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Unraveling High Thread Count Egyptian Cotton Bed Sheets
High thread count Egyptian cotton bed sheets are a very popular item in the luxury bedding category recently. Fabric thread counts have spiraled to dizzying heights, and now range from 180 to 1500. Traditional wisdom counsels that fabric increases in softness as thread count increases, so shoppers gravitate toward high numbers when making their final purchasing decision. However, the rules for determining quality fabrics in the marketplace has changed. You can no longer make an apple-to-apple comparison between two bed sheet sets based strictly on thread count numbers.
Let’s begin to unravel the mystery of high thread count fabric with a simple definition of thread count: number of threads per square inch of fabric. That’s simple enough. Cut out a square inch of fabric, count the number of threads and there you have your thread count. The only problem is that you need a microscope to actually see the tiny threads. In fact the way professionals at textile mills get an accurate thread count is to have a sample of fabric analyzed at a lab – an expensive process.
- If you did send your 1000tc, 1200tc, or 1500tc fabric to a lab, you might be surprised by the results. What you would learn is that:
- Thread size decreases as thread count increases.
- Threads are twisted (like the cords of a rope) before weaving to achieve higher thread count.
- Twisted threads are referred to as “multi ply,” and are usually not as durable as single ply threads.
- Fiber length is more important in creating a luxurious hand than thread count.
Bed Sheet Fabric Terminology
Of coarse the average shopper does not have access to microscopes and textile labs, but can rely on a simple education about how fabrics are made to inform their bed sheets buying decision. It will help you to understand a few common fabric terms:
- Thread size
- Twisted thread
- Multi ply, 2 ply, 3 ply, etc.
- Single ply
- Staple fiber length
Let’s look a little closer now at each attribute. Thread size is fairly straight forward. It’s simply the diameter of the threads used to weave a fabric. Thread can be thin or thick, producing fabrics of different weights. But threads can also be twisted before weaving, as a way of producing thicker fabrics with a softer hand (feel) from thinner threads. A twisted thread is a combination of 2 or more threads that wrap around one another to form a single thread – kind of like a rope is made by wrapping several smaller ropes together to form one cord.
A twisted thread is also referred to as a multi ply thread and can be 2 ply, 3 ply, or more. A multi ply thread is usually weaker than a single ply, not because the twisting makes them weaker, but because the fiber length is usually shorter than a high quality single ply thread. Staple fiber length refers to the length of the individual cotton fibers that make up a single thread. Longer fibers come from better cotton and make stronger, smoother fabrics.
Shopping for Quality Bed Sheets
Now that you are armed with some basic technical knowledge, how will that help you select quality bed sheets? First you can know that single ply sheets are a pretty safe bet for quality. With single ply fabrics, higher thread count usually does indicate a more luxurious bed sheet fabric. Other factors that would affect fabric quality include the grade of the cotton used and the weaving process.
With current manufacturing limitations, single ply fabrics only go up to 500-600 threads per square inch. After that, all fabrics are multi ply. Fabrics over 1000tc are most likely triple ply or more. These super high thread count fabrics are not necessarily lower quality, in fact most of them feel great. Some critics say that because multi ply sheets are usually made of shorter fiber cotton, they will pill more easily and therefore be less durable. If this is true, it is offset by the fact that the fabric is thicker (heavier) than lower thread count fabrics, and more durable for that reason
So with sheet sets over 600tc, it’s a little more complex to assess quality. Retailers and wholesalers don’t have access to the fiber length of a sheet set. That information can only be obtained at the factory where the yarn is spun. Once the yarn is spun, there is no way to properly assess fiber length, even with lab tests.
What Should You Pay For High Thread Count Bed Sheets
Fabrics with thread count over 600 are still fairly new on the market, so they are a bit of a curiosity. Many people extrapolate in a linear fashion when imagining how these sheets will feel. They think, “If 500tc sheets are a really high thread count, and they feel this good. 1500tc sheets must feel 3 times better!” In fact most people cannot tell the difference between 500tc sheets and 1500tc. The fabrics can feel very similar. Usually there is a bigger difference when you compare sheets from one company and another, regardless of thread count, than different thread count sheets from the same company. In other words a set of 300tc bed sheets from a company that uses high quality cotton and manufacturing processes will feel better than a 1000tc sheet set from a company that uses lower quality cotton and manufacturing.
Even though it’s tempting to compare bed sheets between two companies simply by the thread count number, the quality can differ widely. The old saying, “you get what you pay for,” definitely applies to shopping for bed sheets. Usually companies charge more because the quality of the cotton is so good or the manufacturing process is advanced. Truly fine Egyptian cotton bed sheets provide luxurious comfort that will last for many years, much longer than lower quality sheets. So when it comes time to chose sheets for your bedroom, invest in a quality set from a good company.
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