Our Guide to Choosing Affordable, Quality Bed Linens

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Peacock Alley well made bed
Who among us does not adore climbing into bed after a long day? If you don’t instantly feel relaxed at tuck-in time, maybe you need to re-examine your dreamscape. Creating an environment conducive to healthy sleep is a matter of more than blissful relaxation—sound sleep can make all the difference between a productive day and one spent in a haze. The cumulative effect of chronic sleep deprivation can even have clinical repercussions. This month is National Sleep Awareness Month, so let’s chat about getting ZZZs. 
 
Our February Buying Guide laid out the details on picking a mattress, the foundation of well-supported sleep, but what you spread out atop that mattress can either regale or ruin your restful state. Yes, the sheets matter. In fact, the layering of the entire bed linen set truly matters. Pay attention to the details—this is not a time to “make do.” If you opt for linens that feel good and look good, you’ll be on your way to a great snooze.
 
The pros at Peacock Alley literally wrote the book on producing fine linens in America. That book, Uncommon Threads by company founder Mary Ella Gabler, lays out the origins of the Peacock Alley brand’s signature style. It delves into her deep appreciation for the exquisite handmade quilts of her Pennsylvania childhood and her reverence for the sewing of her mother and grandmother.
 
Through stories and advice, Gabler shows her commitment to educating consumers on the benefits of a well-made bed.
 
The team at Atlanta’s Peacock Alley Design Studio, one of only three in the country, shares Gabler’s vision. Their knowledge and resources at the studio—samples of every product and details about its production—simplify sheet-shopping. They advocate building a linen collection over time by adding quality pieces that have meaning to you. When cared for well, those linens will last a lifetime and become vintage treasures, much like the quilts and laces that inspired Gabler to start her company 40 years ago.
 
Forego that matchy-matchy, bed-in-a-bag look; choose elements that comfort you and reflect your lifestyle.
 
Nice Threads
Confused about the high thread-count hype? You’re not alone. A sheet’s thread count is measured by the number of threads running through a one-inch square of material—half the count in the vertical line of the weave and the other half in the horizontal line. A 200-thread count means that there are 100 strands of thread going in each direction. Increasing a thread count, though, doesn’t necessarily improve the sheeting. On the contrary, many so-called “high thread-count sheets” actually have thread fibers that are split apart before the weave, making them thinner and weaker in the process.
 
It’s the type of fibers that determines the quality of the sheeting. Egyptian long-staple cotton reigns as the supreme crop for weaving luxury linens because its fibers stand the test of time while retaining their strength and beauty. Other natural-fiber selections include bamboo, linen and silk—all of which drape softly over the body and allow for skin to “breathe” while sleeping.
 
You don’t necessarily need a boutique to find high-quality sheets—stores such as HomeGoods, Tuesday Morning and Bed Bath & Beyond often carry great selections. Avoid synthetic materials whenever possible; these are made using harsh chemicals that should probably stay in a lab, not be wrapped around you all night long. The price of those sheets are cheap for a reason. If you can, invest in quality linens. Think about it: if you’d spend $100 on a dress you might only wear a few times, why not spend money on a set of sheets you will use daily and enjoy for years? (My very first set of “good sheets” was given to me as a college graduation gift and they spent 17 
years in the bed-making rotation: 17 years x 26 weeks of use per year x 7 days a week = 3,094 nights of sleeping fabulousity.  THAT’s strong ROI!)
 
A Perfectly Prepped Bed Piles On:
Mattress Cover and/or Pad: Covering the mattress protects it from damage and extends its wear; adding a mattress pad gives one more layer of comfort and support. Heed the mattress manufacturer’s instructions; some mattress types (such as some memory foams) require very specific covers and may not function well with certain pads.
 
Sheet Set (Fitted and Flat): Choose the variety you like and take care of them. Make sure corner pockets of the fitted sheet support the depth of your mattress and mattress pad so that everything stays nicely tucked. Launder regularly without bleaching (which weakens the thread), and iron them if possible. Yes, your grandmother was right, ironing the sheets does make them softer—it’s the combination of heat and steam with the weight of the iron that brings the fibers to their full glory.
 
Blanket: Again with the mantra “Quality, Quality, Quality.” Depending on your climate and optimal sleeping temperature, you may want a lightweight cotton knit for summer and wool for the winter months. 
 
Quilt or Coverlet: Use one for style and sentimentality and also for extra weight if desired. Get those heirlooms out of the trunks when possible and fold them at the end of the bed. Look at new pieces that work with the items you already own, perhaps adding a neutral-toned matelassé. The quilted look of a matelassé may seem delicate, but a quality product is actually quite tough—some boast a triple weave that stands up to kids and dogs and whatever else decides to flop across the bed.
 
Comforter: You can opt for a comforter for a cozy, warm, final touch—particularly in colder climates or winter’s chilly months. A duvet cover functions like a giant pillowcase for a comforter and can increase its longevity and make cleaning easier—just 
take it off and toss it in 
the wash.
 
Shaking It All Out
Bamboo Sheeting: Pulp of the plant breaks down into fibers that are spun into thread.
 
Cotton Sheeting: Most common and readily available—quality determined by grade of fiber and thread count. Wide range of prices and patterns. 
 
Deep-Pocket Sheets: Fitted sheets with extra-wide corner depth; allows full coverage and secure fit over plush mattresses. 
 
Duvet Cover: Removable sheeting encasement for comforter.
 
Flannel: Thickly woven cotton or wool fabric; brushed to produce a soft, “fuzzy” texture.
 
Jersey: Fabric produced by interlocking knit threads instead of weaving.
 
Linen Sheeting: Fibers cultivated from flax plants—extremely durable, absorbent and hypoallergenic; stiff at first but softens over time. The European use of linen fabric for sheeting is where the term “linens” originated. 
 
Momme-weight: Japanese standard weight of silk; silk threads are extremely fine, so the quality of silk is determined by the weight of finished lengths measured 100 yards long by 45 inches wide. If that yardage weighs 10 pounds, the silk is graded as 10 momme.
 
Matelassé: French term for quilted or cushioned fabric. Usually several layers of sturdy cotton or silk handstitched together in delicate patterns. 
 
Percale: Produced by flat cotton-fiber threads woven in a basketweave technique; creates a crisp, yet soft, texture similar to that of classic dress shirts.
 
Sateen: Twisting cotton-fiber threads prior to weaving produces a glossy, smooth feel with a subtle sheen. “Satin” is not a fabric itself, it’s the weaving of silk threads with this technique.
 
Silk: Long, continuous filament of protein substance produced by worms; harvested and wound into textile fibers.
 
Thread Count: Number of threads running through an inch (horizontally and vertically) of woven sheeting material.
 
RESOURCES:
National Sleep Foundation  |  SleepFoundation.org
Peacock Alley  |  PeacockAlley.com
The Better Sleep Council  |  BetterSleep.org
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