Decorative Pillow and Sham Styles: Knife, Flange, Welted and Scalloped Edges

Here at Fine Linen and Bath, we’re committed to helping our clients design the beds of their dreams. Our team of expert designers takes time to clients about the many bedding options available from our luxury linen brands. We then assist them in choosing the perfect pieces to complement their furniture and suit their individual taste, style, and sense of comfort.

One of the most important aspects of putting together a bedding is the selection of accent pillows. Whether your bed reflects a peaceful airy vibe in classic white; suggests romance with rich textures, deep colors, and patterns; or blends colors and patterns for an eclectic style, decorative throw pillows and shams are true finishing touches. They can add a pop of color; inject a bit of whimsy or pick up other design and décor elements from the room. As you begin perusing your options, take time yourself with the terminology used to describe pillows, including descriptions of decorative edging. The most common styles are knife, flange, welted, and scalloped edges, each of which makes a unique design statement.

Building Your Bed Layer by Layer

Before we get into the specifics of decorative shams and pillows, let’s address everything under them: the layers of your bedding ensemble. Bear in mind, these layers can be adjusted according to design choices, personal preference and, of course, seasonal and geographic temperature variations.

Start with Sheets: Choosing the right bed sheets will help ensure a blissful night’s sleep. Start by selecting fabric style, which requires pinpointing your personal preference. If you’re choosing cotton, first decide whether you prefer percale or sateen sheets, which are different in weight and feel. Bamboo and silk are other good options.

Blankets: Blankets typically feature a softer cotton feel with a relaxed drape. One blanket style a plush, brushed cotton with a bound edging. Another is a woven knit, typically finished with a rolled edge. The relaxed drape offers a casual look where a blanket can be cleanly tucked in or left out.

Coverlets: These are similar to blankets in weight but lend a more sophisticated style. Coverlets are often a tighter weave and can be woven to a matte finish (a little more casual), or a sateen finish with a slight sheen (a touch more sophisticated). Coverlets are usually part of a layered bed, lying between the flat sheet and a duvet cover. This makes them quite versatile in transitioning from a summer bed with the coverlet alone, to a winter bed with an added duvet. A matelassé, sometimes referred to as a bedspread or blanket cover, is a specific type of coverlet. It features stitching in intricate designs and a raised pattern for a “quilted” look without the heavy weight. You can also find quilted coverlets which are most often a sateen finish and feature custom quilting patterns. Filled with polyester batting, they range in thickness.  

Duvet covers. A duvet cover is a decorative protective cover that goes on your duvet insert (note: duvet inserts/stuffers are quilted bed coverings filled with feathers, wool, or synthetic alternatives. They are sometimes referred to as “comforters”) Soft and inviting, a duvet cover is a must for the quintessential “fluffy” bed. They come in a variety of materials and designs, and are often made from machine washable cotton fabric. To maintain a consistent design ethos, we recommend matching the duvet cover to your chosen sheet collection. Many sheet collections include a coordinating duvet cover.

Bed Skirts/Dust Ruffles. A bed skirt or dust ruffle is a piece of decorative fabric that runs along the sides and foot of a bed, placed between the mattress and the box spring, reaching down to the floor. A bed skirt covers the sides of the box spring or the space under the bed and adds a style component to the bed ensemble.

Throw blankets. A throw blanket can add color and a sense of comfort and warmth to the bedroom. In choosing a throw blanket, draw your inspiration from the room’s décor: artwork, curtains, furniture or paint colors. You can even pick up color from the décor in an adjoining master bath as a creative way to connect the two spaces.

Shams and Decorative Pillows: Shams and decorative pillows are your final layer, added over standard sleeping pillows. Shams can match a coverlet or quilt if one is used; if not, match the duvet cover. Decorative throw pillows can add a touch of pizzazz and personality to the bed.

Unlike pillow cases, which usually have visible openings on one side, shams have hidden openings of overlapping fabric in the back. Shams and decorative pillows are typically made with one of four edging designs: knife, flange, welted or scallop edges.

What is a knife edge on a pillow?

A knife edge pillow is one with a seam without a decorative finish. It tapers to sharp, crisp edges and corners, creating a very simple, clean, polished look. These types of shams are typically made with an envelope closure or sometimes a hidden zipper, especially if it’s more of a decorative style pillow. Knife edge decorative pillows and pillow covers add a tailored touch to the bed as well as furniture. Contrast or coordinate with a cushion from your favorite sofa or chair.

Examples of pillows with knife edging

What is a flange edge on a pillow?

A flange edge is a classic fabric decorative accent, added along on all four sides of a pillow sham or throw pillow. A flange consists of fabric with a seam allowance ranging from 1/2" to 3" beyond the dimensions of the sham. This creates a large, elegant flourish. Sometimes, two coordinating fabrics are used for the flange. (Note you may also see flange edges on three sides of duvet covers).

Fine linen manufacturers sometimes detail their flange edges with mitered corners. This is when two pieces of fabric meet with their joint on an angle. A mitered corner can create a lovely tailored and elegant look. Seen here with the BOVI Vintage Linen bed shams.

Examples of pillows with flange edging

What is a welted edge on a pillow?

A welted edge tapers and includes a decorative border or trim such as piping or braiding.

Piping is a trim or embellishment used to present a finished look on the seams or style lines of decorative pillows. Piping, or welt cord, is usually created by folding a strip of fabric over a cord and sewing it into the seams of the fabric; it can also be fashioned simply by folding the fabric over itself. Piping comes in a variety of thicknesses and can be made with coordinating or contrasting fabric depending upon the intended use. It provides a professional finish and texture, as well as added strength by creating a buffer against the sewn seams.

As the name suggests, braiding is the intertwining of three or more strands of yarn or narrow fabric to create a decorative cord. Each strand is passed alternatively over or under the other strands. The braiding provides a three-dimensional texture, which is stronger and thicker than the non-intertwined strands. Braiding is pliable and easily curves around edges; this makes it a popular option for accent pillow trim.

Examples of pillows with welted edging

What is a scalloped edge on a pillow?

A scalloped edge is a flange that is then finished in a shape similar to a line of curved or scallop shell edge, lined up in a continuous pattern. Timeless and stylish, scalloped borders are often used with matelassé fabric but can also be on pillowcases and duvet covers. The gentle sweep of a scalloped edge is a pleasing and feminine addition to a space.

Examples of pillows with scalloped edging

Tips and Tricks for Styling Shams and Throw Pillows

While shams and decorative pillows are officially the top "layer" on the bed, they should also be layered among themselves! Indeed, the secret to setting up a beautiful, luxurious ensemble is to incorporate pillows with different sizes, shapes, colors and patterns. If you want to "go big" start with 26" x 26" Euro pillows in the back, against the headboard, creating a background. You would generally use three Euro pillows on a king bed, two on a full or queen bed, and one on a twin bed. From there, add standard sized shams and decorative pillows in varying sizes and shapes; you can even add a monogram or a completely custom look. Be sure to choose a high-quality stuffer for your sham or pillow cover. There are many options on the market, including light-weight goose down; down/feather blends; and down alternatives, available in a range of shapes and sizes. Best of all, you don’t need to do this alone; our team of design consultants is here to offer personal guidance and help you style your own fabulous collection of decorative pillows and shams.