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Sheet Terms

SOME HELPFUL SHEET TERMS 

Combed Cotton thread is extremely soft with great tensile strength making it ideal for long-lasting bed linens. When cotton is combed—after the dirt and seeds are removed and the fibers have been disentangled and lined up in the carding process—fine brushes are used to pull out remaining impurities as well as shorter, less desirable, cotton fibers. The combing process removes almost 20% of the volume but leaves long, straight cotton fibers that are even and aligned. The combed cotton is then spun into a thread which is smoother and less likely to fray, pill, and tear than an uncombed thread. Because of the extra step and the significant reduction in volume, combed cotton is more expensive than conventional cotton, and will usually be clearly identified. 

Thread count simply refers to the number of threads, both vertical (warp) and horizontal (weft), woven into a single square inch of fabric. The thread count of basic or standard cotton fabric is around 150. Good quality sheets start at a 180 thread count. With finer threads, such as those produced with pure Egyptian cotton, more can be woven into each square inch. This results in a softer and more flexible material. As a general rule, the higher the thread count the denser and smoother the sheet will feel. But a high thread count alone is not a perfect indicator of a sheet's quality, as many factors – including the kind of cotton, type of weave, and nature of the finishing process – have an impact on a sheet's comfort, quality, and value.

Percale is a standard weave based on single pick insertion, the technical term for a tight and exacting over under weave in both directions (warp and weft). The one-over-one percale weave creates a much more uniform, stronger, denser, and softer fabric, which not only stands the test of time but also gets better the more you wash it. It is the superiority of the weave that is the defining factor of percale. While percale is durable and comfortable, it is considered plain.

Sateen is a fabric made using a satin weave structure but made with cotton yarns instead of silk. The fiber is woven in a specific long lateral pattern. In contrast to the one-over, one-under structure of a Percale (standard) weave, warp yarns are floated over weft yarns, for example three over and one under. (In a weft-faced sateen, the weft yarns are floated over the warp yarns.). The long floats produce a smooth surface which gives a more luxurious sheen than plain-weave cotton and is also silkier to the touch. An added attribute is that sateen is more dust resistant than percale. 

Sanforization is a treatment for stretching, shrinking, and fixing the woven cloth in both length and width before any cutting and manufacturing. The aim of the process is to produce a cloth which does not shrink significantly when cut, ironed, sewed, or especially washed and dried. Cloth and articles made from it may be labelled to have a specific shrink-proof value (if pre-shrunk), e.g., of under 1%.

Mercerization is a treatment where cotton fabric or thread is given two systematic chemical baths: first the cotton is bathed in lye (sodium hydroxide); and then it is bathed in acid to neutralize the sodium hydroxide and strip off the outer layer of the fabric. The one-two chemical punch results in the swelling of the cotton fiber’s cell wall which increases the fabric’s luster, strength, affinity to dye, softness to the hand, and resistance to mildew. Cotton with long staple fiber lengths responds best to mercerization.  

Upland cotton is the most common cotton grade characterized by its medium-length staple fibers. It is used in the majority of woven textiles throughout the world. If a label only reads "100 percent cotton," it is likely to be American Upland.

Egyptian cotton is an extra-long staple cotton known the world over for its luxurious softness and luster. It is considered the most premium cotton in the world.

Pima cotton is a very strong cotton often grown in the warm, dry climate of the southwestern United States and a limited number of other locations. Known for its softness and natural sheen, it features medium to extra-long staple fibers. Supima® is a trademarked name for products woven from 100% American Pima cotton.