A duvet is basically a sack of feathers and down that resembles a comforter but insulates better and is generally lighter. Duvet cover sets include envelopes of fabric large enough to contain the duvet, along with one or more coordinated pillow shams. The pillow shams are purely decorative and should be removed before sleeping. Duvet covers stay on the duvet and function like sheets -- they absorb moisture and dirt, protecting the duvet itself so you can strip just the cover off and wash it.
Good in Bed
Sleeping under your heavenly duvet is like wrapping yourself in a cloud. Baffles keep the feather and down stuffing from shifting so the warmth is uniform. The duvet drifts over you, replacing the top sheet. It's covered in an envelope of fabric as soft as sheeting, but the duvet insulates you better than any sheet. In the morning, either shake it out and fold it, roll it up at the foot of the bed or simply float the duvet down over the bed to cover it like a comforter or bedspread. Decorative pillow inserts in pillow shams get tossed back on the bed, and it's made. Or the bed pillows slip back inside of shams that go with the duvet cover. Shams and covers give you an infinite array of easy-to-use decor choices with which to stamp your style on the bedroom.
Many Splendored Things
The word duvet is probably from the Old French dumet, for down. The finest duvets are made from the chest down of the Eider duck -- the higher the percentage of down to feathers, the lighter, more insulating and more expensive the duvet. A duvet cover set can be as grand or casual as you like -- faded velvet with ruched edges and pillow shams; antique linen grain sacking with a carefully matched woven stripe of color in shams and cover; an explosion of polished cotton meadow flowers and chintz; solid or embroidered silk in bright sari colors or palest pastels. The most practical duvet covers are washable, but you could coordinate a washable cover fabric with fancier sham material or shams with elaborate trim, because you don't sleep on the shams. A teen or tween might love decorating a plain cotton duvet set with fabric paints in an original design.
Close Enough for Comfort
Don't feel you have to get all matchy-matchy with a duvet cover set. A melange of colors and patterns enlivens a humdrum room; variations on the same theme pull a room's decor together. The blue-and-white striped duvet cover is clearly nautical with white shams, edged in blue thread and embroidered with red anchors. The pink-and-mint checked cover coordinates with solid pink and mint shams. Even an all-white room is more interesting with different shades of white. The duvet cover might be snow-white on one side, creamy vanilla on the other. Pillow shams could be a mix of vanilla and snow or lightly -- almost imperceptibly -- striped in smoke and snow, antique white and linen, or cream and barely lilac.
DIY Duvet Cover
Investing in a changeable wardrobe of duvet sets could cost you some serious coin. But a cover is just a big pillowcase, and the most rudimentary sewing skills can cope with that. Cotton or a cotton-linen blend that you can toss in the washing machine are practical fabrics. If you long for something fancier, try to find a washable version and save the embroidered silk velvet for the bedspread. A simple way to find the prefect fabric is to use two flat sheets -- you need enough fabric to account for side and bottom seams and whatever hem or folded-over design you choose for the open edge. Work at your skill level -- if you love to make French seams, piece together narrow fabric; make buttonholes at the opening, or sew on fabric or trim ties. Stitch envelope-style pillow shams with the opening in the center back in matching or coordinated fabric.