High Thread Count Bed Sheets - 7 Part Report

Part 1

High thread count Egyptian cotton bed sheets are all the rage recently in the luxury bedding world. With thread count ranging from 180 all the way up to 1500 there is quite a range from which shoppers can choose. In general, bed sheets are softer and smoother to the touch as thread counts increase. However thread size and weave changes as thread counts increase, so comparing 2 different sheet sets of different thread counts can be an apples to oranges comparison. Making comparison shopping even more difficult are the wildly disparate price points set by retailers.

Let’s begin to unravel the mystery of high thread count fabric with a simple definition of thread count: number of threads per square inch of fabric. That’s simple enough. Cut out a square inch of fabric, count the number of threads and there you have your thread count. The only problem is that you need a microscope to actually see the tiny threads. In fact the standard way of getting an accurate thread count is to have a sample of fabric analyzed at a lab.

If you sent your 1000tc, 1200tc, or 1500tc fabric to a lab, you might be surprised by the results. Here’s what you would learn:
  1. Thread size decreases as thread count increases.
  2. Threads are twisted (like the cords of a rope) before weaving to achieve higher thread count.
  3. Twisted threads are referred to as “multi ply,” and are not as sturdy as single ply threads.
  4. Fiber length is more important in creating a luxurious hand than thread count.

Part 2

Last post we started to explore high thread count Egyptian cotton bed sheets. We learned some of technical terms that help us understand how they are made, like:
  • Thread size
  • Twisted thread
  • Multi ply, 2 ply, 3 ply, etc.
  • Single ply
  • Fiber length
Let’s look a little closer now at each attribute. Thread size is fairly straight forward. It’s simply the size of the threads used to weave a fabric. Thread can be thin or thick producing fabrics of different weights. But threads can also be twisted before weaving as a way of producing thicker fabrics with a softer hand (feel) from thinner threads. A twisted thread is a combination of 2 or more threads that wrap around one another to form a single thread – kind of like a rope is made by wrapping several smaller ropes together to form one cord.

A twisted thread is also referred to as a multi ply thread and can be 2 ply, 3 ply, etc. A multi ply thread is usually weaker than a single ply, not because the twisting makes them weaker, but because the fiber length is usually shorter than a high quality single ply thread. Fiber length refers to the length of the individual cotton fibers that make up a single thread. Longer fibers come from better cotton and make stronger, smoother fabrics.

Part 3

If you have read parts 1 & 2 of this thread you are armed with some basic terminology and knowledge about high thread count bed sheets. How will this information help you select quality bed sheets when quality and price varies so wildly from one retailer to the next?

First you can know that single ply sheets are a pretty safe bet for quality. With single ply fabrics, higher thread count usually does indicate a more luxurious bed sheet fabric. Other factors that would affect fabric quality include the grade of the cotton used and the manufacturing process. Lower grade cotton and fast manufacturing techniques will result in lower priced finished goods. So with bed sheets, you get what you pay for. The quality is a hidden characteristic that can be felt, but not necessarily read on the package label.

Current manufacturing of single ply fabrics limits thread count to about 500-600 threads per square inch. After that, all fabrics are multi ply. Fabrics over 1000tc are most likely triple ply or more. These super high thread count fabrics are not necessarily lower quality, in fact most of them feel great. Some critics say that because multi ply sheets are usually made of shorter fiber cotton, they will pill more easily and therefore be less durable. If this is true, it is offset by the fact that the fabric is thicker (heavier) than lower thread count fabrics, and more durable for that reason.

With sheet sets over 600tc, it’s a little more complex to assess quality. Retailers and wholesalers don’t usually have access to the fiber length or quality of the cotton used in a sheet set. That information can only be obtained at the factory where the yarn is spun. Once the yarn is spun, there is no way to properly assess fiber length, even with lab tests. Consumers are left to apprise quality with their own fingers, choosing what feels good to them.

Part 4

Fabrics with thread count over 600 are still fairly new on the market, so they are a bit of a curiosity. Many people extrapolate in a linear fashion when imagining how these sheets will feel. They think, “If 500tc sheets are a really high thread count, and they feel this good, then 1500tc sheets must feel 3 times better!” In fact most people cannot tell the difference between 500tc fabric and 1500tc fabric when they hold them both in their hands. The fabrics can feel very similar.
Usually there is a bigger difference in texture when you compare sheets from one company and another, regardless of thread count, than different thread count sheets from the same company. In other words a set of 300tc bed sheets from a company that uses high quality cotton and manufacturing processes will feel better than a 1000tc sheet set from a company that uses lower quality cotton and manufacturing.

Even though it’s tempting to compare bed sheets between two companies simply by the thread count number, the quality can differ widely. The old saying, “you get what you pay for,” definitely applies to shopping for bed sheets. Usually companies charge more because the quality of the cotton is so good or the manufacturing process is advanced. Truly fine Egyptian cotton bed sheets provide luxurious comfort that will last for many years, much longer than lower quality sheets. So when it comes time to chose sheets for your bedroom, invest in a quality set, from a good company that feels really good to you.

Part 5

High thread count bed sheets like 600tc, 1000tc, 1200tc are relatively new on the market and consumers have misconceptions about what to expect. Many shoppers expect a linear progression of increasing softness as fabric thread counts go higher. They assume, “if 600tc sheets are this soft, then 1200tc sheet sets must be twice as soft.” In reality they may feel very similar. The main difference is that 1200tc fabric is thicker, heavier, and drapes very differently than a 600tc sheet.
Because expectations are high and confusion abounds in the marketplace, pricing for high thread count bed sheets varies widely. Some pricing is quite high, perhaps taking advantage of consumers misunderstanding about high thread count sheeting; but some pricing is just too low to be believable.

On some auction sites you will find 500tc, 1000tc, and even 1500tc Egyptian cotton bed sheets being sold for less than half of their wholesale value, even below manufacturer’s pricing. Sellers accomplish this by switching labels. For example, a seller will replace the packaging label inside a 500tc or 600tc with a label that reads 1200tc. They are able to get away with this because auction sites do not actively regulate auctions and buyers can’t tell the difference.

Label switching is somewhat evil, but more so just a bit of a game. For example, buyers pay the market value for a 500tc sheet set (in fact a very good price), receive a 500tc sheet set, but think they are getting a 1000tc sheet set. The markets on auction sites have reorganized themselves around this false economy of label switching. Honest retailers cannot compete with below-manufacturer-pricing, so the only sellers left on auction sites, in the Egyptian cotton bed sheets category, are sellers willing to switch labels. You may get a good value on an auction site, but if you want to receive authentic thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, buy from a reputable online merchant or local store.

Part 6

What is “high thread count?”
Just a few short years ago the term “high thread count” referred to a 300 or 400 thread count Egyptian cotton bed sheet set. Today it means 600tc all the way up to 1500tc. But there has been no revolutionary breakthrough in technology, no super advanced farming technique that allows cotton fibers to be spun into finer weaves. So what explains the sudden jump in thread count numbers?

The answer is two part. First, manufacturers began to labeling thread count by counting each yarn in a twisted thread. So a 300tc, 2 ply fabric all of a sudden became a 600tc fabric; what was once labeled 500tc suddenly became 1000tc.
Second, because consumers responded so positively to higher thread counts, manufacturers began producing more bed sheets with higher and higher thread counts. They did this by favoring the use of multiple ply (2 ply, 3ply, etc.) yarns instead of single ply yarns.
What does the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) think about this? They say that multi ply threads should be counted as a single thread in accordance with established tradition and ASTM (an international standards organization) recommendations. They feel that counting individual plied yarns in a multi ply thread creates confusion for consumers, which indeed it has.

And yet there is substantial difference in feel and quality between multiply fabrics and single ply fabrics. There are good reasons for making both and both have very nice qualities. To date, the market allows the use of labeling based on counting multiply threads. In the future, regulations may require a reversal to the time thread counts were based on counting multiply threads as 1 thread. Until that time, bed sheet shoppers will have to have a good understanding of how bed sheet fabrics are made when determining where to buy quality high thread count Egyptian cotton bed sheets.

Part 7

This is the 7th and final post (for now) about high thread count Egyptian cotton bed sheets. The previous 6 posts discussed technical details of making fabric, how to shop for bed sheets, and some current issues with high thread count fabrics in the marketplace.

High thread count bed sheets are a relatively recent evolution and there exists some misunderstandings, in the mind of consumers, about what they actually are. Most people believe that quality, softness, and durability increase in a linear way with increasing thread count number. This is not necessarily true. Critiques criticize the labeling of multiply threads as more than one thread, and yet there are unique qualities of the new “high thread count” fabrics (600tc – 1500tc) that have merit.

Multiply high thread count bed sheets are thicker, very durable, and well made; they drape exceptionally well, look great, and feel great against the skin. For these reasons they have become very popular among those seeking refined linens for their bedroom. They have satisfied many happy customers who praise them for contributing to a very pleasant sleep experience.

If you are looking for a great set of Egyptian cotton bed sheets, look for the middle ground in the market place. Don’t go for the lowest price deal, for you get what you pay for, and know that you don’t have to go for the highest price to assure quality. There are many fine luxury bedding retailers who can provide a quality bed sheet set. Also, a good way to think about high thread count bed sheets between 600tc and 1500tc is that higher thread count means thicker, but not necessarily softer. Higher thread count sheets are a little warmer, a little more durable, and drape differently. Think of 600tc – 900tc as a nice spring and summer range and over 1000tc as pleasant in fall and winter.