By: Will Robertson

High thread count Egyptian cotton bed sheets are a very popular item in the luxury bedding category recently. Fabric thread counts have spiraled to dizzying heights, and now range from 180 to 1500. Traditional wisdom counsels that fabric increases in softness as thread count increases, so shoppers gravitate toward high numbers when making their final purchasing decision. However, the rules for determining quality fabrics in the marketplace has changed. You can no longer make an apple-to-apple comparison between two bed sheet sets based strictly on thread count numbers.

Let's begin to unravel the mystery of high thread count fabric with a simple definition of thread count: number of threads per square inch of fabric. That's simple enough. Cut out a square inch of fabric, count the number of threads and there you have your thread count. The only problem is that you need a microscope to actually see the tiny threads. In fact the way professionals at textile mills get an accurate thread count is to have a sample of fabric analyzed at a lab - an expensive process.

1) If you did send your 1000tc, 1200tc, or 1500tc fabric to a lab, you might be surprised by the results. What you would learn is that:

2) Thread size decreases as thread count increases.

3) Threads are twisted (like the cords of a rope) before weaving to achieve higher thread count.

4) Twisted threads are referred to as "multi ply," and are usually not as durable as single ply threads.

5) Fiber length is more important in creating a luxurious hand than thread count.

Bed Sheet Fabric Terminology

Of coarse the average shopper does not have access to microscopes and textile labs, but can rely on a simple education about how fabrics are made to inform their bed sheets buying decision. It will help you to understand a few common fabric terms: thread size; twisted thread; multi ply; 2 ply, 3 ply, etc.; single ply; staple fiber length

Let's look a little closer now at each attribute. Thread size is fairly straight forward. It's simply the diameter of the threads used to weave a fabric. Thread can be thin or thick, producing fabrics of different weights. But threads can also be twisted before weaving, as a way of producing thicker fabrics with a softer hand (feel) from thinner threads. A twisted thread is a combination of 2 or more threads that wrap around one another to form a single thread - kind of like a rope is made by wrapping several smaller ropes together to form one cord.

A twisted thread is also referred to as a multi ply thread and can be 2 ply, 3 ply, or more. A multi ply thread is usually weaker than a single ply, not because the twisting makes them weaker, but because the fiber length is usually shorter than a high quality single ply thread. Staple fiber length refers to the length of the individual cotton fibers that make up a single thread. Longer fibers come from better cotton and make stronger, smoother fabrics.