Bed Linens 101 – Everything you want to know but didn’t know you had to ask

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If you have a bed, you have linens, sheets, bedding. Have you ever paused for a moment and thought about the quality of your sheets, pillowcases, comforter? Or even thought about luxury damask-stripefeatures like a feather bed? If so, you’ve probably found the process of shopping for bedding to be complicated and full of deception with price tags that can easily reach the $100, $200, even $300 and $400 price ranges. But how do you know what is good, what’s going to last, and what should be ignored?

When it comes to bed sheeting, you want cotton. Not “cotton-rich” or “polyester” or “microfiber”. Eli Whitney didn’t invent the cotton gin for grinds and giggles, and you wear cotton derived clothes, why not sleep on cotton sheets? Sheets typically come in the following styles: (note: there are others, but these are the popular varieties)

  • Percale is a high-end bedding product and are smooth, crisp, durable, breathable and easy to wash. They are cool to the touch, making them a good choice in warmer climates. Percale products have a matte finish rather than a glossy coating and are available either printed or plain.
  • Sateen is a cotton fabric with a luster resembling that of satin. It is used for sheets and apparel and is known for its soft, smooth texture. The fabric is quite useful and durable, but it can also be more expensive than some other fabrics when produced with a high thread count.
  • Damask patterns originated in Syria and tend to feature a alternating Jacquard weave.
  • Pima or Supima, also called extra long staple (ELS), is a type of cotton grown primarily in Peru, the southwestern United States and Australia. It is considered to be one of the superior blends of cotton and is extremely durable and absorbent.
  • Egyptian cotton is from, you guessed it, Egypt. The humid conditions and rich soil in Egypt along the Nile River Valley create the perfect conditions to grow long cotton fibers (also known as staples), and Egyptian cotton falls under the classification of an ELS (extra-long staple) cotton. The staples of Egyptian cotton can range from 1 1/2 inches to 2 1/4 inches. Their long length (about twice the size of other cotton fibers) allows them to be spun into very fine yarns. These yarns are soft and lustrous yet are very strong and durable.
  • or a combination thereof. You may have a pima cotton percale, or Egyptian cotton sateen.

Percale sheets are quite common, in fact you can find them in a number of thread counts from numerous vendors, such as these: LL Bean 280-Thread-Count Pima Cotton Percale Sheet, an excellent product. As are sateen sheets, again from LL Bean 340-Thread-Count Cotton Sateen Sheet.

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t start off by describing thread count. Truthfully, unless you’re willing to spend a fair amount of money (Over $300 – $500) it doesn’t matter – the quality of the cotton is important, along with the weave and ultimately – your preference. Sheets can vary in thread count all the way from 100 thread count to 1500 thread count. Yes, real, true, 1500 thread count sheets exist. You can buy them here. Before you ask, I’ve never seen a sheet with a purported thread count higher than 1500. If you find a set of sheets with over 1500 TC made from Egyptian or Pima cotton, let me know!

But what if I want high end?

If you know where to look, you’ll find no shortage of high end, luxury oozing bed linens. For decades companies like Sferra and Frette have crafted beautiful linens, many of which are handmade. Frette, for example, crafted the sheets used on the Titanic as well as linens for a select number of Royal Families. While I don’t own any of their products, or products from competitors, I have handled their fabrics and the quality (on many of their collections) is second to none.

It is important to note, when you get into the super high end of bed linens, companies tend to focus less on thread count and mention there of, and more on the quality of the linens. For example, Sferra’s Capri Collection, a personal favorite of mine is an incredibly dense fabric with a beautiful sateen finish. That said, a flat sheet, fitted sheet, duvet cover, and two pillowcases will run you around $3500 USD (as of 6/29/2014). Something to keep in mind if you’re the type who likes the finer things but lives on a budget. 😉

I dislike cotton, what do I do?

If you’re allergic to cotton, I feel very bad for you, and hope they find some way to modify that allergy. If you hate cotton, especially with cotton bed sheets, you’ve probably slept on poor quality sheets which have tainted your opinion. Seriously, buy a set of sheets from somewhere with a generous return policy, and try them out. I would wager a good bet your opinion will change. My suggestion for good sheets with a generous return policy, as mentioned above, are LL Bean. The return policy is pretty much forever and they don’t care if you’ve washed them, slept in them, etc….. Check out these two products from them if you’re wanting to try something new but not spend a lot:

With cotton alternatives, perhaps the most viable alternative which keeps you in a natural fiber is linen. Linen sheets predate the traditional cotton bedsheet by about 7,000 years (maybe more, no one is sure, but 7,000 years ago is the Egyptian civilization period and they used linen sheets). If it weren’t for Eli Whitney and his cotton gin (or anyone else who would have invented it), we’d still be sleeping on linen bedding.

Linen sheets are made from the flax plant, a very laborious process which creates a highly resilient product that will last you a very long time. The process of crafting the finest linen sheets is documented here for your reading pleasure. Linen sheets have a strange feel to them, after all, you’ve been sleeping on cotton or some poly blend for most of your life and when you first sleep on linen, you’ll definitely feel the difference. It will take a good number of washings to smooth the linen, but it will smooth. And wow, it’s so nice!

Because linen isn’t a very popular item in the USA, it’s not readily available and commands a premium over traditional fabrics. That said, they aren’t as expensive as the Sferra Capri Collection, hah.

Enough talk, show me the goods!

Alright, you’ve made it this far. Below is a list of companies I believe make quality bedding and have great customer service. As usual, I’ve not been paid to recommend these products and buyer beware. My opinion is my own, and might not agree with yours.

Traditional Bedding:

  • Amazon Pinzon – Pinzon is Amazon’s “in-house brand”. The sheets are nice, but not “the best”. For the money, not a bad deal.
  • Exceptional Sheets (I’ve ordered from here a few times, Paul, the owner, sells a great product!)
  • IKEA (with exceptions) Their low thread counts are not the best, for the money. Spend a little more and get their higher end product. A set should run less than $50
  • L.L. Bean
  • Lands End
  • Restoration Hardware
  • Westin Hotel Bedding – I adore the bedding the Westin hotels use. It is well made, durable, and high quality.

Luxury Bedding:

Linen Bedding:

Yes, there are others, like Macys, Bloomingdales, and Bed Bath & Beyond, but honestly, stay away from places with “proprietary bedding” and buy quality. The companies above sell quality linens which will last a very long time and hold up.

Any questions, just ask! I’m only a contact form away!