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February 01, 2016

Thread Heads

Thread count isn’t the be-all-end-all of the bed linen world

Kathy McCormick

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We spend one-third of our lives in our beds, so it’s important to optimize your nighttime relaxation — and size matters … but it’s not the only thing to consider when you’re in bed.

There has been much ado about the thread count of your bed linens… and bigger seemingly is better, no matter what. Thread counts in the thousands have taken the bedding world by storm — but that is only one factor to consider to get that perfect night’s sleep today.

Thread counts that are really high don’t necessarily mean bigger is better, say the experts. In fact, it’s more about personal preference — and there are many factors to consider.

“A common misconception is the higher the thread count, the better the quality,” says Dru Ortega, PR manager for West Elm, which opened its first Calgary location last year. “This isn’t always true.”

Cathy Miller at Crate and Barrel agrees. “Thread count, yarns per square inch, is only part of the story — it’s just not the only determinant of quality in linens. The length of the fibres is also important when it comes to comfort, appearance, and longevity.”

The thread count is, quite literally, the number of threads that are woven into one square inch of fabric both horizontally and vertically. While a higher thread count is often a sign of a better quality of fabric that can be stronger and more luxurious, it can be artificially expanded by techniques such as weaving extra threads, called ‘picks’ into the fabric.

Some experts say that the highest count per square inch should be in the 500 to 600 range — otherwise, the extra threads don’t necessarily make the fabric softer, stronger or more luxurious, although they generally will be softer and will wear well over time. Other experts say a thread count of 300 to 400 is ideal.

It all comes down to what you like — and looking at all the other factors that can influence the look, feel and wear of your bed linens.

“The content of the bedding is more important — and that is what makes it different than other sheets,” Ortega says. “Having a better quality thread with a lower count — even 100 — might actually be a more durable and softer alternative to the 1,000 thread-count sheet. It really is about personal preference when it comes to picking a sheet.”

In fact, be wary of the high, high thread count at discount prices, says Joanna Goodman, owner of Au Lit Fine Linens, in an article from Style at Home – Buying Guide: The Truth about Thread Count.

The queen and king of bedding is Egyptian cotton, the experts say. The highest quality, softest sheets use cotton with extra-long fibres (called ‘long-staple’ fibres) that can be spun into fine and strong yarns.

But ensure it is pure Egyptian cotton. Read the label and make sure it says 100 per cent or pure Egyptian cotton, says Goodman. “Otherwise, it may only contain a small percentage of the good stuff.”

“Egyptian cotton is generally considered to have the best and longest fibres, but pima and supima are also good choices,” Miller says. Look for the term “long-staple” fibre, which is sometimes used in the description, she adds.

Crate and Barrel has a fantastic selection of bed linens, including the Marimekko Kesanto Duvet Covers and Pillow Shams. They are priced from $29.95 to $149.95 

They are 100 per cent cotton percale with a 300-thread-count. Duvets have button closure and interior fabric ties, while shams have 1-inch flanges and back overlap closures. 

They also have the Marimekko Kukkula Green Full Sheet Set at $179.95. This graphic botanical print by Fujiwo Ishimoto scatters realistic silhouettes in white on fresh spring green. Made of super-soft cotton, sheet sets include one flat and fitted sheet and two pillow cases. 

Other alternatives include pima cotton, which grows in the U.S. and can be called by its trademark Supima. It’s soft and less likely to pill than other cottons.

At HomeSense, the most popular type of bedding is either the 100 per cent cotton or 100 per cent linen, says Hilary Smyth. “Natural fibres are comfortable and hard wearing. One-hundred per cent organic cotton or linen bedding is becoming increasingly popular and is now available at HomeSense as well,” she says.

West Elm has also brought in Belgian linen — “a market favourite because of its comfort and luxurious feel that gets better with every wash,” says Ortega. “We introduced Belgian linen a few years ago and we’ve continued to expand our selection into new colours, patterns and bedding accessories, like duvets, sheet sets and decorative pillows.”

Pre-washed linens are another popular item, says Smyth. “They have a rumpled, soft hand and a casual appearance and are available in a wide range of colours, in particular pale pinks, blues and neutrals.”

But that’s not the only choices. Combed cotton is a favourite of some of the experts because it is, simply, cotton that has been combed to remove the short fibres, leaving the long ones, which makes for a strong, soft fabric.

From there, it’s all about the feel of the fabric and how you like to sleep.

Percale is a plain, matte weave that has a crisp, cool feel, while sateen is soft, heavier and smooth. If you prefer cosy warmth, cotton flannel might be the best choice for you. Percale will be more durable and less likely to pill than sateen.

Then we move into the synthetics — cotton/polyester blends and microfiber fabric composed of extremely fine fibres of polyester. These are affordable, soft and resist pilling — but they are less breathable and can be hot.

Cotton jersey (think T-shirts) is soft but doesn’t have the crisp coolness of cotton.

And for the more eco-friendly options, many natural, organic fibres are being used today, such as bamboo.

Ortega recommends weekly washing to keep sheets in the best condition possible for long wear — but wash in lukewarm or cold water and avoid the high-dry temperatures.

Her favourite trick to storing the linens: “Make sure they are completely dry before folding and storing away, and then place them inside one of the matching pillowcases to keep everything nice, organized and together. Store in a linen closet or cool, dry space, preferably away from direct sunlight to keep colour intact.”

As for styles, hand-blocked and printed linens from India are still key, says Smyth. “Their whimsical prints in bright colours have a boho, exotic appeal.”

And for 2016 “we’re seeing a lot of embellishment on bedding — crochet and lace or eyelet detailing, pin tucks, embroidery, and ruffles — beautiful details that bring to life plain white or solid coloured bedding.”

She also sees a growing popularity of Matelasse from Portugal and luxury linens from Italy for coverlets and shams.

Duvets are increasingly the product of choice for covering the sheets, says Ortega. “They provide the flexibility of choice each season. It’s easy to swap out a duvet when you want to refresh the bed and it takes up little room to store in a linen closet compared to a comforter or bedspread.”

Before shopping for your new linens, measure your bed. With the pillow-top mattresses and other more luxurious features, you’ll need to ensure the sheets are the right fit. Fifteen-inch depth was the norm previously, but now it can be anywhere from 18- to 22-inches deep.

And don’t forget to measure the tops if you’re looking for a duvet. These usually come in simple twin, full/queen and king sizes, so there is less choice.

Sheet sets can range anywhere from $50 to $500 or more, depending on the quality. So shop around to find the right one for what you want for a good night’s sleep… but keep in mind that your rest will depend on your choice, says Ortega.

“Your bedding is among the few places you should splurge on,” she says. “We spend so much time in our beds that it should be the optimal level of comfort each night.CL

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