Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Can't sleep? Try counting threads instead of sheep.


We spend one third of each and every day sleeping so why not unravel the mystery of selecting the proper sheets. There is nothing more luxurious than slipping between high thread count, silky soft sheets. Before you rest, let me help you sort through all the conflicting information so you can make an educated decision and realize that thread count is one factor but not the whole story.

Here is my sad sheet tale and I have a feeling some of you have one, too. I purchased a set of luxury sheets that were promised by the manufacturer to be of the finest quality, and they were, for about two washing’s worth. Then, after the third wash the dreaded pilling happened turning my super soft sheets into scratchy sandpaper. I don’t think we should have to shave our sheets, so what happened? Let’s do the research and find out.

First we must travel to the fertile banks of the Nile River. With its humid weather and rich soil it has the perfect condition to grow long cotton fibers, about twice the size of other cotton fibers, that are then spun into a very fine yarn. Come back stateside to the Pima Indian Reservation in Arizona where as far back as the 1900’s long staple cotton, called Pima cotton, has been grown to come close to it’s Egyptian cousin’s quality. Nowadays, Egyptian cotton is grown in many other countries but must uphold the long staple length to qualify for comparison. So the very first step to a great product is to start with the very best long staple cotton.

This part is a bit of a slog, but get through it because it is important --- Thread count is, simply put, the number of threads per square inch of fabric consisting of vertical warp threads and horizontal weft threads woven together. Thread count is affected by the ply and thickness of the threads used with a finer thread producing a higher thread count. Single-ply fabrics use threads on their own, while two-ply fabrics are formed by two pieces of thread twisted together, and sometimes multiple yarns (called picks) are inserted into the weft to achieve even higher thread count. Here is where the math starts to get a bit fuzzy – with manufacturers counting each and every twist – So is a fabric with 250 individual four-ply yarns in a square inch really 1,000 thread count product? It depends on whose counting. According to my research, anything above 300-thread count product may have little incremental comfort value.

The next consideration is weave and that is a personal taste issue with sateen sheets being softer than a classic crisp linen weave. After the sheeting fabric is woven it now needs to be finished, which can include singeing to remove the tiny fuzz that can later develop into pilling. So that’s what happened to my sheets. The finishing process helps maintain clarity of color and preserves the cellulose core of the cotton to give the fabric a smooth hand and silky look.

Keep in mind that in order to mass-produce high thread count sheets at a low cost, quality must be sacrificed in the finishing process so focus instead on fiber quality, yarn size, finishing and construction when making your selection and don’t fall into the high thread count trap. Make sure you feel the sheets before purchasing and select ones that will feel comfortable against your skin. Quality sheets are an investment that will enhance your daily life so choose wisely and buy the best you can afford.

Sleep tight! Don’t let the bed bugs bite. But that’s another story.

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