You don’t have the time to research every home decor decision you make. It’s my job to help you. So here; I hope; is thread count explained and what it means in bedding. Please remember that there are no legal guidelines for listing thread count and there is no international standard for labeling bedding.
Lets start with how these threads are constructed. Fibers are spun to form one long strand. This is called a thread. Now, lets take 2 threads and twist them together. This is called 2 ply. This is what happens when yarn is made – think of unraveling a piece of yarn. Did you get 2 or 3 or 4 threads? If 4 threads are twisted together, it is called 4 ply. The 4 ply yarn takes up more space and if you were knitting a garment it would usually be thicker with 4 ply than with 2 ply.
Now lets weave that 2 ply ‘yarn’ into cloth. If we use 100 pieces of yarn per inch we have used 200 threads ( 2 threads per piece of yarn). This is 200 thread count. If we used 50 pieces of 4 ply yarn ( 4 threads per piece of yarn), we would still have a 200 thread count but there would be fewer pieces of ‘yarn’ per inch. Usually the higher the ply, the shorter the fibers in each thread, and the less quality. Longer fibers produce a silkier feeling thread, they are considered higher quality; producing a more desirable fabric and a 1 or 2 ply fabric is more ‘delicate’ than a higher 3 or 4 ply.
There is some discussion in the industry regarding this method of calculating thread count. Some companies say one piece of ‘yarn’ is one thread count, no matter what the ply, some insist that 2 ply equals 2 threads. Few companies list the ply of the ‘yarn’ used, but if you can
find it on the label it is a good indicator that the manufacturer is using top quality fibers and is proud of that fact. So with this in mind and the fact that there are no guidelines or standards across the industry, the thread count of the sheet you are looking at really doesn’t mean as much as you have been lead to believe.
So how do you choose a good sheet? The best advise I can give you is to buy from a retailer who knows about sheets. Ask questions. I talked to Ginny at Victorian Impressions ( go in and see her 1000 thread count sheet) and she shared some specifics you might want to know about. Ginny sells beautiful upscale bedding ( and home decor items, lingerie and women’s clothing). She carries one particular brand of sheets from a direct supplier. This means she is not dealing with a middle man and her prices are reflective of this. She has dealt with this supplier for quite a few years and knows their products well. The quality of the cotton used in their products is superior and the workmanship hits a very high standard. One of her sheet sets list the ply of the yarn ( 2 ) and she can tell you how each sheet washes; what the feel will be after laundering. This is important. For example, her sateen sheets will retain the smooth, satin-like finish after washing. This is because the fibers used are of the highest quality and that fact coupled with the weave of the sheet is what produces a sateen finish; not a chemical applied to the product. Have you ever seen what happens to ‘chintz’ after washing? This is a highly polished, tightly woven cotton that was used quite a bit in home decor in the late 80’s and early 90’s. When washed, the finish came off and the leftover fabric looked, and felt, like a rag. The chemical finish is what gave it a stiff feel. This sizing is often applied to inferior cottons to give it a more substantial feel. If you think a fabric may have a lot of sizing, you can check by pinching a layer of the fabric between a moistened thumb and forefinger. Hold it tightly for 5 seconds or so. Release the fabric and check how much ‘stick’ there is on your fingers. This is the stuff that will wash out. You may find a bit of ‘stick’ on some sheets and the more inferior the quality of the sheet, the more ‘stick’ you will feel.
Considering that we spend about 1/3 of our life in bed, a good quality sheet can make this time a lot more enjoyable. Polyester and cotton blend sheets are usually less expensive than 100% cotton and they won’t wrinkle as much but when I think polyester, I think ‘plastic’. It doesn’t breath like cotton and most polyesters do not absorb moisture well, making for a less than comfortable sleep on those hot nights. I. personally, will opt for comfort over wrinkles every time.