mentioned that the envelope style of closure is common among bed shams. The panels at the back overlap, forming a slit through which you can insert the pillow. This is ideal because of how easy you can slip your insert in. It makes for quicker cleaning and washing. There are also no metal zippers or plastic buttons that can distract sleepers. Just the feel of fabrics and pillows.

This is not to say that zippers and buttons aren’t as good. In fact, they keep the inserts in place, which is opposite to what the envelope style can do. If you’re opting for zippered bed shams, see if you can get those with a hidden zipper.

Complement or Contrast?

Going for Scandinavian or country style? When it comes to your room’s design, let your preferences roam free. You can opt to add texture with shams and accent pillows, but continuing the color scheme of the bedroom. Thinking of what sham prints and patterns to use? How about something that’s in harmony with your furniture?

To create contrast, you can layer pillows of various sizes and textures. Try a blend of striking, solid color on your sleeping pillows, quilted design for your shams, and stripes on your duvet. Dreaming of a glamorous setup? Inject gold or teal bedding items, starting with bed shams.

Create Your Own

Can’t find the right size and design? You have one remaining choice here. That is to create your own pillow sham! You might think, “This is going to take some effort.” And you’re right. But if you can spare some time, this could be your new hobby. Plus, you get to decide the fabrics, prints, textures, and colors you’ll use.

In the next section, you’ll learn the steps on how to make your own sham. It’s definitely a level-up from not knowing what is a sham bedding to making your own sham as you please. How cool can that be?

How to Make Your Own Sham

Gather Basic Materials and Supplies

This set doesn’t have to be expensive. But if you’re up for it, you should shell out money on the following:

  • Front fabric
  • Back fabric
  • Disappearing fabric pen
  • Coordinating thread
  • Pins
  • Ruler
  • Sewing machine
  • Iron
  • Cutting tools, e.g., scissors and rotary cutter
  • Cutting mat

The front fabric can be any pattern, print, or color. Yet, it would be nice to have the back material in a block, neutral color. Of course, this depends on what you fancy. This is just a recommendation for beginners as it helps guide you during the sewing portion.

Cut the Fabric

Making your own sham allows you to customize measurements. You can sew a larger one or a smaller one (in which case you do away with the flanges). If you’re adding a 2-inch flange, this is how you’re going to customize the measurements. Let’s say your insert is 20 x 26 inches.

The cut of your front fabric should be 25 x 31 inches, because: 

  • Height: 20 + (2 x 2) + 1 = 25 inches
  • Width: 26 + (2 x 2) + 1 = 31 inches

You need 2 back fabric cuts that measure 25 x 20.5 inches each:

  • Height: Use the front fabric height, which is 25 inches
  • Width: 31 / 2 + 5 = 20.5 inches

Work On the Panels

Take your 2 back fabrics. Fold one height edge of each by an inch. Iron the fold and stick pins to secure it. To keep the hem in place, sew at about ⅛ inch away from the edge. Do this for both back flaps. You should have 2 panels now with one hemmed side each.

Next, get your front panel. Place it on your workspace with the right side facing up. Then put your back panels right side down on top, letting the 2 hemmed edges overlap by about 8 to 10 inches. Then sew the panels together by 2 inches from the seam.

Sew the Flanges

Turn the sham so that its right side is now revealed. Then, draw a rectangular box at the edges of your front panel. This will be your guiding lines when sewing the flanges or collars of your sham. Sew around the front panel following the borderlines. Once done, iron the edges to remove the fabric pen marks. 

And there you have it. A lovely pillow sham that you can add to your bedding collection. For more visual information on the steps, check out this blog post.


Once again, you’re able to add to your treasure trove of decorating ideas for the bedroom. A bed sham is no longer a strange term at this point. If you’re up for it, you can even create your own. That escalated quickly. You are now obsessed!

We can’t really blame you. Having pillow shams enhances the look and feel of your sleeping space. Arranging them engages you creatively. The best thing is that it’s something you can do seasonally or frequently. Together with other bedding items, shams can break the monotony in your bedroom.

Whether you’re shopping or sewing your own designs, you can customize the mattress to your preference. You can align the decor with your sheets, walls, and other bedroom elements. For some, styling their mattresses and accessories can be therapeutic. And that’s actually why we beautify our sleeping spaces, right? For the sheer joy and calm, it brings.