Thread Count – The Bedtime Story You Need to Read

Thread Count – The Bedtime Story You Need to Read

Holy thread counts! There’s a lot of information about thread count out there – not all of which is helpful or even accurate. We’ve all been there, puzzling over what the heck they are and why thread count matters. You’ve probably been bamboozled by hotels that boast of their high thread-count sheets; stood staring at luxury bedlinen bundles in stores, or tried to wrap your head around the endless choices available online, and are still none the wiser about what is the best thread count for sheets.

We’re not the first to debunk the thread-count myth, but we are here to tell you that most bedding marketers are spinning you a yarn. Here are the key facts about thread counts…

What is thread count?

A thread count literally counts the number of horizontal and vertical threads that make up each square inch of fabric used to make your sheets.

It counts the threads that go straight up and down, lengthwise – this is the ‘warp’ – as well as the threads that interweave across the warp, widthwise – the ‘weft’. Essentially, a thread count (TC) tells you how tightly woven the fabric is.

warp and weft in fabric weave

So far, so simple. But here’s where cheating happens: most thread-count figures are a creative – ahem – fabrication on the part of marketeers and manufacturers, who have nurtured the notion that more is, well, more. Don’t beat yourself up for assuming you’re being told the truth; after all, it makes sense to assume that, the more threads there are occupying the same ‘space’, the finer (and therefore the more refined and luxurious) the resulting bedlinen must be.

So common is this misconception that it has trickled down to other products; consumers are now obsessed with facts and figures, from the number of springs in their mattress to the tog rating of their duvet. And manufacturers have been quick to exploit the idea that ‘bigger is better’ – a pocket-sprung mattress, for example, surely that’s better if it has a higher number of springs? Nope. To inflate the spring count, coils can be stacked or nested, compromising real comfort or quality.

Alongside spring counts, greenwashing and other misleading information, super-high thread counts are just one of the bedtime fairy-tales dreamt up by marketeers to persuade you to buy their products.

So what is the best thread count?

Let’s face it, ‘best’ is subjective – which is why, when we set out to create the softest, most luxurious, natural cotton bed sheets at Square Flower, we did our research to choose the best thread count, ply, weave and fiber combination possible.

Alarm bells should ring if your cotton sheets claim to have a thread count higher than 400.

Chances are, this is an untruth. Here comes the science part: there is a maximum to the number of single threads that can occupy one square inch – rather like the physical limit on how many times you can fold a piece of paper in half; however, by counting the threads additionally woven together to create multi-ply yarn, a manufacturer can justify ‘multiplying’ the TC to 800 or even 1200.

This is not to say that multi-ply is always ‘bad’, just that you also need to take other factors into account to determine whether or not your premium luxury bedding is all it claims to be – check on the quality of the fibers used to create it, and the type of weave. The most covetable hotel sheets, for example, are often multi-ply percale, made with long staple cotton. Which brings us to…

What Is Long Staple Cotton?

A cotton ‘staple’ is a length of fiber. A longer staple means the fibers are longer and stronger, allowing them to be spun into long, very fine yarns that produce a smoother, softer-feeling fabric. By contrast, short staple cotton has shorter fibers. Since more short fibers are needed to create a length of yarn, there will be more exposed ends – producing a less durable, weaker, coarser fabric, with a rougher texture.

At Square Flower, we only use 100% long-staple cotton, as it means we can spin it into the finest, silkiest yarns, which produce incredibly soft and breathable fabrics. Our fabric is made using only very fine 60s and 80s yarn (explainer: a higher number means a finer yarn – it’s to do with the length a certain weight of yarn can be spun into).

Ultimately, the quality of the raw cotton is the most important feature of any cotton bedding – the better it feels, the better quality it probably is. But of course, first impressions can be misleading: as well as using inflated thread counts to disguise poor-quality cotton sheets, manufacturers often coat them in a chemical finishing solution to add lustre and sheen and to create a softer hand-feel. After a while, this coating will wear off, whereas the best quality sheets actually improve with age, getting softer with every wash.

The bottom line is, a sheet made with low-quality fibers will simply never feel as soft as one made with premium long-staple cotton – even if it has a higher thread count. And organic cotton is naturally softer, with fibers that retain their natural length thanks to being hand-picked and more gently processed than regular cotton.

The way the cloth is woven will affect how your sheet will feel, too.

Single Ply or Multi-Ply?

Single-ply yarns can be twisted together to create double- or multi-ply threads; and while multi-ply sheets aren’t ‘bad’, you need to remember that this technique is sometimes used to strengthen yarns made of weaker, short staple cotton fibers.

Since these threads will have double or even triple the amount of exposed ends, sheets with a ‘higher’ thread-count can feel less smooth than 400TC sheets made with single-ply cotton yarns such as Square Flower’s bedlinen. Single-ply cotton additionally creates a more supple, breathable fabric that’s perfect for keeping you cool.

Weaves: Cotton Sateen vs Cotton Percale

Two more terms that cause consumer confusion are ‘sateen’ and ‘percale’. These are not types of material or blends, but describe the way the fabric is woven. A standard weave follows a one under, one over pattern, in which every thread swaps sides each time it meets another.

At Square Flower, all our sheets, pillowcases and duvet sets are organic cotton sateen. Known for its softness and subtle luster, a sateen weave is one that uses one ‘weft’ thread for every four or five ‘warp’ threads.

The warp yarns are floated over the weft yarns, which reduces the number of crossovers on one side of the fabric, and therefore reduces friction, creating an incredibly smooth and silky surface that drapes beautifully.

The long and the short of it? If you want to enjoy a good night’s sleep, question anything above a 400 thread count; check what your sheets are made of; and find out where and how they were made.

We know we’ve found our dream sheets: have you?