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Demystifying the hype behind thread count – is it the be all and end all?

18 May 2016

Thread count refers to the number of threads per square inch in a fabric. The number given is based upon the threads woven vertically (warp) and horizontally (weft), and it is generally considered that the higher the thread count is, the softer and better quality the fabric is. Is this really the case though?

Thread Count

Quality bedding, which is where thread count really comes into play, should be judged on more than this. The thread count can sometimes be deceiving – extra threads can be woven into the weft threads in order to increase the thread count, which is why sometimes thread counts can end up in the thousands. The added threads are called ‘picks’ and the fact that they can increase the thread count in this way lends rise to the idea that a high count does not necessarily correlate to a better quality. As an example, many weavers hold the opinion that the maximum number of threads that can be woven into a square inch is between 500 and 600. Bearing in mind that thread counts can extend to between 800-1000, this enhances the theory that threads may be added by some manufacturers simply to bump up the thread count.

Chain Stitch

Of course, this is not to say that thread count does not hold some weight when considering which sheets to buy. It should be considered, but not as a standalone factor. The main things to look for are whether the sheets are Egyptian or Supima cotton, where it is woven, how the cotton is treated, and lastly the thread count. The hype around Egyptian or Supima cotton, unlike thread count, is real and worth considering. Simply put it is the best cotton you can buy and probably the most comfortable. Be sure to check the label though and find out what percentage of sheets actually contain the high grade cotton – it should be 100% or pure.


When considering cotton sheets, it is important to pay attention to the type of weave that has been used to construct the sheets. Any good manufacturer will state on the packaging the type of weave used. The difference in weaves can dramatically alter the feel or ‘handle’ of the sheets. A percale weave uses closely woven carded and combed cotton. This creates a hard-wearing, crisp and dense fabric suitable for bedding, it is also matt in appearance. A sateen weave reflects light creating a sheen. This is down to the way the cotton is woven using spun yarns. It also has a much softer and silkier handle than percale. On the other hand a flannel weave gives a fluffy appearance, which is extremely soft, as a result of the soft plain or twill weave fabric.

Once you have taken the above into account, if you check the thread count is no less than 200 then this will usually be more than adequate. Of course personal preference plays a part and it is important to go for what you feel is most comfortable for you. Most people generally prefer 100% cotton sheets but within this remit you can choose from silkier finishes, more durable fabrics and crisp sheets to name but a few. Just remember – the quality is not all about the numbers.