When you invest in a premium quality mattress, it might also be worthwhile investing in great quality bed linen. Thread count has become a popular predictor in the search for the softest, most sleep-inducing bed linen. But when it comes to buying bedding for your new mattress, is thread count really the final word in good quality sheets? In short — no.
We sat down with Hayley Worley, founder of The Sheet Society, to take a closer look at thread count and other factors that can take your bed linen to the next level.
What is thread count?
Thread count refers to the number of threads (strands of fabric) per square inch of fabric. This is calculated by counting the number of horizontal threads and the number of vertical threads which make up the weave of the fabric. According to Hayley, it’s important to understand thread count when looking at bed sheets just to get a general idea of the fabric, but it’s certainly not the be all and end all.
The quality of the actual threads — what they are made from and what type of threads they are — should be the main point of consideration, not just how many of them there are.
Myth-busting: high thread count equals high quality
Thread count has nothing to do with a fabric’s breathability, comfort or softness, according to Hayley. A 400 thread count sheet could be softer and more breathable than a 1000 thread count sheet.
Breathability comes down to what the sheet is made from. A sheet made from cotton would have more breathability than a sheet made from polyester even if they were the same thread count. Softness and comfort also rely on the type of yarn.
For example, a 100% bamboo fibre sheet is much softer and slippery than a 100% cotton sheet even if they are the same thread count. It’s impossible to define these types of adjectives by the thread count number.
Hayley also notes that some brands use thread count as a marketing ploy, preferring to ‘jam’ in as many threads as they can to increase the thread count. These threads are usually short, stubbly and clog up the fabric just for the sake of it. The shorter threads used in a higher thread count sheet are prone to pilling and don’t feel as soft when you run your hand across the fabric.
On the other side of the fence is Egyptian cotton. Renowned as the pinnacle of quality bed linen material, Egyptian cotton has longer threads so fewer threads are required to keep the fabric together.
Material of choice
Hayley’s material of choice is cotton, which is no surprise, given the sheets from The Sheet Society are made from a long-staple cotton.
“I believe that natural is best, so 100% cotton is my top choice. If you look through your wardrobe, I’m sure your favourite items are also made from cotton, so it makes sense to follow this for your choice of sheets. It’s naturally hypoallergenic, odour-resistant and does not go through any harsh chemical treatments. Cotton fibres are really easy to maintain, breathable yet absorbent, and soft yet durable,” she says. “Plus, like a nice wine, cotton fibres soften wash after wash so they get even better with age.
Some weaves to know
When shopping for bed sheets, you might come across the terms sateen and percale. These names refer to the type of weave the yarns have undergone to make up the fabric.
Percale means that the threads are woven in a ‘one over, one under’ process to create the weave. “Picture a piece of hessian or woven basket where you can see the string go under, over, under, over: that’s how percale is woven. Percale is a very crisp, classic fabric to use for a sheet,” says Hayley.
Sateen is a bit more complicated. The thread goes four over, one under, four over, one under in an alternating pattern.
The easiest way to picture this is if you imagine a brick path pattern with four horizontal and then vertical. A sateen weave gives the fabric a softer and shinier look as there are more flat threads on the surface.
Top things to look out for when buying bed sheets
Investing in high quality bedding is important not just for the look and feel, but for helping to improve your overall sleep health. Hayley believes that the top three things to look for when buying bed sheets are:
1. The fabric itself
“Cotton for example is a natural fibre which allows the fabric to breathe with your body temperatures, but when it’s mixed with Polyester that really changes the overall breathability properties,” she says.
2. Workmanship and style
“People don’t tend to really know this until they’ve unwrapped the bundle when they get home. There’s nothing worse than a pillowcase that has a shallow opening that your pillow falls out of or a quilt cover that has a million pesky little buttons or ties to do up,” Hayley says.
3. Thoughtful design
“Since you generally change your sheets every few weeks, it’s important that the design is as user friendly as possible. Another thing to look for is the stitch density of the sewing lines. If you can count around 5 stitches in 1cm that’s a sign its generally been sewn with care, but if it’s more like 2 or 3 stitches in a 1cm then it’s been rushed through the sewing machine too quickly and can be a dead giveaway that it’s not made well,” she says.
As you can see, there are many more important factors than thread count when it comes to buying bed sheets. You don’t need to become an expert on bed sheets to find your perfect match, though. All you need to do is understand your needs, look for suitable fabric choices and choose what feels right for you.