It’s about more than thread count.
by Kevin Hamby
Bedding is a simple luxury that can be confusing to buy if you don’t know what to look for. If you’re like me, you want the most comfortable sheets available, which can be hard to find at an affordable price. Because we spend about one-third of our lives sleeping (or doing other things) in bed, why not indulge yourself and invest in quality bed sheets?
My husband and I usually shop for new bed sheets once a year to “change up the scenery” so we can have a fresh set of sheets on the bed. One year we decided to compare the prices at outlet stores and department stores. It would seem like you could get a better deal at an outlet store for sheets labeled with identical thread counts, right? Wrong! Once we made the bed with those new high-thread-count cotton sheets, we discovered how irritating and scratchy they were on our skin. That was the last time we purchased sheets from an outlet store.
So how do you select the best sheets? First, let me give you a little history. The bed used to be the most important and expensive furniture item in upscale homes. Textiles were a luxury, and most of it went on or around the bed in some fashion, in the form of bed hangings, skirting, decorative pillows, and the sheets. Linen and silks were the primary textiles used for bedding, and most were imported from Europe and Asia. It was the Egyptians who introduced a cotton alternative to linen that was less expensive but just as luxurious. Then America got on the cotton bandwagon and began growing and weaving their own sheets. But since American cotton is inferior to Egyptian cotton, we Americans still prefer imported cotton and linen textiles when we can afford it.
When searching for sheets, the big buzzword is usually “thread count,” although that should not be the only measure of overall quality. Thread count is a good way to understand the durability and smoothness of textiles, but not the “luxury” of the textile. Instead, it is the type of cotton fiber that is significant. What you want to look for is Egyptian or Pima cotton that has a longer staple fiber. If the label just says “cotton,” most likely it is grown here in America and it has a shorter, rougher fiber that will poke out of the weave. The weave of the cotton should be a percale or sateen for added luxury.
Of course, linen sheets are also a real luxury. Linen is made from the stalk of the flax plant, which can be woven into a luxurious textile. It does not gray with age, and it will outperform cotton. Linen sheets are sold by the ounce, and five-ounce imported Belgium, Irish, or Italian linens are the best.
Some of my favorite places to
purchase good-quality cotton sheets are: Martha Stewart Collection Bedding, 600 thread count Egyptian
cotton sheets in white (macys.com); Matouk 500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets woven in Italy (matouk.com); Peacock Alley 420 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets (peacockalley.com); Pinecone Hill “Parchment” 100 percent linen sheet set (pineconehill.com); and Restoration Hardware “Vintage” washed 100 percent Belgian flax sheet set (restorationhardware.com).
So the next time you need to show off luxurious new sheets, shop smart and look for more than just the thread count on the label.
Kevin Hamby, RID, ASID, is on the interior design faculty at Houston Community College and is a Texas Registered Interior Designer.