by Liz Beresford
High thread count bed sheets, often called percale, are much
advertised, but what exactly does "high thread" count mean? You know that it
means quality and comfort, but do you know why? It used to be considered good to
have thread count of 180-200 but thread counts of up to 1000 are advertised
these days.. So what is going on? Does high thread count always mean better
quality? Is there an optimum thread count, and if so what is it?
Thread Count 101
Cotton is a woven fabric. The number of threads used in weaving
are counted by the square inch. For example a thread count of 180 means a weave
of 100 vertical threads per square inch, called the warp, and 80 horizontal
threads, called the weft. The thickness of the thread is also a factor in this
equation. The finer the thread the more of them there will be in one square
inch, giving a higher thread count.
Another thing to be aware of is ply. Two ply fabric is made by
twisting the yarns together before weaving, whereas single ply uses a single
thread. Using two ply yarn doubles the thread count. So to compare the two
remember that a single ply with a thread count of 100 is equal to a two ply with
a count of 200. Thread count can go as high as 800 or 1000 threads, but you can
buy perfectly good bed linen with a thread count of 180. The term percale means
a thread count of at least 100.
A higher thread count is not necessarily better because the
higher the thread count the thinner and more delicate the fibers will be, unless
it is 2 ply. Since 2 ply doubles the thread count this makes the cotton heavier,
not necessarily what you want in bed sheets.
A thread count of between 100 and 400 is really quite
sufficient, there is simply no need to pay for anything more. If you are buying
pure linen bed sheets, rather than cotton, a thread count of 100 is good, since
linen has thicker fibers.
Of course a high thread count is not the only determinant of
quality in bed linen. The treatment that the cotton fiber has received, for
example mercerizing, and the way in which the bed linen is woven and finished,
all contribute to the quality of the finished product. (Mercerizing is a
chemical treatment which produces increased strength and a sateen finish which
accepts dyes more readily.)