The Ins and Outs of Fine Cotton Bedding
By Gina Dostler
A long time ago, in the Indus River Valley in Pakistan, cotton was being grown, spun and woven into cloth. The year was around 3000 B.C., and about that same time, natives of Egypt’s Nile valley were making and wearing cotton clothing.
This is something that is either unknown or temporarily forgotten in our society and we tend to think of fine cottons as a modern development. But it truly is a commodity with a history going very far back – bits of cotton bolls and pieces of cotton cloth were found in caves in Mexico and dated to 7,000 years ago.
There is something to be said for a textile that has covered so many generations of people. And cotton still makes its way into our homes – not only through attractive clothing, but also as the fabric covering our sofas and draping our windows, woven as towels and especially as bedding. January is the traditional month for updating linens. The white sale was invented by Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker as a marketing strategy to increase sales in order to keep textile workers employed through the slow season.
Apparently it has worked, because today we look at this month to redesign bathrooms and bedrooms that include beautiful towels and sheets.
Soft and comforting, beautiful bedding is a luxury everyone needs to enjoy.
Steve Bizal agrees. The general manager of Between the Sheets explained the details of thread count, weaves, goose down and why quality is going to be the leading factor that hooks you into luxurious bedding for your home.
Q: I know thread count in sheets is a standard gauge of quality. But there are other factors to be aware of when purchasing top quality bedding, aren’t there?
A: Yes, thread count is nice, but it tends to be the only thing people grab onto when looking for sheets. The type of cotton used is extremely important and can be looked at in this way: standard gauge cotton versus a finer and thinner fiber, analogous to using thick spaghetti pasta versus super fine angel hair pasta. Most sheets are woven from 60- or 80-gauge yarn, which is relatively coarse. A much finer 120-gauge yard, or even 140-gauge in some cases, creates a silkier feeling fabric.
Also, ordinary cotton is cleaned by a coarse “carding” machine, a cheap and quick process. Real cleaning requires thorough combing with very fine teeth, a process requiring much more time and care. We double-comb our cotton to remove all the impurities before it is spun into yarn.
Q: What is Egyptian Giza cotton?
A: Egyptian cotton is a long ELS (extra long staple) cotton, five times longer than other cottons, and twice as long as its American cousins Pima and Sea Island. Out of the 28 grades of Egyptian cotton available, we use only the finest grade, Giza. This cotton, with its unusually long silky fibers, spins into a much smoother, finer and stronger yarn than any other cotton in the world. The outcome is a luxurious product found in bedding such as ours.
Q: Before the yarn goes to the loom for weaving and after it is spun into fiber, it goes through a twisting process. What is that for?
A: The yarn is plied or as you called it, twisted, and that involves an expensive process in which very fine fibers are twisted together into the final yarn. The purpose is to create a yarn that is much stronger and durable. The twisting helps to eliminate “pilling,” the annoying appearance of little pieces of fuzz caused by the simple friction of your body on fitted or bottom sheets of ordinary quality.
Also take note of how the product was dyed. The best dye process involves coloring the cotton fiber before it is spun into a fabric in a process called fiber reactive dyeing. This pulls the dye in deeper into the cotton and allows for a rich color and softer fabric that lasts much longer than coloring the fabric as a whole where the color “sits” on top of the fibers causing stiffness to the fabric.
Q: I love the silkiness of some sheets. That involves a certain type of weave, correct?
A: A percale weave gives a crisper feel to the sheets. The silky feel you are talking about is a sateen weave combined with high-thread-count fabric, including 600-plied yarns and 1,000-plied yarns sheets. Sateen weave involves using more threads over than under in the weaving of the fabric. But all sateen weaves are not the same. Most high-plied yarns sateen weave sheets are woven three-and-one (three over and one under). We weave seven-and-one creating a more silk-like hand or feel to the fabric, a quality we are well-known for. This type of weaving requires special looms and goes much slower than other kinds of weaving. The sateen weave, despite its silkiness, is machine washable. Ironing can be an unpleasant chore, so we do offer some no-iron sheets that are not formaldehyde based. Almost all permanent press uses a formaldehyde process to produce that wrinkle free fabric – our sheets do not use harsh chemicals such as this.
Q: How do I know a good quality down comforter?
A: Down comforters made in Europe, such as ours, undergo rigorous standards to provide a top-quality product that is highly cleaned and sterilized. In the American market you will find comforters often up to 30% feathers and 70% down. And just for a little background information, down is a layer of fine feathers found under the tougher exterior feathers of birds. The loose structure of down feathers traps air and creates an insulating layer to prevent heat loss and therefore keep warmth in. The allergy-causing mites are usually found in the feathers, not the down. To be classified as true goose down, the product must be at least 90 percent down and our comforters are 95 percent, with only 5 percent feathers. Protect your comforter with a duvet or cover and it will last for years.
Q: What about down pillows? The same standard applies?
A: Absolutely. The European NOMITE Classification – Class 1 (www.nomite.de) certifies that products contain no dust mites and that the bolster is so tightly woven it prevents new dust mites from entering. To keep the integrity of the down, use a special cleanser formulated to safely clean the comforters and pillows and other washable down products. The cleanser uses low suds, with a neutral pH formula that helps protect the natural down oil from drying out. Here’s a helpful hint for you: place a couple of tennis balls in the dryer to help fluff the down. Also, do not dry clean the comforter. The chemicals used during the process will ruin the feel of the down.
Between the Sheets
South Coast Plaza
3333 Bear Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626