Since March is the month that nature begins nesting, I wanted to share with you the great breadth of knowledge of a veritable linen encyclopedia, Fabrizio Biasiolo, owner of Casa del Bianco. After all, there’s nothing more comforting than a well-made bed.
Selecting and Buying Linens
What’s the most important thing to consider when buying sheets? There is no right fabric. There is only a fabric that is right for you. Your own personal taste and your intended use should dictate your choice. Cotton, percale, or sateen, sheets are smooth, strong, and comfortable and demand relatively easy care. Linen is the strongest fiber, but the least uniform, and it has great airflow for coolness, but its irregular surface creates sheets that are not quite as soft as cotton and ones that wrinkle more than other fibers. Silk sheets are woven from extremely smooth, thin uniform yarns, and tend to feel more luxurious, but they are substantially warmer than either cotton or linen, and they require more care.
Why is Egyptian cotton considered the best? Egyptian cotton has the longest fibers when spun, producing the smoothest yarns for weaving. The result is the most comfortable cotton fabric. Linens made of Egyptian cotton also pill less (the annoying balling of loose fibers on the fabric’s surface) and offer greater durability so they last longer.
What’s the difference between percale and sateen? The construction of these fabrics makes each feel and perform differently. Percale is woven with the same number of threads in the warp and weft on the loom, and they interlace evenly in a basket weave pattern. This balanced weave produces a strong fabric with maximum airflow to make summer slumber cool. Sateen is woven with an uneven number of threads in the warp and weft so more threads float over the fabric surface, producing its characteristic beautiful sheen but also creating a fabric that is less porous with less airflow and is consequently warmer. Since sateen is an unbalanced weave, there is also a greater possibility of surface pilling from friction of the unbalanced threads rubbing together. On the plus side, however, sateen sheets require less ironing than percale.
What is the truth about thread count as a measure of quality? Thread count is very misunderstood. Higher thread counts do not assure comfort or quality. After a certain point, the denser the number of threads per square inch, the heavier and less supple the fabric becomes. A sheet with a very high thread count (800 and above) will be hot and heavy on the body and a sleeper will feel as if they are sleeping under a tablecloth. We recommend 400 to 600 for optimal comfort because with bed linens, it is the weight per square meter that counts. The optimal weight for sheets is 110 grams per square meter.
What is so special about Italian linens? Without a doubt, it’s the three processes called the “finishing”—bleaching, burning and mercerization—which are done better in Italy than any other place in the world that make Italian linens special. Manufacturers may buy fine Egyptian cotton yarn, weave it anywhere in the world on the best German looms, but if they don’t “finish” in Italy, the fabric will be inferior. The same holds true for wool, silk, cashmere and leather finished in Italy.
Preserving the Life of Fine Linens
How long should fine linens last? The life of linens is measured in “washings” not years. Care for them well and they will give you long service. The paradox is that as linens approach the end of their “life,” they often feel their best—softer and softer. By following proper washing and drying instructions and by alternating your linens (allowing them to “rest” between uses), you can greatly extend the life of your linens.
What is the best way to wash linens? We recommend cold water and very low detergent and, if necessary, only non-chlorine bleach. Always wash like items together to minimize the abrasion. For instance, separate towels and sheets.
What is the best method for drying linens? Contrary to what our grandmothers taught us, it’s not line drying. Cotton is sensitive to heat and sun and it’s important not to over-dry or over expose cotton sheets. If using a dryer, set the temperature at medium and remove from the dryer while damp. This will allow sheets to air dry and will preserve the fabric while minimizing wrinkling. If you do iron or touch up your linens, be sure to use moist heat.
Why have my expensive sheets lost their luster? There is a good probability that you have excess detergent remaining in the fabric, possibly soldered into it from too long in a hot dryer. Washing sheets in cold water a couple of times without detergent will often restore their original beauty and sheen.
How should I store my linens? Linens don’t require special storage, but you should never seal them in plastic. Adding a lavender sachet to your linen closet is a lovely way to lend fragrance to your bed; plus it’s a natural insect deterrent.