GLOSSARY OF FABRIC DEFINITIONS
Here are some simple definitions of the main cloth types used to produce the sheeting for most bed linens along with some of the more commonly used words used describing different fabrics, items and their properties.
A versatile fabric particularly well suited to bed linens: it is a natural fibre grown in many parts of the world, it is highly absorbent, gives year-round comfort, it “breathes” and yet is durable and becomes softer over time.
A generic classification for the strong, lustrous, long staple cotton largely produced in the Nile River Valley. Although historically it all came from Egypt, today it is also produced in other countries, but still complies with the original Egyptian standards of quality. To qualify as “Egyptian” the staples must be at least 3 cm in length.
Sea Island Cotton:
The finest quality cotton is said to be Sea Island Cotton, but there is a very limited supply and all of it is used by the garment industry as it is better suited to shirting. For bed linen, the best quality is Egyptian cotton.
The quality of cotton depends on the length of the individual fibres or staple. The longer the staple, the better the cotton. Longer staples can be combed finer to remove small fibres allowing the cotton to be spun into a finer texture with more tensile strength and woven into a softer, more lustrous fabric.
Carding is the process in the manufacture of cotton where the fibres are separated, cleaned and formed into a continuous strand. This process removes most of the impurities and all short and broken fibres.
A refining process, which can only be used with higher grades of cotton. After carding the fibres are combed to remove the shorter fibres, leaving the longer fibres, which can then be spun into a finer, stronger yarn. The sheeting woven from such yarns will have higher thread counts than carded cotton.
A plain weave, lightweight cotton fabric woven from carded or combed cotton yarn with a minimum thread count of 180 threads per square inch. Any plain weave fabric can be called percale, even 100% polyester so long as it has over 180 threads per square inch. N.B Some brands use a measure with threads per square cm so it is important to be sure which is being shown.
A cotton fabric made with a satin weave. Rather than a one-over-one under weave like percale, the warp or weft threads “float” or are passed over several filling threads, creating a fabric with a silken feel and a very smooth and lustrous surface. Sateen can be produced in both light and heavy weights. It is not as durable a weave as percale, and it should ideally be ironed to restore its lustre after washing.
These terms are used interchangeably to describe decorative woven fabrics. Strictly speaking the term jacquard refers to the loom on which the fabric is woven and damask is the correct name for the woven cloth.
A damask design is one in which alternating satin and matte textures (produced by varying the warp or weft) create the pattern. Damask can be woven in a single or multiple colours and the pattern can also be seen on the reverse side. Designs are often woven in a satin finish so that the light reflects on the surface and highlights the definition of the pattern.
The jacquard loom was invented in France by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801 and enabled weavers to produce more complex and intricate woven designs than ever before. It is useful to know that the jacquard loom can only weave sheeting fabric to a maximum width of 295cm and bedspread fabrics to a maximum 275cm.
One of a group of organic man-made fibres that go through several processes to become a very thin fibre of less than 1 denier and with such a fine yarn can be very closely woven.
Modal is a processed bio-based textile made from reconstituted cellulose from the beech tree. Modal is considered a type of rayon. While rayon may be made of the wood pulp of several different trees, modal uses only beechwood. Modal is considered bio-based rather than natural because, though the raw materials used to make it are natural, they are heavily processed using chemicals.
Like other types of rayon, originally marketed as “artificial silk,” modal is soft, smooth and breathes well. Its texture is like that of cotton or silk; it is cool to the touch and very absorbent. The combination of strength and lightness give this fabric its great durability, suppleness and incredibly soft almost silk-like handle.
A general term for a multitude of processes and treatments which a fabric may undergo after it has been woven. It is at this stage that the fabric is made suitable for its intended end use. That may mean making the fabric shrink proof, softer or crease resistant, or a combination of these and many more.
High quality cotton fabrics are heat processed to remove surplus fibres from the surface of the cloth resulting in a very smooth finish such as in our percales.
When cotton is processed, it is under tension and is essentially in a “stretched” state. If finished fabric is immersed in water under no tension, it will shrink, so a process called “sanforisation/sanforising” is common for fabrics used for bedlinens. The fabric is passed between 2 rollers which apply steam under pressure. Fabrics bearing this trademark are generally accepted not to shrink more than 1%.
A decorative stitch, usually along a border or hem, that creates an openwork pattern by drawing out several weft yarns, and then sewing the warp yarns together in a uniform pattern
A row of fine closely stitched satin stitch embroidery giving a neat finish to pillowcases. Often this can be in a contrasting colour to the body of the linens as a design feature, but is also used in self colour and often more than one row of stitching is used, as in Palazzo.
This is a measure of the number of threads, warp (lengthwise) and weft (width wise), which are woven into one square inch of fabric. Any type of fabric has a thread count, so to use the term solely as a means of describing the quality of that fabric is misleading.
Generally speaking, when describing bed linens, the higher the thread count, the smoother and finer the sheet. However, thread count is only one part of the story. The quality of the cotton fibre and yarns and the way they are woven and finished are equally, if not more important.
It is possible to cram many inferior, short-staple cotton yarns into a square inch to create a high thread count, but the resulting fabric will feel heavy and coarse. A sheet woven from a high-quality yarn described as 200 thread count will feel so much better than a basic quality product with a higher count.
It is not unusual to use “plied” yarn, which is produced by twisting together very fine threads. For marketing purposes, it is not uncommon to count such twisted yarn as double or more. For example a fabric with 250 4 ply threads to a square inch becomes a 1000 thread count product.
The fine downy undercoat of the cashmere goat which is used to produce an immensely soft, fine and luxurious cloth. The best quality will use the longer fibres taken from the neck and belly. Up to 8 times warmer than other wools, it is very light and lasts well if looked after.
This is a French term for embossed velvet. The technique involves passing plain velvet between a heated engraved metal roller and a paper roller to achieve a design in relief on the surface of the velvet.
Linen, woven from flax is, considered to be, the finest material for table linens, and by many people for sheets as well. Linen is extremely durable, yet soft and lustrous, and it only gets better with age and washing. Linen’s ability to “breathe” and absorb moisture, and its cool, smooth finish makes it particularly appealing in summer.
Colour that is gradiated in shade, fading from light to dark.
Pillowcases are often described as Oxford or Housewife. An Oxford pillowcase has a cuff or flange, which stands proud of the main pillow on 4 sides. A Housewife is the simplest style of pillowcase, which fits the pillow exactly with just an opening at one end.
Standard pillowcases are 50x75cm. Kingsize pillowcases are 50x90cm and are designed to sit 2 across on a large kingsize bed.
A Euro pillowcase is the cover for the large square pillow sitting at the top of the bed behind the regular pillows. The Euro square measures 65x65cms and is mainly used as a decorative pillow, or for propping you up as you sit in bed reading the Sunday papers!
A Boudoir pillow (also called a Breakfast or Baby pillow) measures 30cm x 40cm and is used mainly as a decorative pillow. It can also be used as a travel pillow.