Friday, February 3, 2012

Counting Sheets

Walker-Simmons Designs

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.

D. Porthault

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.

D. Porthault

"Pima" is the generic term for Extra Long Staple (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 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.

Via Pinterest

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) though the product might actually 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.

Eleanor Cummings

So, in a dramatic turn of events, 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.  It isn't the United States Department of Agriculture's fault that 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.

Gerald Pomeroy

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.

Deeda Blair

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.

Mary McDonald

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!


  1. oh, I just love talking about sheets and fabric count!! wonderful informative post! I've read that ELS is superior to Supima, I wonder if that is indeed true??

    happy weekend to you both!

    1. Hi Joan, me too! Supima is Extra-Long Staple (ELS) cotton, and it is currently the only guarantee that the consumer is getting 100% ELS in the product. I am so glad you stopped in. xo NG

  2. What a wonderful post and I need new sheets for our bedroom. Hmmmm, thanks for sharing some wonderful looking beds! Really love your blog!

    ox Mary Anne

  3. This is very helpful. There is so much that we have to look for now, and this just made it a lot easier.
    Thank you for sharing, and have a great weekend.

  4. Thanks for a most informative post!
    I'm going to take a nap now...


  5. I have such a weakness for beautiful bed linens.

  6. i just found your blog and what a great introduction filled with immense knowledge plus intrigue!
    now i can purchase sheets with a glean of knowledge versus succumbing to all the hype

  7. I love this post. I am up way too late. I will ask you tomorrow where to buy my best sheets! We need some new ones!

    I love you both......and the quality and sincerity of your posts........(just so you know....your engraved thing with the 3 times on my refrigerator door. (it has those ribbons criss-crossed...)

    3 of them....proudly displayed !

  8. EXCELLENT post, I didnt realize how little I knew about sheets! I purchased some high thread count sheets only to find that they were the worst sheets I've ever purchased. Now I know its probably because of the poor quality of cotton!

  9. Thanks! I always wondered what Supima was. I did know about the thread counts and the splitting of hairs, err threads, to make the count higher. I love old cotton sheets... dried on the clothes line.

  10. This was very helpful. I didn't know about ELS and was always confused by the thread count and labels on linens. Thank you.


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