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Linen 101

Your Resource Guide to Everything About Linen

Manufacturing     How are linen products made?

Fabric

fabric

Fabric is a cloth material that is brought together through different crossing techniques. There are many different kinds of fabrics and cloth varieties with different patterns and handlings. Today the textile industry is the second largest employment generator after agriculture! The way a fabric is made, maintained and manufactured heavily affects its performance, durability but most importantly, its quality. That is why it is so important to know the origin of your product and what type of material and processing went about to create it.

The value of a fabric first and foremost depends on its fibers. Fibers stem from two main sources: naturally based and manufactured. Natural fibers, also known as, staple fibers, are animal and insect based, plant based, rubber based and minerally based. Cotton, for example, is part of the naturally based fibers. Manufactured fibers, also known as, filament fibers derive from raw materials, regenerated fibers, synthetic fibers and inorganic fibers. Polyester, for example, is part of the manufactured based fibers.

Manufacturing Techniques

A visual examination must be taken under consideration upon fiber identification. Many fibers in both categories resemble one another in terms of chemical composition, physical properties, performance characteristics and care methods. The look and feel of many textiles feel very similar. In other words, it is possible to produce polyester filaments that are reminiscent of silk.

What makes a fabric soft and of higher quality greatly depends on the fineness of the fibers. The finer the fibers, the softer and more pliable the fabric. Fineness of fabrics can be controlled through various methods for both natural and manufactured materials.

Thread count and GSM:

Fabrics can be measured in two ways: through thread count or through gram per square centimeter (GSM). Thread count (TC) is used to measure natural based fibers, whereas GSM is used to measure manufactured fibers. They are both key ways to determining the difference between high and low quality fabric.

Thread Count (TC)

thread count chart

Refers to the number of picks or ends per unit length of the fabric. In other words, it is the number of threads woven into one square inch of fabric. This number is based on the threads woven horizontally ("weft") and vertically ("warp"). Extra threads can also be woven into the weft threads to increase the thread count. These added threads are called "picks" and are added in the overall count, which is how some sheets end up having thread counts in the thousands. Thread count is a key factor in determining:

  1. How long a fabric will last
  2. The amount of shrinkage you can expect upon washing it
  3. The print quality of patterns and designs
What’s the difference between a low thread count versus a high thread count?

It can automatically be felt in the touch and feel of the fabric. Contrary to what one might believe, the higher the thread count does not make it “softer” per say. You will find that the higher the thread count the more durable and dense the product will feel, and the lower the thread count the more light and airy the product will feel.

However, a TC of 200 is soft and of good standard, whereas a 300 TC is noticeably softer. It is helpful to know what type of sleeper you are and what you enjoy sleeping in prior to making a selection. Your personal preference is most important. However, the best test will come only when the sheets are taken home, washed, and slept in.

Higher the thread count = more durable and dense
Lower the thread count = more light and airy

Grams per Square Centimeter (GSM)

GSM refers to the weight of the fabric and the density of the fabric in terms of mass and surface of an area. In other words, it is used to determine:

  1. The lightness or heaviness of a fabric
  2. The thinness or thickness of a fabric

This weight varies from garment to garment. However, compared to thread count, the heavier a fabric is does not mean that it is of better quality. If a fabric has an extremely high GSM this could result in it being too thick. In a comforter or duvet, for example, if the GSM is too high, this could result in a sweaty sleep. In terms of bedroom comforters and bedding around 200, 300 or 400 GSM are all fantastic recommendations. The fabric will be durable and soft, without being too thick.

A Common Misconception: A higher GSM equates to “better quality”

Designing

The process of choosing the right design for the right fabric is called fabrication. The designer either designs something specifically for the fabric or a design is made prior to choosing the fabric. Whichever comes first, the fabric has the ultimate say. One cannot force a fabric to cooperate with a design, a design has to be made for a certain fabric. A designer will consider both visual and physical qualities of a fabric when designing a style. He or she first takes into account its physical properties: the finish, texture and weight of a fabric, and then takes into account its visual qualities: color, texture and pattern. After this, the fabric is either printed or weaved with its chosen design.

Patterns are integrated within the fabric through the fibers or are applied to fabrics through printing or embroidery. After meticulous planning, trimming, testing, cutting and printing the fabric moves onto the finishing process.

Finishing

Before leaving the warehouse all fabrics go through a finishing process or an effects process. This is where finishing treatments are applied to fabrics for decorative, as well as, functional purposes. Functional finishes perfect the overall look of a fabric, removes all imperfections, discolorations and loose fibers. In addition, it also improves the suitability of a production. For example, by aiding it to be anti-static, stain resistant or crease resistant. Decorative finishes affect the overall appearance of a fabric by dying, starching, printing, flocking or glazing.

There are 3 factors that determine the quality and feel of a product:
  1. The fiber from which it is made
  2. How the fabric is woven
  3. The thread count

Fibers

(100%) Cotton

Cotton is a soft, fluffy, staple fiber. It is the most popular choice of fabric when it comes to home textiles because:

  1. Of its pleasant texture and matte look.
  2. Its good capacity to absorb, hold and dry moisture.
  3. It is extremely comfortable to sleep in.
  4. It is a fiber that breathes which makes it a good choice for people with sensitive skin, allergies or for children.
  5. It is easy to maintain and versatile.

- When “Cotton” is used this means that the outer shell of the product is made of cotton.

There are 3 main varieties of cotton: American Upland, Pima, and Egyptian.

If the label reads “100% Cotton” it is usually American Upland. This type of cotton is the most widely used and can have a short or long staple ("Staple" refers to the length of the individual fibers). Pima, also known as “Supima”, is a type of cotton that is fine, long-stapled, and yields a soft weave. Egyptian has the longest staple and is the finest cotton.

What’s Combed Cotton?

Combed cotton is an extremely soft type of cotton, made by specially treating the cotton fibers before they are spun into yarn. It separates short fibers and dirt from the staples using closely spaced needles.

Bamboo Sateen

Surprisingly the hard, cane bamboo we all know very well can be turned into sheets! These sheets are luxuriously soft, compared to normal cotton, because its fibers are rounded which means they feel less abrasive against skin. They are hypoallergenic, breathable, naturally soft, and have a satin finish.

Cotton blend

A cotton blend simply means that a garment has been manufactured blending cotton with other fibers. In some cases cotton is blended with other fibers to:

  1. Create a stronger garment
  2. Make it more breathable
  3. Have a different texture
  4. To make it have more luster
  5. Make it less prone to wrinkles

Cotton blended with polyester or rayon, for example, will create a more lustrous shine. Cotton blended with linen, creates a more lightweight, breathable fabric.
(Did you know? That a garment made with pure cotton also needs a lot more attention than a blend because of its high tendency to wrinkle.)

- In most cases cotton blend usually means the garment has 80% cotton and 20% of other material, which is considered to be just the right harmony for a noticeable cottony feel and texture.

Egyptian cotton

Egyptian cotton comes from a different plant than regular cotton. It is grown in Egypt, in a moist atmosphere, which makes its plants or “staples” substantially longer than regular cotton. This also means that the longer the staple, the more uninterrupted the fibers will be upon fabrication. Meaning, that these extra-long fibers can be turned into a fine yarn. Due to this fineness the manufacturer is able to pack more thread counts into each square inch.

Compared to regular cotton this makes it:
  1. A stronger fabric
  2. Last longer
  3. Able to absorb more moisture

Linen

Linen is a high quality fabric that is so durable, it could last you for over a decade. It is cooler than cotton, so this is a good option for warm sleepers.

Microfiber

Microfibers are man-made materials from polyester, acrylic, rayon, and nylon fabrics. It is divided into two categories: Microfleece and Microplush.

  • - Microfleece is a lightweight, double sided micro-fiber that has a low pilling, is stretchy, velvety soft, and loose fitting. It is made entirely of polyester.
  • - Microplush is a single-sided fabric, with one side covered with very fine velvety fibers and is made with acrylic fiber that is machine washable, resistant to mildew and stains, and easy to care for. It is considered softer than Microfleece.

Nylon

Nylon is a manufactured fiber made from polyethylene (coal, air, water and petroleum). It has a low moisture absorbency, is exceptionally strong, light-weight, easy to wash, warm, smooth and soft.

Polyester

Polyester is a manufactured fiber made from polyethylene (coal, air, water and petroleum). It was developed in the 20th century in a laboratory. It is very resilient, dries quickly, difficult to wrinkle, quite resistant to mildew and mold, smooth and easy to wash.

Silk

Silk is another luxurious bed linen that is perfect for cold climates. It is durable and keeps you warm in winter time.

Polysatin

Polysatin is short for Polyester Satin. It is simply polyester woven in the satin technique. Natural silk of course is much more absorbent than polyester, however it does come at a price. Polysatin, is a much more affordable alternative and is machine washable (unlike silk).

Pima Cotton

Pima cotton has extra-long staples, and is considered to be a superior blend of cotton. It is extremely durable and absorbent. First cultivated in Peru, it peaked in popularity in the early 20th century. Its main advantage is its thickness and durability.

Rayon

Rayon is a manufactured fiber made from regenerated cellulose (usually extracted from wood pulp). Created in in the late 1800’s it is the oldest manufactured fiber, originally created as a cheaper alternative to silk. Many rayon products will yellow with age and pill. Rayon is often blended with synthetic fibers. It is however, a material that is breathable and is moisture absorbent.

Fabric Comparison Chart

Absorbency Durability Comfort Appearance Maintenance
100% Cotton Very high Average Very soft
Natural feel
Breathable
Keeps dry
Matte & Sleek Low
Bamboo sateen High Strong Light
Smooth
Breathable
Quite dry
Lustrous Low
Cotton blend Medium - High Quite strong Breathable
Light-weight
Lustrous Low
Egyptian cotton High Very strong Breathable
Extremely soft
High quality
Natural feel
Sleek High
Linen High Very strong
Exceptionally strong when wet
Light-weight
Smooth
Dull High
Microfleece Very low Strong Soft
Breathable
Light
Velvety Low
Microplush Very low Strong Very soft
Breathable
Light
Velvety Low
Nylon Low Exceptionally strong Light-weight
Warm
Smooth
Soft
Quick drying
Lustrous Low
Polyester Low Strong Quick drying
Light-weight
Slightly slicky Low
Silk Very high Strongest natural fiber Breathable
Natural feel
Soft
Warm
Lustrous High
Polysatin Low Average Light
Smooth
Sleek & Glossy Medium
Pima cotton High Very strong Very soft
High quality
Natural feel
Sleek Low
Rayon High Weak Soft
Comfortable
Cool
Breathable
Lustrous High

Types of Weaves

Oxford

This is a weave that first appeared in Scotland, in the 19th century. It is soft and heavy. It has twice as many warp threads as weft threads. It is a weave that is commonly used to make men's dress shirts. The oxford is quite durable to laundering.

Percale

This is a plain-weave, a centuries-old cloth originally from Persia. A plain-weave means that the warp and the weft threads cross over and under each other one at a time. These threads are tightly woven, which results in a fine texture and finish.

Sateen

Sateen sheets have a luxurious look and feel. The fabric is made in a satin weave, in which warp threads interlace with filling threads, resulting in a lustrous, smooth-faced, durable fabric. Its structure is four over, one under. Sateen is a strong cotton fabric and has a lustrous face. It produces a shiny texture and smoothness during the weaving process by placing the most threads on the surface making it extremely soft, although less durable than other weaves.

Satin

Satin is a smooth fabric such as silk or rayon woven with a glossy face and a dull back. Satin uses that same weaving structure as Sateen, however instead of using cotton it uses silk or other materials. Satin has no visible interlacing pattern, which makes it smooth and shiny.

Fabric Patterns

According to The Fashion Design Manual by Pamela Stecker, fabric patterns fall into five main categories:

Geometric

These are straight-lined non-representational patterns which consist of textures, stripes, checkers and plaids.

Dots and Spots

These are simplified curved forms arranged geometrically or randomly.

Abstract Patterns

These are simplified, abstracted or simplified motifs arranged in a somewhat organized, recognizable manner. They include paisley, jacquard, tie dyes, ethnic designs, dobby, and ikat.

Naturalistic

These are realist repetitions of florals or animal prints. They also include natural motifs such as shells, nuts and insects.

Conversational

These are designs based on recognizable motifs based on manufactured motifs. Such as: food, buildings, activities, scenic or domestic life depictions.

However, these categories are just guidelines that can be intertwined and mixed together. You can also have fabrics that are:

Graphic

Clean lines, less is more mentality.

Multi-Purpose

Base colors and prints.

Colorful

Bright, bold and inventive patterns.

International

Modern designs of traditional patterns like Japanese kimono silks, African wax prints or Welsh weaving.

Quirky

Prints that are odd, retro, witty and creative.

Sophisticated

Styles that are fashion forward.

Vintage

Beautiful, whimsical, nostalgic prints from the mid-twentieth century, such as: damask.

Fillings

Down

Down pillows tend to make the softest pillows. They are nice and light, quite airy and long lasting. Nevertheless, its feathers can poke through the cover, and do not offer very good support for side sleepers. They can also be expensive and need to be fluffed in order to get back to its original shape. This is not ideal for allergy sufferers, but they remain a luxurious option.

Feather

Feather pillows are reasonable in price, easy to shape, durable and have a good life span. However, feathers can poke through the pillow so it’s a good idea to invest in a quality pillow cover. They do not offer the best support for side sleepers and are not great for people with allergies.

Latex Foam Rubber

Latex foam rubber is of natural origins, highly comfortable and soft to the touch. It is very durable and has a superior support factor. This means that you can easily change your sleeping position throughout the night and you won’t become sweaty because it is light, breathable and moisture resistant. It is often compared with memory foam, a material that is instead chemically created.

Lavender

Pillows containing lavender give off a soothing aroma. It is used to combat restlessness and acts as a calming agent.

Memory Foam

Memory foam is soft to the touch but less supportive with poorer breathability compared to latex foam rubber. They are smooth and have good durability. However, the material is very much dependent on its temperature. In other words, the colder it is the harder it gets, and the warmer it is the softer it gets. Overall, it has a shorter lifespan than the latex foam rubber.

Synthetic (Polyester)

Budget-friendly and non-allergenic, polyester is a popular choice for consumers. It is lightweight, and easy to care for, however, they have a short lifespan, flatten very quickly and the filling can get out of shape.

Pillow Filling Comparison Chart

Comfort Specs Support Lifespan Hypoallergenic Price Maintenance
Down Amazing Easy to shape
Cool and airy
Needs occasional fluffing
Not that great for side sleepers 10 years No, unless specified An investment Machine washable
Feather Good - Great Easy to shape
Needs regular fluffing
Not great for side sleepers 7 + years No Budget-friendly Machine washable
Latex Foam Out of this world Very long lasting natural material
Cool and holds shape well
Great support and pain relief 10 - 15 years Yes Affordable-expensive Hand washed
Memory Foam Amazing Good durability
Can be matched closely to your head and neck
Can be quite hot
2 - 4 years Affordable Hand washed
Synthetic (Polyester) Good Easy to bend, but can clump up and get out of shape Mostly suited for all sleeping types 6 months - 2 years Budget-friendly Machine washable
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