If you don’t know what a hospital corner is, it’s because you’ve grown up since the revolution in British bedding. Today we mostly use duvets (also called comforters) on our beds but, back in the day, we insisted on sheets and blankets. Hospital corners were a way of tucking in the bedclothes with a double fold so that the sheets stayed nice and flat, and the blankets didn’t get kicked off in the night.
They had used duvets over on the continent for centuries. In 1749, English writer Thomas Nugent, while on the Grand Tour of Europe, mentioned in his description of the people of Westphalia that “they do not cover themselves with bed-clothes, but lay one feather-bed over, and another under.”
Pioneering Brits could order these miraculous quilts from abroad, but the duvet started to become popular in the UK only in the 1970s. This was after Sir Terence Conran discovered the joy of the duvets on a visit to Sweden and decided to stock them in his trend-setting lifestyle shop, Habitat.
Once excitingly known as a “continental quilt“, the duvet was slow to catch on for two reasons. One: They were expensive. Two: People liked the idea of being able to add more blankets in the cold winters and remove them in the warm summers.
Gradually, however, the virtues of the duvet recommended themselves. It was far quicker and easier to make the bed when you had only a single covering rather than a mixture of sheets, blankets, quilts and eiderdowns. Habitat advertised the “10-second bed“.
In 1987, that bellwether of British public opinion, John Lewis, sold more duvets than blankets.
There will always be blanket holdouts, however.
So if you need to know how to keep your sheets and blankets firmly in place, there are several step-by-step instructions out there for hospital corners.
Even if hospitals themselves use fitted sheets these days.