Nothing makes me sing out loud like well-made, well-priced bedding.
BUY RIGHT | I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about bedding. It’s one of those product areas where well-known designers license their name in an effort to reach a broader market. When you purchase sheets by Ralph Lauren, Barbara Barry, et al., you are paying foremost for name recognition, not necessarily for quality. This is particularly true of designer middle-market lines destined for department stores such as Macy’s or The Bay, or discount emporiums like TJ Maxx and Winners. These sheets are always more expensive than the house brands, which may be equal or even superior in quality to designer-logo-label ones.
After snagging a particularly poor quality set of 500-thread-count sateen Barbara Barry sheets on sale at Winners, I decided to educate myself about sheeting so I wouldn’t get stung again.
WTF may be considered a profane acronym in certain circles, but in sheet world it stands for the three things that matter most: weave, thread count and fibre.
Consider The Weave
The weave affects the way a sheet looks and feels and how long it will last. The bulk of 100 percent cotton sheets (by far the most popular sheet type) come in either a “plain” or “sateen” weave. Plain weave is produced using an equal number of vertical and horizontal yarns. Any plain-weave 100 percent cotton sheet with a thread count of 200 or higher is referred to as a “percale” sheet, even if the word percale does not appear on the label.
Percale sheets are reported to last longer than sateen ones, which have more vertical than horizontal yarns. According to Real Simple magazine, while sateen’s high proportion of vertical threads give the fabric a sheen and supple feel, it is “more apt to pill and tear than plain weave.”
Our Thread Count Obsession
There are those who continue to believe that the higher the thread count, the higher quality the sheet. Until a decade ago, Italian sheet mills, which produce what is considered to be the world’s finest bedding, turned out beautiful product with a 300 or 600 thread count, according to THIS ARTICLE in Departures magazine. Then North American manufacturers went numbers crazy, and counts have since climbed as high as 1,000.
According to the same Departures article, “because cotton threads used to make high-thread-count sheets are thinner than regular yarns, they are much more prone to breakage if overheated [in the dryer], which may result in pilling.”
For plain-weave percale sheets, then, optimum thread count appears to be anywhere between 200 and 500, depending on where the sheets are milled and what type of cotton is used. And, here’s a fun fact: The lower the thread count, the cooler you’ll sleep.
Getting Your Fibre
Ninety-five percent of all cotton sheets are made of short staple “upland” cotton, the most commonly grown cotton worldwide. The rest are made of long-staple cotton, which is considered superior because of its extra long staple (read tougher) and silky texture. The most well known long-staple cottons are Egyptian and Pima.
Sheets labelled simply “100% cotton” are made of upland cotton. Sheets labelled just “Egyptian cotton” may or may not be long-staple cotton (all cotton types grown in Egypt are called Egyptian cotton), or they could contain mix of long- and short-staple fibres. Only sheets labeled “100% long staple Egyptian cotton” are guaranteed to be exactly that. Sheets labeled simply “Pima cotton” could also be a mix of fibres, which is why American bed linen manufacturers have trademarked the word Supima to identify sheets made of “100% Pima cotton.”
Sheets with the words Egyptian or Pima cotton on their label always cost more than those without it. —C. Rule
Sheet Favourites Right Now
Distinctly Home Orange Label sheets at The Bay: This everyday 100 percent cotton, 300-thread-count percale house brand is a good deal. A queen set with a flat sheet, a fitted sheet and two pillowcases is on sale for $54, down from $90. CLICK HERE FOR PARTICULARS.
Fashion designer bedding at HomeSense in West Vancouver: This HomeSense location is fashion designer bedding central. With thread counts in the 300 range, you will find 100 percent cotton bedding made in India, Pakistan, China and Bahrain from Calvin Klein, Cynthia Rowley, Tommy Hilfiger, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Kate Spade, etc. A queen set with a fitted sheet, a flat sheet and two pillowcases will set you back around $50. CLICK HERE for HomeSense website.
Kirkland Signature sheets at Costco: While the thread count is 540 and the weave is sateen (both of which should make them less sturdy), these sheets are 100 percent Supima cotton, which is a bonus. A queen set includes one flat, one fitted and four (count ’em four) pillowcases. This feels like a steal at $70. CLICK HERE FOR PARTICULARS.
Italian Hotel Satin Stitch sheets at Restoration Hardware (pictured at the top of the story): These 210-thread-count percale sheets are perfectly rendered in 100 percent long-staple Egyptian cotton made in a boutique linen mill in Italy—so you know the product will be on-grain and finished to perfection. On sale right now, a queen set including one flat and one fitted sheet along with two pillowcases is $199. CLICK HERE FOR PARTICULARS.