Monday, March 9, 2009

Blankets, Comforters, & Quilts

Keep warm with natural fibers—and save energy, too.



There’s nothing better for drifting off to sleep than a nice, warm bed in a cool room. You may even want your window open for fresh air, which will require your bed to be even warmer during the winter months. There are three good ways to turn on that kind of heat: with blankets, comforters, and quilts.
Natural Fiber Blankets

Blankets provide warmth with a single layer of woven or felted material. Quilts and comforters (also called “duvets”) have a cover and a filling. The difference between the two is that quilts are generally thinner and have layers of batting (sheets of stuffing) inside, and comforters have a fluffier filling. In stores, the term “blanket” is sometimes used to refer to all three.

Quilts have a long history of being green. Traditionally, they were stitched by hand by women at home from fabric scraps and cut-up worn clothing. Quilting also brought women together for “quilting bees,” where they’d talk while they all stitched a single quilt together, sometimes making an everyday object into a work of art. While ready-made quilts are widely available today, sewing your own would be even greener.



Top Tips


When shopping look for

  • Quality materials. Your natural-fiber blanket, comforter, or quilt should be soft and flexible, conforming to every contour of your body.

    • lightweight and breathable—you’ll be most comfortable if moisture can escape easily.

    • hypoallergenic, meaning resistant to mold and dust mites.


  • Organic cotton. When choosing cotton products, favor organic cotton if available and your budget allows for it. Organic cotton is healthier for the earth because no pesticides are used while growing it.

  • Just the right amount of warmth. Choose bed covers that are cool enough in the summer and warm enough in the winter so you can use minimal air conditioning or heating energy while you sleep.

Avoid

  • Wired warmth. Think twice about using electric blankets or electric mattress warmers; why use fossil fuels when the right bed covers will keep you cozy and unplugged?




Other Considerations


Blankets

  • Warm wool. Sheep wool is the traditional blanket material. Wools from mohair and alpaca—and blends—are also used to add warmth or softness. A wool blanket can last for decades with proper care, and can even be handed down from generation to generation.

  • Cool cotton. Cotton blankets come in various weights and weaves. For summer, you can use a cotton blanket as thin as a flannel sheet. A cotton “thermal” blanket has an open weave that acts as an insulation material, trapping body heat when covered with another blanket. Some cotton blankets are as soft as cashmere. Most cotton blankets are washable. With blankets and all cotton products, choose organic whenever possible.

  • Other fibers. Blankets can be made of any natural fiber. Bamboo blankets are very soft; linen blankets very durable.


Quilts & comforters

  • Cotton. Cotton is the traditional filling for quilts. Additional sheets of it are used to make comforters. Cotton doesn’t have as much loft as some other comforter fillings, so it’s not as warm.

  • Down. Down comforters come in different weights and blends of down and feathers that affect both warmth and price. When buying a down comforter, you’ll choose among fill “power ratings” from 600 to 800. The higher the rating, the warmer and more durable the comforter. Fill type also dictates quality, price, and convenience.

  • Wool. A wool comforter is even warmer than a wool blanket, because its curly fiber filling is excellent at trapping and retaining body heat.

  • Silk. With insulating properties similar to down, silk is hypoallergenic, less bulky, and more lightweight. It’s also breathable, making silk comforters comfortable in a wide temperature range. Thin silk comforters are used even in the summer.

  • Hemp. The most long-lasting fiber, hemp can be used on the inside and the outside of a comforter. Due to the fiber's hollow core and superior insulating ability, a hemp comforter is light but warm in the winter and cool in the summer.




Benefits...


...to you and your health
Blankets and comforters made from natural fibers are comfortable and provide better airflow than synthetics, which allows you to sleep better. Since our bodies repair and regenerate during sleep, good sleep leads to good health.

...to your wallet
If you have a warm bed you won’t have to heat up your bedroom as much in the winter—so you’ll save energy.

...to the Earth
Synthetic materials are usually made from nonrenewable petrochemicals. Natural-fiber blankets and comforters are made from renewable agricultural products. The right bedding—maybe a lightweight organic cotton blanket for the summer and a warm wool comforter for the winter—can help reduce your contribution to global warming by reducing your reliance on air conditioning and heating while you get some shuteye.



Common Mistakes



  • Using a cotton comforter in a damp climate. High humidity reduces cotton’s ability to retain warmth.

  • Using a down comforter in a warm climate. However luxurious and comfy it looks, a down comforter can be overkill in a warm climate.




Getting Started


Take an inventory of the blankets, quilts, and comforters. You may find you already have at least some of what you need tucked away in a closet somewhere. Take your discards to a used clothing store, to help keep others warm.



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