Chilly nights, a recession and news of the war bring out the hibernating instinct in some of us. The worn-to-softness welcome of a favorite comforter is at least a little reassuring. But as it endures use -- dragged to a chair or puddled on the floor in front of the television in a danger zone of cocoa mugs, pens and pets -- it becomes lovingly battered. Ratty, is what some might call it. Yet it's far too usable to discard.
The solution is a duvet cover.
Little more than oversized pillowcases, duvet covers add another layer of warmth while disguising blemishes. (Duvet is the European term for a down or poly-filled quilted comforter.) The covers rank among the top, inexpensive, decorator-magic tricks. They are the quick-change artists of the linens world -- removeable and cleanable like slipcovers. For as many times as the bed linens are changed, a new fashion look can be adopted with covers of many colors and designs.
They can be made to match the bedroom's walls, now that many manufacturers offer coordinating lines of decorator-width yard goods and wall coverings. And like an artist's canvas, a comforter cover offers a broad backdrop for quilt patterns, fabric-paint murals, lace insets and other decorations that display the maker's handiwork and creativity.
While many area stores sell them, purchased duvet covers can be expensive and may not have that special made-to-match look. Seamstresses who work at area fabric stores say duvet covers have become popular winter projects. These range from the very simple to the elaborate. Two flannel sheets or fancy blankets stitched around the edges form a winter-weight comforter cover with a minimum of measuring and seaming work. Other styles involve the labor of piecing together panels of fabric until the top and bottom pieces are wide enough to cover a comforter; for large beds, this will almost always be necessary.
Careful planning leads to successful sewing, say Glenda Lissimore, an avid quilter who works at JoAnn Fabrics in Bel Air, and Mary Williams, of the home decoration department at So-Fro Fabrics in North Plaza Mall.
"I would suggest always measuring accurately," Ms. Lissimore says. Then choose fabrics with an eye toward care. "One hundred-percent cotton fabric is washable and durable," she says, but ask a clerk's help so that enough is bought to account for shrinkage, then wash the yardage before you cut it. This way, it will shrink before it can do harm.
If you've chosen a decorator fabric, check the care instructions, says Ms. Williams. Some fine fabrics must be dry cleaned; notions sewn onto them must be dry cleanable, too. Most of her customers choose washable calico and other cottons, but some select from bolts of extra-wide drapery fabric so they can make curtains to match. If piecing is necessary, she says, the widest panel runs down the center of the bed, narrower panels are attached to each side of this. She recommends fabrics with even, all-over designs; one-way or diagonal designs are harder to match up at the seams and require more fabric.
Herer are a few other tips from fabric shops and from my personal experience:
*Before shopping: On an expanse of clean floor, spread out the comforter; use it as your "pattern" for measuring. Don't forget to buy enough fabric for a top and a bottom. Use the comforter again as your guide for cutting and piecing fabric panels.
*Use an iron to mark seam lines: Sew down the "tracks." Before making the last perimeter seam, hand-baste with long stitches in a clashing color so fabric won't slip.
*You'll be swimming in yardage in the final stages. Ask a friend to help hold and adjust fabric while you sew.
*Duvet covers seen in area malls use buttonhole closures. Some patterns call for long zippers. You may substitute products from fabric shops: Velcro tape, snap tape or even ribbons. Watch that notions won't shrink and are colorfast and cleanable. Before sewing the final seam, check that whatever mechanism you choose lines up or your buttons won't button, snaps won't snap and loop fastener tape won't grip.
*Shopping list: Fabric, enough to piece together a top and bottom. Thread. Fasteners of your choice. Eight pieces of colorfast, washable ribbon to anchor corners. Optional decorations. Tools needed: Yardstick. Scissors. Pins. Basting needle and thread. Iron. Sewing machine.