Not sure what to look for when choosing new bed linens? Our expert bed and bath buyers have compiled a comprehensive list of specifications to help you in your shopping decisions:
Luxury Bedding Definitions
"Combed" cotton fibers: This refers to cotton that has been cleaned and combed to remove shorter staple fibers. The remaining longer, more stable fibers are spun into the yarn, ensuring your luxury bedding is truly lavish.
Cotton quality: Look for sheets made with high-quality cotton yarns, such as Egyptian, Pima or Supima cotton. These cottons are a better quality because they are long-stapled fibers. Long-staple cottons are known for being more supple, smooth and glossy. These fibers create sheets with a softer feel, a more lustrous shine and greater durability. Some bedding companies claim their sheets are made of Egyptian cotton, but they combine this luxury cotton with other low-quality cottons or blends. Make sure you purchase bedding that is 100% or pure Egyptian cotton.
Egyptian cotton: This type of luxury cotton fiber is grown along the Nile. Renowned as the highest-quality cotton, it is known for its smooth, glossy finish.
Fabric finishes: As the final step in sheet construction, the finishing process is considered an art form by those in the industry. Each mill prides itself in its distinctive procedure, which is a closely guarded secret from other mills. Often, a senior worker will oversee this process to ensure the high quality of the sheet. This quality impacts how a sheet will feel against your skin.
Fiber content: Our bedding is made from only the finest fibers, including cotton, silk or wool. Each of these natural fibers display unique properties that testify to the hand-crafted nature of your luxury bedding. Natural fibers easily adjust to your body's ever-changing temperature, thanks to their absorbent and porous nature.
Jacquard weaves are extremely complex to create. Produced on a jacquard loom, this weave makes it possible to create a more detailed pattern, such as floral, damask or paisley designs.
Percale-woven sheets (broadcloths): These will feel more crisp and cool, and are made to be extremely durable. In this type of weave, the cotton yarns are woven over and under each other (as with a basket weave) to produce a strong, long-lasting fabric.
Pima cotton: This type of fiber is grown in the US and South America. Pima, named after the Pima Native American tribe, is known for its smooth and silky qualities.
Sateen weaves: This type of weave provides each sheet with a lustrous sheen that will feel soft and silky against your skin. Sateen-woven sheets are typically made with combed cotton yarns, so if you look to the quality of the cotton first, you'll get a good idea of how well-made a specific sateen-woven bedding collection is. A sateen weave brings more yarns to the surface, which is what gives these sheets their silky-smooth luster.
Sheet construction: This quality is rarely, if ever, labeled on a package. Instead, determine the amount of stitches per inch used in sewing. The more stitches used, the more durable the sheet will be after multiple washings. Be alert: Some high thread count sheets are sewn with poor quality stitching. Also, look for fitted sheets with deep pockets for a precise fit on larger beds. If you decide against purchasing "shrinkage control" sheets, ask if the sheets are oversized to allow for at least some inevitable shrinkage.
Sheet weave: Sheets are woven in different styles; Frontgate luxury bedding is made of a percale weave, sateen weave or jacquard weave.
Supima: An abbreviation for "superior pima," Supima is a trademarked term used for extra-long staple Pima cotton grown solely in the US. In order for any fabric to be labeled "Supima," the item must be made of 100% pima cotton, grown in the US by a certified farmer. The Supima council monitors this very closely to ensure every Supima product meets these high criteria.
Visual attributes: Using your thumb and forefinger, move the cloth back and forth to see if the threads shift easily. If they do, the fabric isn't strong and may easily develop holes. Also make sure the fabric is evenly constructed — you don't want to have any unusually thick or thin areas where the fabric has piled or been worn away. When selecting colored or patterned sheets, check for discolorations. This is a sign of low-quality dyes and/or a poor coloring process. Finally, feel the softness of the sheet. Let your hands be the ultimate judge when sizing up sheets — if it doesn't feel right for you, it probably isn't.
Yarn size: The thinner the yarn size of the materials woven into the fabric, the softer the sheet. This quality is not often labeled on a package.
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The Truth About Thread Count
Thread counts have continued to grow out of proportion over the last 20 years. Sheet companies have manufactured bed linens with exponentially higher thread counts, and many consumers believe this is the only barometer by which quality can be measured.
Recently, the Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning to consumers not to be deceived or misled by inflated thread counts. In fact, many fine European sheets that list a 200-thread-count are just as luxurious, if not more so, than 600-thread-count sheets made with better materials.
What is thread count?
The thread count in any bedding is a measure of how many yarns are woven into a square inch. Some companies use plied (or "twisted") yarns in construction, and used to boast a doubled thread count on the package. But simply relying on a thread count number does not guarantee that the fiber quality is good.
In the past, a sheet made of 250 individual 4-ply yarns would be quoted as 1,000 thread count (250 x 4), and a sheet made out of 250 single-ply yarns would be quoted as a 250 thread count. However, no matter the ply, one yarn still counts as one yarn — both of the fabrics in this example are 250-thread-count. So, while the 4-ply yarn might be more durable, it is not necessarily a better quality sheet.
Thread count is simply a measurement of the construction of the sheet. While it does matter to some degree — look for bedding with at least a 200-thread-count — there are other, more important factors to consider, such as the quality of the fabric used and the weave, or construction, of the sheet.
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How to Choose Luxury Bedding
Determine your typical sleep pattern:
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you hot at night? You'll want 100% cotton, 100% linen or a cotton/linen blend.
- Are you cold at night? Flannels and/or cotton knits are probably for you.
- Do you like to crawl into a cool, crisp bed? You’ll want a cotton percale fabric, which is closely woven to ensure a smooth, flat fabric.
- Do you like it soft and cozy? You might prefer cotton sateen bedding that, due to its weave, gives you a soft, silky-smooth fabric.
- Finally, if you and your partner do not share the same sleep pattern, you might select a cotton percale sheet and use blankets and down comforters to make the necessary adjustments.
Think about how much you want to spend.
Budget is important. You don’t have to spend a lot for your sheets, but you often get what you pay for. Here are some things to think about and look for as you comparison shop:
- Sheet construction. If the stitches on a pillowcase or flat sheet are far apart, they have been sewn quickly and cheaply and will likely not last long. Check the stitching at the corner of the fitted sheet pocket — if it looks like the top of your pet’s food bag, it will probably run and split open at the first sign of wear.
- Sizing. Read the labels to see if the sizes seem generous or made just to fit. With mattress widths increasing, the fitted sheet pocket needs to be deep enough to fit the bed. And your flat sheets should be long enough to tuck in, even with the deepest mattress.
- Yarns used. The quality of the yarns used vary; make sure the fabric looks and feels smooth, and that there are no flaws in the sheets. Many manufacturers use poor quality yarns and weave the fabric very quickly, resulting in a lesser grade fabric that is cheaper and will not last as long as better-made goods.
- Choose your colors and patterns.
You’ll want your linens to look good in your home, but try to pick something you won't grow tired of. Look for sheets that have been yarn-dyed, meaning that the actual yarns are dyed before they are woven into the fabric. These are often used for simple stripe and geometric patterns, as well as beautiful jacquard designs. Also, yarn-dyed fabrics are usually softer than printed fabrics.
Printing on fabrics is done a couple of different ways. The general method is to use a pigment, which is a layer of color laid on top of the fabric. This can be done well, or poorly. If it is done poorly, your sheets will feel stiff and scratchy. The other method is more like "staining" the cloth. This is a more expensive process, but does not degrade the hand of the fabric.
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Tips from the Pros
We asked our lead bedding specialist for her tips on what to look for when shopping for luxury sheets:
Q. What are some popular styles available today in luxury bedding?
A. There really is an endless array of possibilities. Monogramming is an elegant way to personalize your sheets. Double-stitching and mitered corners are popular right now, as well as piping (single, double and triple), lace inserts, lace appliqués, and embroidery.
Q. What is the most important thing to consider to ensure a good fit?
Choosing bed linens with deep, fitted pockets ensures that the sheets stay on your bed, no matter how restless you are.
Q. With so many options, how can you decide?
A. Decorative details can take a plain, boring sheet and make it more sophisticated, tailored or feminine. Choose details that fit with your lifestyle and your master suite's décor. But keep in mind: the fancier the treatment, the more difficult they can be to care for.
Q. Are certain fabrics better for these kinds of details than other fabrics?
A. Most of these enhancements will be found on cotton sateen and cotton percale sheets. Some cotton blends will have special details, but because these tend to be less expensive and are typically purchased because they are so easy to care for, nothing too fancy is usually added. Linen sheets are often very embellished with embroidery; that’s part of the "tradition" of higher-end sheets.
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Caring for Luxury Bedding
The life expectancy of sheets varies with the type of fabrics and how you care for them. Cheaply made sheets that don't wear properly or fit the bed properly will not last as long. Some luxury sheets can last for 20 years if you avoid over-use. Try rotating the sheets each wash period.
When washing your bedding, avoid very hot temperatures and over-drying. Washing and drying finer fabrics in hot water/hot air can increase the likelihood of the fabric pilling, so we recommend washing and drying at medium temperatures. Avoid using bleach, as it can degrade and sometimes yellow the fabric.
Pull sheets out of the dryer just before they are completely dry. This will help avoid wrinkles. And feel free to use fabric softners on sheets — it won't harm the fabrics, and will enhance their softness.
Finally, when you find a set of sheets you enjoy, buy multiple sets. The best way to make your bedding last longer is to give it a break. Rotating the sheets each wash period will help your linens keep their original luster.
Specific Fabric Care Information:
- 100% cotton: Don't wash your cotton sheets too hot. Pull them out of the dryer a little earlier to avoid wrinkles.
- Cotton/poly blend: This is the easiest type of bedding to care for. Polyester tends not to "breathe" so these sheets will sleep warmer than cotton, but you don’t have to worry about wrinkles.
- Silk: Silk, which comes to us from the silkworm, is very insulating, adjusting quickly to your varied body temperature. Silk is temperature-regulating; it keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer by transporting moisture away from the body and into the air. It is also a wonderful fiber for allergy sufferers. There are now machine-washable silks and cotton/silk blends. Silk requires a little extra care; you should avoid excessive heat and drying.
- Satin: Satin is actually 100% polyester and is the easiest bedding fabric to care for. It has a silkier (almost slick) feel and sleeps very warm.
- Linen or cotton/linen blends: These are the coolest, crispest sheets you'll find, since linen absorbs more quickly than cotton and is highly breathable. Woven from blue-flowered flax plant fibers, which are strong, durable and nonallergenic, linen sheets can easily survive machine washing — the fibers actually increase when wet. However, linen sheets tend to wrinkle, so take care when drying.
- Bamboo or bamboo/cotton blends: Bamboo is a very soft, silky fiber and a quickly renewable resource, making it a good ecological choice. Much more absorbent than cotton, bamboo is also quicker to release moisture, so you'll sleep comfortably no matter what the temperature. These sheets are also naturally antimicrobial.
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