Nothing dresses up a room quite like new bedding in fashion colors that complement your décor. But looks aren’t the only thing to consider when buying bed linens. Taking into account the proper size and fit, the type of material and the thread count can actually contribute to a better night’s sleep. When selecting bedding, we don’t usually just purchase a set of sheets; we’ll also choose accompanying accessories such as a bed skirt, matching shams and decorative pillows. To create a comfortable sleep environment, other factors to consider when shopping for new bed linens are durability, feel (softness) and value.
A bed sheet is a flat rectangular piece of fabric, usually without a center seam and generally sold in pairs. Traditionally only in white, today sheets are available in a wide range of colors, patterns, styles and fiber blends.
Flat Sheet: A flat sheet is usually used as a top sheet, the one that covers the sleeper and lies directly underneath the blanket or comforter. Hemmed around the edges, typically the top and bottom hems are wider. It is intended to be tucked in at the foot of the mattress to keep it in place.
Fitted Sheet: The sheet that covers the mattress and has elasticized corners and edges is called a fitted sheet. Fitted sheets are tailored to fit snuggly over the mattress to prevent shifting and bunching up during the night. “Deep pocket” sheets refer to fitted sheets that have more material in the sides and corners to accommodate thicker mattresses.
Depending on the manufacturer, some types of pillow top mattresses can add too much height for standard fitted sheets. Since there are no standardized industry specifications regarding bedding, the following is a general guide to give you some idea of when you might need “deep pocket” fitted sheets as opposed to the regular kind.
Thread Count: Thread count refers to the number of threads per inch of material. In relation to bed sheets, thread count can range anywhere from 80 to 1200. The popular belief is that the higher the number, the softer the feel and the more durable the fabric.
But when purchasing bed linens, there are other factors to consider such as the quality of the raw materials used to make fabric, the way the fabric was woven, ply and yarn size. Depending on how they are made, this means that sheets with a lower thread count might feel just as luxurious as those with a higher thread count and that are more expensive.
Ply: The quality of the yarn largely depends on the ply, which refers to the number of strands in each fabric thread. This is why a bed sheet made from 2-ply material might not necessarily be of a better quality than one made from 1-ply fabric.
Yarn Size: Yarn size is the thickness of the yarn used to weave the material; a higher number means a finer yarn. The soft, comfortable feel that most everyone wants in bed sheets is generally created with a thread-count between 180 and 320 using 1-ply thread with a yarn size of 40 to 100 pounds per yard.
Listed below are the most common fabrics used to make bed sheets and bedding accessories.
Cotton is made from the fiber of cotton plants. Egyptian cotton is considered to be the best type of cotton available and has the longest fibers. Pima cotton, developed and grown in the Southwestern states of the US, is the next best kind. It is an ideal material for bed sheets because it absorbs moisture and is breathable, durable and easy to care for.
Percale is considered one of the best fabrics for sheets and is the most common weave used for bedding. A closely woven plain-weave, medium weight fabric, percale is made from combed yarns with a thread count of 180 or more. Percale can also be created from a blend of polyester and cotton. The finished product tends to be soft and cool to the touch, but has a crisper feel than sateen weave.
Flannel sheets are popular in colder climates because of their warmth. Flannel can be made from wool, wool and cotton or wool and synthetic fibers. The brushed fiber finish gives the fabric its napped texture. Typically, flannel sheets are rated by weight per square yard rather than by thread count. Five-ounce flannel was once the heaviest weight available, but today it can be found as high as six ounces per square yard. The higher the number, the thicker and more luxurious the flannel will be.
Linen is a fabric created from the fibers of flax plants. It is highly absorbent and very breathable, which is the main reason it is a popular fabric in hot countries, because a bed made with linen sheets will keep a person cool. It is a durable material and tends to become softer with use. Of all of the more popular bedding fabrics, linen is the hardest to care for; it wrinkles easily and needs to be ironed with steam and at a hot temperature.
Microfiber is a synthetic material that holds its shape extremely well and is very durable. It is washable and breathable. Due to the way it is produced, microfiber is naturally water-resistant. It is a tightly woven fabric usually made from rayon, polyester, acrylic and nylon or a blend of one or more of these man-made materials. Typically, it has a soft, textured finish that resembles suede, but this ultra-fine fiber can be produced to have different textures, including that of leather. It is commonly used for comforter sets, decorative pillows and bed skirts.
Genuine silk is made from the cocoons of silkworms, which are technically not worms at all; rather they are caterpillars. It is expensive to make; to produce the cocoons, the silkworms need constant monitoring and feeding. On average, 30,000 silkworms produce only 12 pounds of silk. To make silk, the cocoons are unwound and the resulting raw silk is then spun into thread used for various purposes, including the making of sheets. Silk has long fibers, is a strong fabric and prized for its rich look and soft feel.
Sateen and satin are terms that describe the weaving technique used to make the cloth. The finish is created by stitching four over, one under, which places the most threads on the surface. It typically has a glossy sheen with a dull back. Sateen and satin are produced with both light and heavyweight yarns. When short-staple yarns like cotton are used, the finish is labeled as “sateen.” If filament fibers such as silk, nylon or polyester are used to produce the fabric, the resulting finish is referred to as “satin.”
Once you have chosen the type of sheets for your bed, now it’s time to add those finishing touches that transform a bedroom into a your own unique sanctuary.
A comforter is a medium to thick covering made of two layers of cloth filled with batting or down, and then stitched together. Sometimes differentiated from ones not filled with down, duvet is actually another term for comforter, no matter what material has been used to fill it. Comforters are usually partnered with matching shams and bed skirt to complete the look.
A duvet cover is like an envelope designed to encase the comforter, protecting it from daily use, and reducing the need to launder it often. Since they are removable and washable, duvet covers are especially useful for larger sized comforters such as queen and king. To make sure that it fits properly and that it doesn’t bunch up, before purchasing a duvet cover, measure the comforter you are buying it for and then select a cover that is at most 1 to 2 inches larger.
A blanket is a rectangular piece of woven fabric used as a covering for warmth, usually on a bed. It is generally placed between the sheets and the comforter. A light weight one, even in warmer climates, will keep you comfortable throughout the night.
A pillow sham is a decorative covering for standard (not accent) pillows. It has a slit in the back, usually in the middle, where the pillow is inserted. Depending on personal preference, a bed can be dressed with two sets of pillows, one set encased in pillowcases, which is placed behind the second set using pillow shams.
A bed skirt or dust ruffle is a piece of cloth intended to cover the box spring on three sides, hiding the space beneath the bed. It visually blends the bottom half of the bed to the comforter and the other decorative accessories you use to make up your bed.
Bedspreads cover the entire bed by hanging all the way to the floor, eliminating the need for a comforter and bed skirt. Standard size beds have a drop of 21”, which means that if you have a bed that is higher or lower, you may have to adjust the bedspread accordingly for a better fit. A bedspread is generally not as thick as a comforter. For that finishing touch, it is usually folded over the pillows used for sleeping.
Nothing makes a bed look more inviting and comfortable than a variety of decorative pillows. They also create a chic, stylish focal point. Decorative pillows come in number of colors, patterns, shapes and sizes.
While the width and length for mattress sizes are semi-standard, the thickness can vary. Although bed linen measurements are based on mattress sizes, actual dimensions may vary, depending on the manufacturer. Fitted sheets will be the same size as the mattress you are buying the sheets for, plus the depth allotted to accommodate the thickness, which again can vary from brand to brand. The following is a general guide to give you an idea of what to buy when purchasing bedding for a particular mattress size.
Bedding Type Size Width Length
What Else Should I keep in Mind When Buying Bedding?
Buying bedding in sets is an ideal way to conveniently and economically coordinate what you need to decorate your bedroom.
When buying sheet sets, check to make sure that the pocket depth of the fitted sheet will fit the mattress you are purchasing the sheets for, especially if you have a pillow top mattress.
Better quality fitted sheets will have elastic edges all the way around while economy fitted sheets have just elasticized corners. To minimize shifting and bunching, select fitted sheets with elastic on all four sides.
Buying a hypoallergenic sheet or comforter or bed-in-a-bag set is a practical option when allergies are a concern. Even if you don’t have to worry about allergies, purchase bedding with a thread count of 220 and up: it has a tighter weave and this will help block out dirt and dust that collects on fabrics.
Buying three sets of sheets for each bed in the house will allow for one set on the bed, one set ready for use and one set in the wash.
When purchasing sheet sets, also purchase extra sets of pillowcases at the same time. If this is not an option, buy pillowcases in complementary colors, so that you will have additional cases on hand should they wear out or you prefer to change them more often than the sheets.
Plan on using a mattress pad—this will protect the mattress and be easier to clean. Buy a good one with an average or above average thread count; avoid ones with a plastic backing as this will reduce the breathable qualities of the fabric.