How to Choose Bedding
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by Norma Wilkins-Gross, Vice President of Merchandise, Cuddledown
In selecting bed linens, every attribute of the product affects the quality and value. Gone are the days when price denoted quality or when sheets were chosen for color and design alone. Today, a bedding purchase is based on analyzing the product's attributes and deciding how these mesh with your needs.
Here are some important things to consider when choosing fine linens:
Type of Weave
Tips for Choosing Fine Linens
Bedding can be made from natural or manmade fibers, or a blend of both. The content that is best for you depends on what you are looking for in a bedding product. Consider the following:
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- Natural Fibers, such as cotton, silk, flax, or wool have inherent irregularities and subtleties which contribute to the natural beauty of bedding. Their primary advantage of absorbency and porosity makes natural fiber bed linens responsive to changes in temperature and humidity, thus ensuring comfort in every sleeping environment. Natural fiber fabrics tend to wrinkle after washing so they should be removed promptly from the washer and dryer.
- Artificial Fibers, such as viscose and rayon are manmade from natural raw materials derived from cellulose or plant protein. Tencel, Modal, and rayon made from bamboo are some of today's most recognizable fabrics made from artificial fibers. Bed linens made from artificial fibers often have many of the same qualities of natural fiber linens and are generally more durable. They are extremely absorbent, have a soft, silky hand, can be dyed to vibrant colors and some even have inherent anti-bacterial properties. Artificial fiber fabrics shrink when washed so be sure to closely adhere to the care instructions on your product.
- Synthetics such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon are manmade products produced from petrochemicals. Fabric woven from these fibers can be dyed with colors that are more vibrant than those used on natural fiber fabric, and bedding made from synthetic fibers will be resistant to wrinkling. The disadvantage, due to their low porosity and absorbency, is that synthetics can be uncomfortable in warm or humid climates.
- Blends are combinations of two or more different fibers. Usually the fiber present in the highest percentage dominates the fabric, but a successful blend will exhibit the desirable qualities of all. For example, a cotton linen blend sheet will exhibit linen characteristics such as a crisp texture and natural luster while at the same time exhibiting cotton characteristics such as improved strength and less shrinkage than 100% linen.
Thread count is probably the most advertised attribute for bed linens, yet it is not a very accurate indicator of true quality. Thread count is simply the number of yarns in a square inch of fabric. In prior years when thread counts used to range no higher than 350, the higher the thread count, the lighter, more supple, and durable the fabric.
Through technological advancements in weaving, thread counts can now range to over 1200. Therefore, the rule of thumb that more is better no longer holds true. To reach thread counts of more than 400, fabrics are woven with multi plied yarns or multi-yarn insertions. In weaving, the simplest type of weave is a plain weave in which each single yarn alternately cross over and under another. When using plied yarns in a plain weave, two or more yarns are twisted together to make one single yarn, which is then woven horizontally over and under a vertical yarn. Multiple yarn insertions are produced with multiple single yarns, aligned horizontally side by side, and woven at the same time over and under one vertical yarn.
Fabrics made with multiple ply yarns will be heavier than those made with single yarns. Fabrics made with multiple yarn insertions will be lighter than fabrics made with multi ply, but too many inserted yarns can result in a less durable fabric. The most durable fabrics are those made with single ply construction, which also results in a lighter and softer bed linen.
Knowing the quality of the cotton fibers is often more important than just the thread count. When considering flannel sheets, the weight of the fabric and quality of the cotton is more important than the thread count.
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Since cotton is most often selected for bed linens, you should familiarize yourself with the varying cotton qualities.
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- Long staple cotton, such as Egyptian, Pima, or Sea Island, is used to make the highest-quality linens. Bedding products produced from long staple cottons are valued for their suppleness, smoothness, and glossiness. This quality of cotton is the most expensive, but it ensures exceptional durability.
- Intermediate staple cotton is normally used for bedding with thread counts up to 230. Products woven from this type of cotton are very good but have less luster and suppleness than long staple cotton bedding.
- Short staple cotton is not often used in bedding due to their lack of softness and durability.
- Organic Cotton is non-genetically modified cotton that is grown using farming methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. Fields in which organic cotton is cultivated have not been treated with inorganic fertilizers for at least three years. GOTS Certified organic cotton products are produced to the strictest guidelines, ensuring that the product was produced through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing and that the product is made of at least 95% organic material.
- Combed Cotton is another attribute of fine bedding. Only the best grades of cotton can be combed, which results in a yarn which is finer, cleaner, more lustrous, and stronger than carded yarns. Combing is necessary for the production of fine yarns used to produce high thread count linens with a longer lifespan.
Type of Weave
The type of weave used in the fabric for bedding plays an integral part in the durability and price of the finished product. There are three basic fabric weaves used in bedding:
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- Plain Weave, the simplest of the three basic weaves, is used for about 80% of all bedding. In a plain weave, each yarn alternately crosses over and under another to produce a strong, even fabric. Examples of plain weaves are batiste, voile, percale, cambric, and gingham.
- Twill Weaves, identified by a diagonal rib or twill line, are used to produce strong bedding fabric that can have a softer "drape" than a plain weave. The twill construction has more cotton fibers exposed on the surface of the fabric, so it can be sanded or brushed for extra softness. As twills take longer to produce than a plain weave, they are generally a bit more expensive than a plain weave.
- Sateen Weave is used to produce smooth, lustrous, higher thread count bedding with a thick close texture. The number of yarns exposed on the surface of the fabric gives sateen its characteristic sheen. Consequently, it is this same characteristic of exposed yarns which make this fabric more prone to snagging, so it is important that the sateen have a higher thread count to keep the yarns as close together as possible. As sateen is the slowest of the three basic weaves to produce, it is generally higher in price.
- Patterned Weaves are the most difficult and most expensive to produce due to their complexity, and produce the most durable fabrics used in bed linens. There are two basic pattern weaves, the Dobby and the Jacquard:
- Dobby fabric, such as "damask" stripes, piqué, and waffle cloth, is the more economical of the two basic pattern weaves, and is limited to simple designs.
- Jacquard is the most complex weave and requires the finest quality of yarn. It is the most expensive of all types of weaves to produce. Examples of Jacquard fabrics are damask, tapestry, brocade, and matelassé.
When selecting bedding, take into consideration if any special fabric finishes have been utilized. The three most commonly used functional finishes are mercerizing, shrinkage control, and wrinkle resistance.
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- Mercerizing improves the shape of the individual cotton fibers, by adding strength, luster, and an increased affinity for dyes.
- Shrinkage control keeps the bedding fabric from shrinking no more than 1% to 2%. An example of shrinkage control is when a fabric is Sanforized. These types of finishes make a product more durable but may make the bedding less cool and comfortable.
- Wrinkle resistance is applied to some cotton fabrics used in bedding so they require little or no ironing after washing. Some of these treatments can reduce the product's absorbency and porosity.
Besides taking into consideration the attributes of the linen, below are a few visual tips to also help you in recognizing quality in linens:
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- The weave of the fabric should be firm, which can be tested by scratching the surface of the cloth. If the threads shift easily, the product may be inclined to develop holes at the seamed edges.
- The weave of the linens should be uniform. Hold a sheet to the light and look for any unusually thick or thin areas. Bedding in which the weave is not uniform will wear unevenly.
- The color should be even and look fresh. If there is a fold or crease in the product, check whether the color has rubbed off. This could be an indication of poor dye quality.
- Printed designs should be even, with no undyed areas showing through except in areas of the design which are meant to be white.
- A print that is geometric or symmetrical should be printed at right angles.
- No powdery dust should appear on the surface of the bed linens. If so, this is an indication of too much sizing and may conceal poor quality.
Tips for Choosing Fine Linens
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- Prefer crisp, cool, smooth bedding? Choose plain weave bed linens such as batiste, voile, percale, or cambric. Plain weave fabrics are prone to wrinkling. To minimize ironing, dry on low temperature or a wrinkle release setting, removed promptly from the dryer, smooth flat, and fold.
- Prefer soft, silky smooth, highly lustrous bedding? Choose sateen bed linens. Sateen wrinkles less than percale but due to the nature of the weave it is not as durable. To minimize ironing, dry on low temperature or a wrinkle release setting, removed promptly from the dryer, smooth flat, and fold.
- Always cold? Choose cotton flannel or jersey bed linens for a warm and cozy bed. These two fabrics are the least prone to wrinkle. Wash and dry on warm temperature settings, remove promptly from dryer, smooth flat, and fold.
- Prefer linens with natural temperature-regulating properties? Choose linen, silk, or rayon from bamboo bed linens.
- Linen is highly absorbent and draws heat away from the body, keeping you cooler in the warmer months. It is also hypo allergenic, lint free, and naturally insect repellant. Crisp, smooth, and comfortable, linen becomes softer after every wash. One of the most durable fabrics, it can be washed in hot water, but to minimize wrinkles dry on low temperature or a wrinkle release setting, removed promptly from the dryer, smooth flat, and fold. Iron damp.
- Silk is naturally porous and absorbent, keeping you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It is also resistant to mildew and moths. Silk can be machine washed in cool water, on a gentle wash cycle, with a delicate laundry detergent. To keep your linens from snagging on the inside of the washing machine, wash your silk bed linens inside of a mesh bag or cotton pillowcases. Tumble dry low or line dry.
- Rayon made from Bamboo, is 1½ times more absorbent than cotton. Due to its natural ability to breathe, it wicks away heat and moisture in the warmer months and keeps you warm in winter. It has natural deodorant and anti-bacterial properties, which do not wash out over time. As rayon is prone to shrinking, follow all care instructions carefully.
- Have sensitive skin? Choose Certified Eco-friendly bedding that is GOTS or Oeko-Tex® Certified. These certifications assure you that the bed linens have been manufactured free of all substances harmful to you and your family. Learn more about Certified Eco-friendly bedding
- Hate to iron? Select bed linens with a wrinkle resistant finish. The finish helps minimize wrinkles and does not wash out over time.
- Have an extra thick mattress? Select a fitted sheet with extra deep pockets and an oversized comforter to allow for extra coverage on the sides of the bed.
- Fitted sheets keep popping off the bed? Select a fitted sheet with elastic all around as this will allow the sheet to remain secure on your bed, even if you toss and turn before falling to sleep.