Bed linen uncovered: what really makes the best bed linen, & 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 pure 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 is more often than not heavy and unbreathable. 

Often, 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. Cotton that is not of "exquisite" quality is not fine enough to weave 1000 threads count in to an inch, for example.

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. 

It's worth noting that not all high thread counts are "heavy" or artificial as such. However, you will absolutely know it with the price.

It will also almost certainly be sold in very specialist, high end outlets as this quality of cotton is rare and warrants very high prices - several hundreds to thousands of pounds for a set. For example, Giza 45, a particular type of Egyptian cotton, is regarded as the best cotton in the World. It represents 0.4% of Egyptian cotton - let alone global cotton growth.

Even pure Egyptian cotton sheets compared with other pure Egyptian cotton sheets can vary enormously in quality. Giza 45 can only be grown in a small region in Egypt, so the supply is extremely small.

The likes of Giza 45 can offer true thread counts of around 1000 thread count. This is possible because the cotton is naturally strong that it doesn't need twisting and it is incredibly fine. This helps to explain how high thread counts have historically attained their reputation.

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 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 also grows "regular" cotton. Additionally, other regions such as America are well suited to growing long staple cotton. Simply, to be good, it doesn't have to be Egyptian.

The most important factor to consider is how long the cotton fibres are, not their provenance.

Our bed linen is made from long staple cotton that is at the upper end of the “long staple cotton” limit. Extra-long staple cotton exists but it is highly sought after and finite so it commands a very high price. The upper end of the scale of long staple cotton offers a good balance between length/quality and price. As a comparison, consider a D colour grade diamond to an E - you pay proportionately a lot more for the highest grade compared to one down.

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.

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. A bit like Kentucky friend chicken, just more sophisticated. 

It is relatively easy to buy strong, 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.

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.

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

As with Egyptian cotton, not all Italian and Portuguese 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
  • More prone to wrinkling due to the nature of the weave

Sateen

  • Super soft & silky - perfect for cold sleeper and winter nights
  • Not as long lasting as percale (it will still last you years) due to the weave. A sateen weave is 3 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. You'll instantly know the difference!

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