Dear Auntie Vicky,
Slipping between the sheets used to be one of the nicest parts of my day. But I can’t enjoy it anymore because I’m worried about this “thread count” business. I keep hearing about it in relation to bed linen, and it’s driving me crazy. What is thread count? Do I have to count my threads? Is that instead of sheep? Please answer quickly because I am,
Threadbare with worry
Breathe, sugar. Thread count simply refers to the number of threads per square inch in a fabric (like, d’uh), which is one of several measures of its quality. So while it matters, it’s not life or death. A 1,000 thread count sheet set can, for example, feel nasty and fall apart quickly if it’s made from skimpy, short threads made from poor quality cotton knitted together. This is known as “picking”.
Don’t choose bedding based solely on thread count. When buying, open the package and look for tight, smooth weaves, straight edges and well-finished seams. Know that if you see a set of 1,000 thread count sheets for $29.99, something is probably not right.
Equally important will be the weave: Percale (a tight, crisp weave) and sateen (softer and shinier on one side) are popular ones; they refer to how the “warp” (vertical) and “weft (horizontal) threads are configured.
TIP: Never put bed linens in the dryer for more than ten minutes. Ideally, you’ll dry them on a line outside or hang over doors inside. TRUST – they will feel way softer, and last way longer. Night night.
Origin of the cotton, and where it’s woven, will also affect quality. “The best cotton comes from Egypt, which has long, strong fibres, and the best weaving is done in Italy,” says Joanna Goodman, owner of Au Lit Fine Linens. (To be fair there’s very decent product coming out of parts of Asia, Portugal, Turkey and other countries these days.)
In the end, thread count is a matter of personal preference. While Au Lit sells a super-satiny 1,030 thread-count line, its 220 thread-count cotton percale line (white, please) happens to be my personal fave, as it was for the Joanna’s mother, Peggy Byron, who founded Boutique Au Lit in Montreal in 1981. “She could have had anything she wanted, but she loved 220 cotton percale,” says Goodman.
To learn more, read Thread Count 101 at Au Lit Fine Linens.
Above: A 300 thread count duvet cover in 100 per cent cotton from Bluebell Gray, the popular brand of Scottish designer/artist Fiona Douglas. Pattern: Petals
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