Bed linen glossary of terms – a buying guide.
Buying bed linen and linen accessories can be a confusing process these days. There are so many varieties of fabric, each with their own properties and different types of manufacturing and finishing processes that affect the feel, quality, durability and price of the final product. Most of us have a vague awareness that ‘Egyptian Cotton’ is the most luxurious fabric for bedding and that thread count is important, but with all the claims made by today’s manufacturers and marketers, how do we really know what we’re getting? To help clear up the confusion, we’ve put together a bed linen glossary of terms used in the industry which should hopefully help you see the wood from the trees (and your Egyptian Cotton from your Pima).
Bed Linen Glossary of Terms
Applique – a sewing technique whereby a small cut-out piece of fabric is attached to a larger piece to form a design or pattern.
Binding – the finishing of an edge or hem of a piece of fabric by rolling or pressing then stitching on a trim or edging decoration.
Blend – when two or more fibres are mixed together to create a new fabric with different properties.
Boll – the round protective case surrounding the seeds of the cotton or flax plants.
Boudoir pillowcase – the covering for a small decorative pillow, commonly 30cm x 40cm
Brocade – a rich fabric woven with a raised pattern (often in silver or gold).
Brushed cotton – at the end of the manufacturing process, the cotton fabric is brushed on one side to remove excess lint and to raise the surface giving a soft and fluffy finish. This is how you create flannelette or flannel.
Combed cotton – a very soft version of cotton which is made by treating the cotton fibres so that the staple threads line up as perfectly as possible and are aligned for spinning. It gives you the smoothest thread possible from the fibres that have been used. It’s also often the name given to blends of different grades of cotton.
Cording – a narrow strip of fabric wrapped and sewn around a cord, used as a decorative finishing element (also known as piping).
Cotton – the soft fluffy cellulose staple fibre that grows in a protective case (boll) around the seeds of the cotton plant, native to tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world. The fibre is spun into yarn and woven to make a soft breathable fabric.
Damask – a rich, lustrous fabric made of silk, linen, cotton of wool, with reversible patterns woven into it.
Dorset button – a craft-made button originating in the county of Dorset in the seventeenth century.
Down – the layer of fine bird feathers found underneath the larger, tough exterior feathers. It’s a great soft, thermal insulator so is commonly used as padding in high-quality bedding and clothing materials.
Eiderdown – the down feathers specifically from the Eider duck, and the term for a quilt or coverlet filled with down or other insulating material.
Egyptian Cotton – coming from a different plant than other grades or types of cotton, Egyptian cotton originated in the rich soils of the Nile valley and produces a longer fibre or ‘staple’. The longer staples cause the resulting spun yarn to be stronger and finer than regular cotton which means it can be woven more tightly to create a uniquely soft, strong, durable and breathable fabric. The best quality cotton available on the market.
Embroidery – the sewing of raised and ornamental designs or patterns on woven fabrics.
Euro pillowcase – the covering of a square pillow, often used decoratively on the bed behind the functional pillows, commonly 65cm x 65cm.
Fibre – a hair-like raw material made of plant cells which can be spun and woven into fabric.
Fitted Sheet – a fabric bottom sheet with elasticated corners designed to fit over a mattress.
Flat Sheet – an ordinary sheet without elasticated corners.
Flax – a blue flowered herbaceous plant. The textile fibre is obtained from its stalks and spun and woven to make linen.
Garment washing – a process by which fabrics are treated to remove starch and develop softness after manufacture.
Hem – the edge of a piece of fabric that has been turned over and sewn to prevent fraying.
Housewife pillowcase – a covering for a pillow that has a sewn edge and fits closely round the pillow with no border.
Jacquard – an intricate variegated pattern formed on a special jacquard loom which has perforated cards for the production of brocaded fabrics.
Jersey – a type of fabric construction that originated in the Channel Islands and which can be made of various materials, including cotton and synthetic fibres. It produces a lightweight and stretchy finish, ideal for draped textiles.
Linen – a strong, cool and absorbent cloth woven from the fibres of the flax plant. Ideal for use in hot weather.
Mercerise – treating natural threads to shrink them and make them stronger and more lustrous. It also increases their affinity for dyes.
Micromodal – a sustainable fibre derived from beech trees. It makes a smooth and cool drapable material that is a great alternative to silk.
Oxford pillowcase – a covering for a pillow that has a border or frill. A more dressy and elegant pillow covering than the Housewife.
Percale – a closely woven plain-weave fabric, usually of 200 thread count or higher that is strong, durable and washes well. It is smooth, of matt appearance and can be woven from cotton or blended fibres.
Pima Cotton – a cotton plant that produces a strong and firm fibre developed primarily in the south-western US by the selection and breeding of Egyptian cottons.
Piping – (see cording)
Ply – the particular number of threads from which a fabric is made.
Sateen – a short-staple cotton fabric woven like satin to produce a lustrous finish.
Satin – a weave that has a glossy surface and a dull back.
Sham – a decorative covering for a pillow (North American version of a pillowcase).
Silk – a very fine and lustrous fibre produced by silkworms to make cocoons and which is spun into thread and woven into fabric.
Staple – an individual fibre of cotton.
Thread count – the number of threads woven together in a square inch of fabric. The finer the thread, the tighter the weave, hence higher thread counts being associated with fine quality. Beware very high thread counts (over 600) though. Some manufacturers might make one thread from four plies twisted together, thus giving quadruple the thread count without an associated impact on the actual quality of the finished product.
Tog – the measure of thermal resistance of a unit area used to label the warmth of duvets. Lightweight summer duvets typically range from 3.0 – 4.5 tog, Spring/Autumn duvets range from 7.5 – 10.5 tog and winter duvets range from 12.0 – 13.5 tog.
Top sheet – a flat sheet which you lie underneath in bed, and which would have blankets or coverlets on top. An arrangement used in traditional bed dressing and often seen on hotel beds. Top sheets and blankets/quilts have largely been replaced by duvets in Europe.
Valance – a decorative border that hangs down over the side of the mattress to hide the bed structure and space beneath.
Voile – a very thin, fine, lightweight, semi-sheer fabric made in plain-weave from cotton, silk, wool or synthetic fibres.
Waffle Weave – (also known as honeycomb weave) – a fabric construction which is very absorbent and allows air to circulate around the fabric so making it quick-drying. It is often used to make towels and robes for these reasons.
In an era where, luxury can be used to describe anything from cat food to cheese boards, Dormitory looks to what true luxury means – quality materials, an unstinting eye for detail and true, old fashioned craftsmanship. We take pride in the creation of well-crafted products of integrity. Shop our products here.