I am going to tell you a bedtime story (if you can stay awake long enough) filled with intrigue and suspense, wealth and betrayal-- and some pretty sheets.
There are many varieties 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 the longest cotton fibers at an inch and three-eighths or longer.
Due to these longer, silkier fibers, ELS cotton absorbs and retains vibrant colors beautifully. Much better than short staple cotton and many other natural fibers.
"Pima" is the generic term for the Extra Long Staple (ELS) cotton which is grown in the U.S., Peru, Israel, and Australia. Pima accounts for about 3 % of the cotton grown in the United States.
Pima is more expensive for farmers to produce than short-staple cotton varieties, and therefore more expensive for manufacturers to buy wholesale. Here's the intrigue- Manufacturers wanted the profits from selling silky ELS Pima products, but pricing them competitively meant lower profit margins.
|Nancy Boszhardt, Designer|
So, unfortunately, as is often the case with laws designed to protect American consumers, manufacturers successfully lobbied to loosen them.
The result was that gorgeous United States Pima began to get a bad reputation for quality, because manufacturers were allowed to put "Pima Cotton" on labels, (and consumers, understandably, thought that is what they were getting) when the product might contain only 60% Pima cotton, and the rest regular short-staple cotton.
The unsurprising, downward-spiraling result is that manufacturers were rewarded with hefty profits for confusing consumers who thought they were buying something they weren't. United States cotton farmers lost out, because befuddled consumers began to believe that U.S. Pima cotton products were not good, consumers lost out because they couldn't figure out why their sheets were so scratchy, and the United States economy lost out because U.S. manufacturers were essentially competing to produce the lowest possible quality at the highest possible price. 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 trumpets...) American cotton farmers responded to protect themselves and consumers, by creating a non-profit organization which holds and protects the trademark, Supima ®.
Today by law, a manufacturer may not use the term Supima ® on a product label unless what is inside the package is, in fact, 100% luxurious, American grown, Extra Long Staple cotton.
If sheets say Supima ®, they are 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.
Supima ® cotton has been followed and inspected 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 are paying for.
So what about Egyptian cotton? Is it more luxurious? Not necessarily. It is important to be aware that Egypt also grows many cotton varieties, including Extra Long-Staple cotton. However, 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 does not necessarily mean that the sheets are 100% Long-Staple or Extra Long-Staple cotton. Make sense?
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 (ELS) cotton such as Supima ® 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 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, you can 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 them all day though 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. Time for bed!