For the Informed Linen Buyer

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(Image licensed by Ingram Publishing)

Mark Kelleher |

Consider thread count, construction, sizing in purchases

FOOTHILL RANCH, Calif. — Familiarizing yourself with a few basic components of textile production can help you choose quality linens every time—ensuring you get the value you’ve paid for and expect. Here, we dispel a few misconceptions about linens, as well as unveil some of the manipulative practices abound in the industry. 

WHAT’S IN A THREAD COUNT?

We hear the term all the time, but what exactly is “thread count”? Thread count refers to the number of threads running horizontally and vertically in a square inch of fabric. Example: If you have 150 yarns in the warp (vertical) and 150 in the weft (horizontal), voila, you have a T300 sheet.

Once you get beyond 400 threads per square inch, be suspicious. The standard for counting is to add warp and fill threads in a square inch. The most that normally fits in a square inch is 400 threads. Beyond this, the threads are thinner and weaker. Manufacturers use two- or three-ply threads and multiply the count. An 800-thread-count sheet made of two-ply yarn should be legitimately labeled as 400 thread count.

QUALIFYING AS QUALITY 

One thing buyers should look for is a product with balanced construction. It’s cheaper for manufacturers to insert more threads in the warp than the weft, but this significantly impacts the quality of the product. A simple way to test for it is to put a product through multiple washings. If the fabric begins to distort, the construction of the sheet isn’t a balanced one. 

Another important factor to note is the staple size of cotton that determines the quality of a finished product. The staple size is the length of a cotton fiber, and the longer the staple, the more durable and luxurious the end product is. 

DOWN TO SIZE 

When cotton fibers are being spun into thread, they might be sized, or starched, before they go on a loom to be woven into fabric. Sizing can be done with a natural starch or synthetically. Both have their drawbacks, so why does it happen at all? 

During the weaving process, the yarns are subjected to lots of stress and strain, hence the yarn needs extra strength to avoid yarn breakage during the weaving process. Sizing of the yarn helps to ease this process. It’s suggested you wash the linens prior to use to remove any sizing chemicals or starch. 

We wouldn’t suggest synthetic starches, as they are harder to remove and prone to cause issues in the laundering process.

IN SUMMARY

Have a basic understanding of thread count and why any product beyond T400 has likely made sacrifices in quality to attain that number. Know how to identify balanced construction—by running the product through multiple washes. On that same note, always ask for samples before purchasing.

Understand, too, the drawbacks of sizing. You can often tell if a fabric has been sized by placing a drop of water on the surface; if it beads, it may have been starched. 

There’s a lot to consider when purchasing linens, but keeping just a few key points in mind can help buyers make informed purchases.

About the author

Mark Kelleher

Venus Group Inc.

Director of Marketing

Mark Kelleher is director of marketing for Venus Group Inc.

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