Buying bedlinen has become a numbers game with brands trumpeting the high thread count of their sheets and duvet covers in ever higher numbers – 300! 400 ! 600! even 800! But what does thread count mean? And does a higher count make for a better night’s sleep? No, is the resounding answer from bedroom specialists Bottom Drawer.
"Thread counts are a fad," says Lisa Duffin of Bottom Drawer in Brown Thomas, debunking a popular belief that the more threads the better the sheets. "They are just one aspect to consider when buying. It's much more important to look at where the bedlinen is made. You buy good sheets from Italy, Portugal, France, Switzerland and America. The real quality comes from Europe, not China or Vietnam. "
So what are thread counts and when did they become such a fixation for buyers? Thread count is the measure of horizontal and vertical threads in one square inch. The best cotton has long fibres, but when shorter single fibres are twisted together their thread count measure can be inflated, hence the higher count. It does not equate to increased comfort or longevity – that’s a fact – yet many brands overestimate their figures furthering the misleading idea that the more threads the more luxurious the sheets.
Hooked on thread counts
People became hooked on thread counts after a marketing supremo in the US came up with the idea of highlighting thread count as a way of selling bedlinen. Other companies rushed in to follow suit until thread count became a kind of textile mantra for sales success. In 2005, however, the Federal Trade Commission in the US put the boot in and disproved the notion that higher thread count meant superior bedding and, in 2017, the International Trade Commission ended the importation into the US of sheets with false labelling.
Good sheets should last 10 years
Yet the thread count myth persists. A recent BBC documentary exposed how big bedding retailers in the UK such as Debenhams, John Lewis and House of Fraser carried bedlinen with misleading thread count claims. "Customers started asking for thread-count information about 10 years ago" recalls Duffin, adding that it is not necessary to look for it (though she recommends 300-600 count, particularly with the Italian brands as "Italians don't write it on their packaging – they didn't buy into the fad").
Good sheets should last 10 years and since we spend a third of our life in bed, it is worth investing in quality and avoiding polyester, nylon and slippery, static-y synthetics. Traditionally, the best cottons are Egyptian, Pima, Supima, Barakat and Sea Island, with Giza the most expensive of all. Quality of cotton is far more important than thread count and percale (close woven) and sateen (woven like satin with a lustrous sheen) are the most popular weaves.
Silk sheets are the most luxurious of all, while others swear by pure linen, which is not measured in thread counts and not as universally popular as cotton because it needs such a lot of ironing. Irish linen is used on the beds in Buckingham Palace and is sourced from Fergusons of Banbridge.
Hotel-style bedlinen is enduringly popular, with its dazzling whiteness and crisp designs. "Frette, the Louis Vuitton of bedlinen, is used in the Merrion and the Ritz and made in Milan, though Piubelle from Portugal is just as good," says Duffin.
One person who knows all about sheets is Francis Brennan, who brings all his experience from his much-lauded Park Hotel in Kenmare to his bedlinen range for Dunnes Stores. At the Park the sheets are a 50/50 mix of linen and cotton made and monogrammed in Rivolta Carmignani in northern Italy and are so expensive and special that only one place can launder them, Laundry Linen in Castleisland. However, its recent intended closure due to the retirement of the owner was such a threat to the Park, that three weeks ago Brennan decided to buy it. "We had to protect the quality of our linen," he said.
His Dunnes Stores range is in percale though he is quick to point out that, while it is not Park Hotel luxury, it will last because of the quality of the cotton. However, it does need more ironing than the popular sateen.
For Duffin the test for quality is simple. “Hold and feel the sheets before buying. They should be smooth, cold in your hand and light in weight. You don’t need to look for the thread count.”