If you can stay awake long enough, I'm going to tell you a bedtime story- filled with intrigue and suspense, wealth and betrayal, and some pretty sheets.
There are many types of cotton grown in the world, but Extra Long Staple cotton, abbreviated ELS, is a luxury fiber that is universally revered for its smooth strength, superior softness, beautiful silken luster and exceptional durability. ELS cotton fibers are an inch and three-eighths or longer.
Because it has longer, silkier fibers, ELS cotton absorbs and retains vibrant colors better than short staple cotton, and many other fibers as well.
"Pima" is a generic term for ELS cotton grown in the U.S., Peru, Israel, and Australia. Pima accounts for about 3 % of the cotton grown in the United States.
Pima is expensive for farmers to produce, and therefore more expensive for manufacturers to buy wholesale. Here's the intrigue- Manufacturers wanted the profits from selling Pima products, but pricing them competitively means lower profit margins.
|Nancy Boszhardt, Designer|
So, unfortunately, as is often the case with laws designed to protect American consumers, short-sighted manufacturers lobbied to loosen them.
The result was that gorgeous United States Pima began to get a bad reputation for quality, because lawmakers allowed labels to say "Pima Cotton" (and consumers thought that was what they were buying) when in reality, the product might only contain 60% Pima and the rest short-staple cotton.
The unsurprising, downward-spiraling result is that corporations were rewarded with hefty profits for confusing consumers who thought they were buying something they weren't. United States cotton farmers lost out, as people began to think that perhaps U.S. Pima cotton wasn't that great, consumers lost out because they were befuddled about why their sheets were so scratchy, and the economy lost out because manufacturers began competing to produce the lowest possible quality at the highest price the market would bear. And the law was protecting them.
This, kids, is why your parents tell you that honesty is always the best policy.
So, in a dramatic turn of events (sound of angels singing...) American cotton farmers responded to protect themselves and consumers, by creating a non-profit organization to hold and protect the trademark, Supima ®.
By law, a manufacturer may not use the term Supima ® on the product label unless what is inside the package is, in fact, 100% American grown ELS Pima cotton.
If a product says Supima ®, it is made of 100% ELS cotton grown in the United States, of the g.barbadense species, considered to be one of the finest cottons on earth.
To further protect consumers and farmers, Supima ® cotton has been followed through every stage of the growing, shipping, processing and manufacturing process to ensure that consumers (now here's a crazy idea)
actually get what they pay for.
So what about Egyptian cotton? Egypt also grows many cotton varieties, including extra long-staple cotton. However, it is important to be aware that any cotton grown in Egypt can be called "Egyptian Cotton" regardless of the staple length.
|Nancy Boszhardt, Designer|
In other words, "100% Egyptian cotton" on a package of sheets, even if it's written in fancy script lettering, means only that the cotton was grown in Egypt. It doesn't necessarily mean the sheets are 100% long-staple or extra long- staple cotton.
Thread count is where it gets more complicated. I know, you're wondering how it is possible to make this more complicated.
Hey, it isn't the United States Department of Agriculture's fault you frittered away your youth without getting a Ph.D. in Botany, now is it?
|Megan Yager, Designer|
Thread count is the number of threads of yarn per inch for each direction of woven fabric. Despite the hype, thread count (TC) is actually less important than the quality of the cotton. 100% Extra long-staple cotton will likely be stronger, feel finer and have more sheen, even woven at lower thread counts, than regular short staple cotton.
This is why the word Supima® is important and why American cotton farmers were getting their (silky smooth) knickers in a twist. 400 TC Supima sheets may cost more but look and feel better, longer, than say, 600 TC regular cotton sheets.
Weaving and finishing practices do play a role, however, in the feel of the finished sheet.
Percale, a closely woven plain weave combed and carded prior to spinning, is considered to be one of the most desirable fabrics for a sheet, especially if it has a high thread count and is made with ELS cotton. If sheets say Percale and Supima, expect to pay a king's ransom. If you like sheets to feel cool and crisp, percale is the weave you'll like best, particularly if you iron your sheets. High quality percale feels divine, but wrinkles intensely. Don't buy percale and then complain about the wrinkles, they come with the territory.
Sateen is woven with more yarn surface on the face of the cloth. If you like your sheets to feel heavy, floppy and soft, with a rich satin sheen, you'll love sateen. You can iron all day and they won't get crisp. All cotton not treated with chemicals for wrinkle-resistance, or blended with polyester will wrinkle. However, sateen will generally wrinkle less than percale.
Jersey is woven like your favorite T-shirt, using circular, warp or flatbed knitting techniques. Drapey-er than sateen, it will wrinkle least because the weave is more elastic.
Flannel is woven in a plain or twill weave and napped on one or both sides. 600 TC Supima flannel, brushed on both sides feels like heaven on cold winter nights.