Wonderful bed linen relies on the quality of raw cotton and the yarn it produces. The finest yarns feel fantastic next to your skin and also wear really well. But many of us get caught up in the lure of high thread count.
A 200-thread-count cotton sheet made of very fine yarns will feel softer than a 400-thread-count sheet made from poorer quality cotton of thicker yarns. Linen will always have a lower thread count than cotton, yet it's regarded as one of the most luxurious fabrics to sleep in.
Also bear in mind that a very high thread count will be more expensive and more difficult to launder because of its silkier finish. Don't assume that a higher thread count means a better quality fabric.
THREAD COUNT VERSUS YARN SIZE
Thread count is the number of threads per square inch of fabric. It tells you how closely woven a fabric is. It's a common mistake to assume that a higher thread count means a better quality fabric. In fact, the fineness of yarn is more important.
Cotton is the most widely used fibre for making bed linen. Long lasting and easy to launder, it's renowned for its natural breathability and comfortably cool feeling. The longer the 'staple' of cotton, the finer the yarn, and so the smoother, softer and stronger the bed linen.
Egyptian cotton is deemed one of the finest cottons because, cotton in Egypt grows with an unusually long staple. Many other countries now also grow long staple cotton, like American Supima.
Supima cotton, short for 'superior US Pima cotton', is an extra long staple cotton grown in the most sun-drenched parts of America. It's prized for its incredible strength and softness and cozy warmth.
Flannel is woven from extra long staple Supima cotton, and finely brushed to create tiny fibres from the loosely spun yarns. This creates a velvety smoothness that's lovely and cozy for winter.
Cotton-polyester blends produce bed linen that's easy to launder and needs little to no ironing. But beware of poor quality easy-care fabrics that quickly bobble and/or whose easy-care finish washes out. Our high quality 60% cotton-40% polyester percale feels very smooth and soft, thanks to the higher than usual cotton content.
Regarded as one of the most beautiful fabrics to sleep in, linen is loved for its comfort and breathability. We use only Belgian washed linen: 'Belgian' because it's woven from a gorgeously slubby yarn grown from the world's finest flaxseed in Belgium, and 'washed' because it's repeatedly laundered in the manufacturing process to enhance its supple, soft-feel for a wonderful handle and drape. Linen is non-allergenic with a loose natural weave that draws heat away from the body in summer and traps warm air in winter. Linen is up to three times stronger than cotton and very long lasting. The more you use it, the more beautifully it ages and acquires its unique subtle sheen.
Egyptian cotton may be grown in Egypt but, to create the finest quality bed linen, we like ours to be finished and stitched in Italy.
Percale is a type of plain weave - one thread over, one thread under - that allows air to pass through, giving it a lovely powdery coolness and breathability. Our hardwearing cotton percale is woven from the most refined Egyptian cotton yarns to give a crisp and matt look with a smooth and soft feel.
Sateen is an elegant weave of four threads over, one thread under, which places more threads on the surface of the cloth to give a silky-smooth feel and sheen. The distinctive weave traps air and holds in warmth so it's especially inviting in winter. Not to be confused with satin, sateen is very special to sleep in, but not as hardwearing as percale.
Jacquard is woven on a special loom to create a multi-dimensional pattern of sateen (which is raised threads) and matt (which is flat), usually in a stripe, check or floral design.
Seersucker is a crinkly fabric created by a slack tension weave where some groups of yarn are bunched together while others are left flat. The word seersucker comes from the Persian 'shir o shekar' meaning 'milk and sugar' - the smooth part resembling milk, the crinkly texture like sugar.
Waffle is a fabric of tiny textured squares like those on a breakfast waffle. We always combine a waffle design on the front with plain percale on the back so that you can flip over your pillow or duvet for a smoother feel next to your skin.
ALL YOUR BED LINEN PIECES
Pillowcase - housewife or Oxford?
A housewife pillowcase is an edge-to-edge pillowcase that fits to the contours of your pillow. It's usually the one you sleep on and the most popular style for children. An Oxford pillowcase has an extra border beyond the seamed edge. If layering pillows, we suggest you use a housewife pillowcase underneath, but it's down to personal preference.
Bottom sheet - fitted or flat?
A fitted sheet has elasticated corners to keep it secure when you move about in your sleep. The sides should be deep enough to fit your mattress and topper. If your mattress is extra deep, choose a flat sheet and fold the corners underneath.
You need a flat top sheet if you make a bed with blankets. You can also use one with a duvet to give your bed a tailored look. A top sheet may have a decorative 'cuff' for display when you fold back the sheet.
Duvet cover - standard or Oxford?
A duvet cover comes in two styles: a standard 'bag', which is an edge-to-edge seamed cover, and an Oxford, which has an extra border, just like an Oxford pillowcase.
A valance is a decorative cover for your divan base, in case your divan doesn't match your headboard or other bedroom decor, or simply to pretty it up. It still allows you to open any drawers in your divan. Make your bed linen easy to identify by using coloured ribbon ties or by storing each set in a different pillowcase.
WHAT'S BEST FOR CHILDREN?
For children, we recommend using bed linen of 200-thread-count cotton percale, as this is hardwearing, long lasting and washes really well. It also feels soft, crisp and smooth against their skin.
For babies, we advise using a baby sleeping bag, which is difficult to kick off or slide down over their head. Choose 1 tog in summer and 2.5 tog in winter. Babies under 12 months shouldn't sleep with duvets, quilts or pillows.