Bed linen uncovered: what really makes the best bed linen and is thread count important?

When it comes to buying bed linen, it is certainly confusing. There are an abundance of marketing terms used and hugely varying prices.

We all know that natural fibres, most likely cotton, is the first step towards good bed sheets. But how do you tell great bed linen from good bed linen? “High thread count & Egyptian cotton!

...unfortunately, it's not this simple. 

Below are the factors to consider when choosing bed linen, and why.

1. Thread count

Thread count is the number of threads per square inch. Simply, it is the weight of the material. Yes, a thin cotton is undesirable, but 1000 thread count of thereabouts is actually less breathable than it should be. 

To attain very high thread counts, retailers twist two or three yarns together before the cotton is woven. This effectively doubles or triples the thread count - there are more threads in the square inch! It is used in this way to strengthen lesser quality cotton and to create the “high thread counts” consumers often lust after - a win-win for retailers, lose-lose for consumers. This is referred to as two or three ply cotton.

Think about a potato sack. It is woven by twisting yarns together. Individual rope yarns are twisted together and then those threads are woven together. 

I am yet to find a single ply cotton that is above 700 thread count. In addition, this fabric is woven with one of the top two cotton strains in the World - extra long staple Giza 87 cotton. It represents less than 1% of Egyptian Cotton produced and harvested - it is the creme de la creme of cotton. Cotton that is not of this quality can't be woven to this thread count singly ply because the yarns are not fine and strong enough - 700 thread wouldn't fit in to an inch.

Giza 87 bed linen will be coming to Rebecca Udall soon. If you can't wait, please email us now sales@rebeccaudall.com.

2. Single ply

If you don't twist the yarns together, this is singly-ply bed linen. Single ply cotton closely resembles silk in its handle - fine and breathable, but strong. Only high quality cotton can be woven single ply as it doesn't need strengthening (twisting the yarns together). 

Our bed linen is exclusively singly ply, which is why our 300 thread count feels “surprisingly” luxurious. 

3. Long staple

The length of the individual cotton fibres is really important. This is how Egyptian cotton achieved its reputation - it typically has long fibres.

As the popularity of Egyptian cotton grew, retailers begun to combine Egyptian cotton with regular cotton. As advertising bodies allow, as long as 50% of the cotton is Egyptian, retailers
 can call it Egyptian. (A quick note to say that we would never do this, even if it is "allowed". It doesn't sit right with us.)

It’s also important to note that not all Egyptian cotton is long staple. Egypt grows "regular" cotton, and they also grow the best cotton in the world - Giza 45 and Giza 87. Additionally, other regions such as America are well suited to growing long and extra long staple cotton. Simply, to be good, it doesn't have to be Egyptian, but the best is Egyptian. A bit like wines - some countries produce exceptional wines and also poor quality wines.

Rather than provenance, the most important factor to consider is how long the cotton fibres are.

Our bed linen is made from long staple or extra long staple cotton. As with flawless diamonds, extra long staple cotton commands exceptionally high prices due to the small supply.

Why is long staple cotton so important?

Split ends. No one likes them. They make your hair frizzy and rough.

Long staple cotton reduces the number of fibre ends. The outcome of this is cotton that is:

i) less prone to wrinkling ii) lasts longer (less likely to break) iii) less likely to pill and iv) softer / more luminescent.

4. Oeko-tex certified

Our bed linen is Oeko-tex certified, meaning the entire production chain is free from harmful chemicals.

5. Finishing techniques 

This is where a heritage manufacturer really adds value. The century-old expertise in these regions hold secrets - like Kentucky friend chicken but more sophisticated. 

Within reason, anyone could buy long staple cotton and weave it single ply. However, you can’t easily replicate hundreds of years of expertise, usually cultivated in a particular town and passed on from generation to generation. 

Our bed linen is woven in a historical textile region in Italy. The expertise of our weavers mean they know best how to work with cotton to make the most luxurious bed linen - super lustrous and as soft as possible.

Whilst for brand protection reasons I can't give more detail in this area, this explains why long staple, single ply cotton from one brand to another can differ, and why Italian woven cotton is widely considered the best.

Sheets woven with the same quality cotton in the same way in Italy or India, for example, are unlikely to be the same quality finished sheets for this reason.

Italy has, quite rightly, gained a strong reputation for manufacturing the best bed linen in the World.

As with Egyptian cotton, not all Italian manufacturers are World Class, but we did our due diligence to find the best.

6. Weaves

Sateen or percale; marmalade or jam - which is better?

Neither. It is simply personal preference.

We have highlighted their key differences below:

Percale

  • Crisp & cool - perfect for hot sleepers and summer nights. Typically, shirts are woven in percale.
  • Longer lasting than sateen due to the nature of the weave (one under, one over, rather than one under, three over). 
  • More prone to wrinkling due to the nature of the weave

Sateen

  • Super soft & silky - perfect for cold sleepers and winter nights
  • Not as long lasting as percale due to the weave - saying this, exceptional quality cotton will still have very good longevity. A sateen weave is three over and one under, so by its nature the weave is less ‘tight’.
  • Less prone to wrinkling than percale due to the nature of the weave

I hope this has guide has proved valuable and helped to dispel a lot of the myths in bed linen.

In case you like the sounds of ours, you can order a free swatch sample of our bed linen. If you're convinced already, shop here

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