Guide to Bed Linens


With the huge variety of bed linens on the market today, shopping for your next bedding collection can be an overwhelming task. Some linen attributes described below, such as thread count, can be applied to silk bedding, but for the most part we are going to be talking about cotton bedding. A traditional bed is usually made up with a fitted sheet and a flat sheet, with some combination of coverlet and/or duvet as a final layer. Along with pillows, beds are often dressed with decorative shams or pillows, which come in various sizes and styles, with bed scarves laid across the foot of the bed. As you sleep you are primarily going to be between your top sheet and fitted sheet (though it is common practice in Europe to forgo the top sheet and use a thin, comfortable duvet cover) thus it is critical that you take care in choosing your sheets. As coverlets, shams, and decorative pillows are primarily chosen based on stylistic preferences, this guide will focus on your selection of sheets. Most people are familiar with thread counts and thus many companies market their sheets almost exclusively by this number. However, thread count is only one factor to consider when purchasing your new sheets (and thread count can be misleading). In order to get the very best value in a sheet set it is important to also consider the type of cotton used, staple length of the cotton, the weave, and hand of the fabric. With all these factors to consider, we wanted to offer you a guide to help as you make your decision. Outlined below are the basic attributes to consider when choosing bed linens. This is only meant to be a general guide; if you have any questions at all about bedding we encourage you to give us a call.

Thread Count:

As mentioned above the most recognizable attribute of sheet construction is the thread count of the fabric. Thread count is defined as: the number of threads woven lengthwise and crosswise (weft/warp) into one square inch of fabric. Higher thread counts result in stronger, smoother and more comfortable bed linens and generally correlate to better sets of sheets and thus thread count a good place to start when shopping for sheets. However, when one is shopping for the best value in their sheeting they must look beyond simple thread count. There is little regulation of the bedding industry and lower quality producers will often inflate the thread count of their sheets or use very thin, weak yarns to obtain a high thread count. In shopping for linens it is incredibly important to look at the staple length and the type of cotton used in their construction.

The Cotton:

The quality of the sheet set really begins with the type of cotton that is used to weave the yarn. Egyptian cotton is the preferred choice for fine bedding as these plants have longer fibers (staples) than other types of cotton resulting in fewer ‘joins’ in the woven yarns. When spun into yarn, these long staple fibers are aligned to impart a thin, strong strand that is incredibly soft to the touch. Producing linens from long staple cotton results in sheeting that is resistant to ‘piling,’ or unraveling, which creates weak areas in the fabric. Pima cottons from the North America are generally of good quality as well, though their staple length is generally shorter than Egyptian cottons. Because of the superior quality of Egyptian cotton it’s a very good place to start but read carefully, linens only need to have 2% Egyptian cotton to put Egyptian cotton on the label. To ensure the best quality, look for sheets that are made from 100% Egyptian cotton. However important, the origin of the cotton is far from the be-all-end-all of fine linens. There are some cottons that come from Egypt that have shorter staples and some companies will have 100% Egyptian cotton sheets that have an inferior feel. This is when factors such as the weave and hand of the fabric need to be taken into account.

The Weave:

While bed linens come in a variety of weaves, the two most popular are percale and sateen weaves. Percale is a traditional weave achieved by weaving one thread over and one thread under. This weave results in a crisp, fresh feel to the linen. Percale sheets stay cooler in the summer and they absorb moisture easily. Sateen (not to be confused with satin, which is a weave using either silk or synthetic fabrics) is a weave with 4 threads over and one under which gives it more ‘surface.’ These linens have a ‘satin’ side and a dull side, and are silky smooth to the touch with a fantastic lustre. Your choice of weave is largely based on personal preference. Feeling the fabric is a great way to compare the two weaves and thus help you decide which one is right for you. (Look for the Fabric Sample Request link on the individual bedding collection pages.) Like I mentioned above, these are not the only two weaves, but they are by far the most popular and it could get confusing to go into all the other weaves.

The Hand:

While the name suggests a bit of subjectivity, the hand of a fabric is a really good way to judge the overall quality of a bedding collection. The hand of a sheet simply refers to the way that a sheet feels when touched, and this is where you can really tell the difference between the finest sheets in the world and some of their competitors. When you touch a sheet from one of our luxury linen collections you can feel how smooth the fabrics are and how clean the weave and finish to the sheets. Some companies will try and fool you with chemical washes before they ship their products to enhance the hand while in the package, but not only are these washes unhealthy for the consumer, but they are quickly washed out revealing the true quality of the product. To feel past these washes really test the fabric, rub it between your fingers to make sure the threads are smooth, tightly woven and of uniform thickness. This is a great way to really test the quality of the sheets and will really help you see the difference between sheets of varying price ranges.

There are clearly many factors to consider when shopping for your next bedding collection and hopefully this information can serve as a good guide as you make your next purchase. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us, we would be more than happy to share our knowledge with you. Good Luck!