Linens to outfit the bed have undergone a transformation in my lifetime. One of my grandmother’s counterpanes is folded on a shelf in my closet. It is pale green with shiny thread used to form designs of flower baskets in an allover pattern. The edges are scalloped and overcast with more of that shiny thread. My mother had a similar bed covering when I was little, all white, but she called it a bedspread instead of a counterpane.
The next style that I remember being popular was the chenille bedspread. Small fluffy tufts of pile were woven into rows and clusters to make a design. They could all be one color or might be mixed. Maybe a big bouquet of flowers marked the center of the bedspread. The fullness and the closeness of the tufts indicated the quality of the bedspread.
We bought a solid yellow chenille “spread”—the name then shortened—for my college dorm room bed. It had only straight rows, wide apart, and the nubs were rather skimpy. Nevertheless, I liked to run my hand over the soft surface as I contemplated a lesson I was reading, fighting sleep at the same time.
As a young homemaker, I looked forward to the day when our bed might be dressed in a dust ruffle. Eventually I got that job done, spring rods and all, and proudly displayed a beautiful appliqued quilt finely made by my mother in her senior years.
Somewhere along the way came the Bates George Washington bedspreads. Durable and easy to care for, they captured the market. Mine still looks good in the spare bedroom.
The modern-day bed covering is most likely to be a thick comforter stuffed with synthetic fiberfill. Lightweight and warmth-retaining, it may be pulled up in cool weather to do night duty as well.
Layers beneath the bedspread have also changed overtime. Velour blankets replace thick quilts; electric blankets make fewer layers necessary; and houses are automatically warmed overnight to eliminate the need for heavy cover.
Permanent-press sheets feel smooth and nice without ironing. Wrinkles in sheets had to be sprinkled and ironed out just as those in dresses and shirts. “Ironed sheets?!” our children would say today.
My treasured firm foam mattress is a far cry from the felt mattress that got lumpy and the squeaky set of wire springs that supported it. Those open bedsprings were real lint catchers. I still have a duster my mother bought from a traveling salesman that was specially designed in a cone shape to fit the coil springs.
Then there were straw ticks and feather beds. At wheat threshing season, the straw tick was ripped open, emptied, and stuffed tight with fresh straw as it came out of the threshing machine. Not many sleepings were required to flatten it.
The feather bed was permanently stuffed—maybe some soft feathers were added from time to time. It was taken outside to “air” and to “sun” to re-fluff the feathers during spring cleaning and fall cleaning. In winter, the feather bed was positioned on top of the mattress so we could snuggle down through the sheet into its warmth. In summer, it was stored underneath the mattress, allowing us a cooler surface for sleep.
Making up the bed was easier in summer. When the feather bed was on top, we had to shake and pat the ticking to evenly distribute the feathers, and when all was done, we used a broom handle to smooth the surface. And we were not allowed to sit on the bed and mess it up!