Monday, August 25, 2014


“The topmost covering of a bed, often functioning as a blanket; a coverlet”

I added a new word to my vocabulary last week: Counterpane.

Mother said while her day sitter was getting bedsheets from a drawer, she pulled out an item, which she calls “counterPIN,” that mother made more than sixty years ago.

It is simply a white topsheet onto which a large design is stamped in the center and four corners. The designs are then embrodiered with brightly colored floss.

Mother said she remembered both her mother and grandmother making them, and she herself made one shortly after she was married.

Traditionally, it functions as a bedspread during hot summer months, something to dress up a bed but without much weight.

Seeing it on her bed brings to mind hot summer days when there was no air conditioning, when windows were thrown open to bring into the house whatever breeze existed on those sultry Southern days. The colorful handwork reminiscent of flowers cut from the garden and brought inside to adorn tables.

Her bed now sports the counterpane. When I asked if in all these years if she’d ever used it she said no.

Surely, at 93 years old, it was high time she uses this beautiful heirloom to adorn her bed in lieu of it lingering in the bottom drawer of bedsheets.

I'm very glad it was "found" and I was able to learn the "history" of counterpanes in general, and this one in particular.

Are you familiar with the word counterpane?


  1. Aaah,have not heard that term used for years,counterpane is more commonly called bedspread.Is the counterPIN an old form of counterpane? Another bed cover was called eiderdown a big puffy covering used during the Winter months,
    it might have been the inspiration for the duvet.
    Your mother's bedspread is charming on her half tester bed,hope it is bringing her happy memories.

    1. Judith, I believe counterPIN is simply a mispronunciation of the word. Southerners of past generations were notorious for that. Am glad you are familiar with the word. I too know of eiderdowns.

  2. Hello Sanda

    I am familiar with counterpanes and they are beautiful and I believe collectible.
    I had several, belonging to my aunt and used them at our farm.
    I adore the look particularly during the hot summer
    Your mothers needlework is beautiful.
    It is rather sad that needlework is no longer popular.

    1. It seems everyone except me is familiar with counterpanes! Lucky you, owning several. I certainly agree it's sad needlework is no longer popular. Folks can't put aside gadges long enough for beautiful needle art!

  3. Ahhh, memories of childhood poetry

    The Land of Counterpane - by Robert Louis Stevenson

    When I was sick and lay a-bed,
    I had two pillows at my head,
    And all my toys beside me lay,
    To keep me happy all the day.

    And sometimes for an hour or so
    I watched my leaden soldiers go,
    With different uniforms and drills,
    Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

    And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
    All up and down among the sheets;
    Or brought my trees and houses out,
    And planted cities all about.

    I was the giant great and still
    That sits upon the pillow-hill,
    And sees before him, dale and plain,
    The pleasant land of counterpane.

    Hope you don't mind the long comment, I just couldn't resist.

    1. Thank you for giving us that Darla. I ran across this poem yesterday when I Googled Counterpanes. I had never read the poem but thought it so cute. Thank you for sharing! And glad you couldn't resist.

  4. Enjoyed this so much and love Darla ' s poem!
    Even though I have seen this, it's been a long time and I ve heard the word, had forgotten it. It looked so pretty on mothers bed and I enjoyed making the bed on Saturday am.

    1. I am convinced you paid more attention to such things when we were children.Glad you liked this post. I hope we will be able to remember where all those pretty needlework pieces came from; who made them!

  5. I never met the word until I came to Britain. Specifically when I stayed at a B&B in Edinburgh run by a Scottish lady. I wasn't sure what she meant but much of my experience there was described by Bill Bryson in Notes from a Small Island. He uses rude words, I'm afraid, but that's Bryson for you. I was just in a shop today in Amble, up the coast, looking at an embroidered counterpane and my friend and I had a conversation about the term and how rarely they are used now. Most people in Britain now have a 'continental quilt' which is a duvet (a plain white blanket of wadding wrapped in cotton) inside a duvet cover. We still use a top sheet but many people just have a fitted sheet and a duvet. It's much easier to make the bed with a duvet, but I don't enjoy changing the covers. Should it ever be down to me alone one day, I expect I'll return to using a blanket and a bedspread - or counterpane!

    1. What a coincidence that you recently discussed the term with a friend. I use a down comforter with a duvet cover and I agree it's a real challenge to remove/replace it, esp. a king-size one! I too use a top sheet.

  6. I also learned about counterpanes from that poem! We didn't use the word in real life, and I never knew anyone who had one like your mother's. Beautiful!

    1. I was not familiar with that poem; glad Darla provided it. Mother's is really prettier than the pictures illustrate. I suspect that after laundering it's going to require ironing, something I wouldn't look forward to!

  7. Thanking Darla for the poem from A Child's Garden Of Verses! What a useful item a hot Tulsa Summer. I remember doing Pillowcases like that when I was young.

    1. The embrodiery is reminiscent of pillowcase embrodiery. Mother has tons of those; seems everyone used to decorate their pillowcases.

    2. I remember doing that! :) I learned to embroider that way. You used to be able to buy pre-stamped pillowcases.

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