In the first few weeks that Soporifique has been open, I have been asked a variation of this question multiple times. The myth that has been perpetuated over the years is that the higher the thread count, the softer and more high quality the sheet. Unfortunately, this discounts the importance of both the quality of the fiber and the weave in the construction of the sheet.
Thread count is the number of threads per square inch in the fabric. A 200 thread count sheet consists of 100 vertical threads and 100 horizontal threads. Depending on the mill where the fabric is woven, the highest thread count that can be achieved is between 400 and 600. To get a higher thread count sheet, threads are twisted (plied) together. So, a 1000 thread count sheet might really be a 250 thread count sheet made with 4-ply thread. While plied thread will make the sheets stronger, it doesn’t make the sheet softer, and may make it heavier.
Even more important than the thread count is the fiber that the sheets are made from. The longer the individual fibers that make up the thread are, the softer the sheet will feel. With cotton sheets, (where thread count is most frequently used), Egyptian Cotton has the longest fibers. Pima cotton is the next longest. You want to be sure, however, that the sheet is 100% Egyptian or Pima cotton. Many manufacturers say their sheets are Egyptian or Pima cotton, but the percentage of those fibers in the sheets is actually quite small.
Finally, the weave of the fabric will have a significant impact on the feel of the sheets that you purchase. “Percale” refers to a standard “one over, one under” weave. A “sateen” weave has horizontal threads that pass over 3 or 4 vertical threads and then under a single vertical thread. This makes the sheet feel silkier, and makes it more luminous that a percale sheet.
You may also see reference to Italian or Portuguese sheets. This is a reference to where the sheeting is woven. Many people consider the Italians and the Portuguese the best weavers in the world.
The Bottom Line
Now that you have all this information, which sheets should you buy? A thread count anywhere between 250 and 600 is generally sufficient, although if you want warmer sheets, you might want to go higher. Percale sheets, because of their weave, tend to “breathe” better, because the weave leaves more areas where air can move from the bottom of the sheet to the top. If you prefer a soft, silky feel, then sateen is the way to go. Sateen will also wrinkle slightly less than percale, although it is slightly less durable. You definitely want the best cotton you can afford, with 100% Egyptian cotton being the ideal. If you can’t afford 100% Egyptian cotton, 100% Supima cotton is the next best. And when you find those sheets you love? Make a note, so you can find them again!
Next week: alternative fibers, such as bamboo, linen, and silk
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