Our Thread Counts – Reed Family Linen

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Our Thread Counts

A weavers explanation of an often abused term.
We are weavers

Unlike many other bed linen companies and websites , Reed Family Linen are weavers and have been producing our own bespoke sheeting cloths for over 170 years. We do not source our fabrics from other mills or merchants, we purchase only the yarns, before weaving the constructions for our clients to use. We do this by using the time-tested recipes which our co-founder Mark Reed’s father, grandfather and his father designed in the past and which have proven themselves through many years of laundering. Few, if any, other bed linen companies have the experience, knowledge and in- house manufacturing capabilities to be able to inform and advise their customers truthfully about thread counts, and their importance in choosing your bed linen, as we do.

As a family, we have had looms in our homes, cowsheds, weaving sheds and mills since the 1850’s and we know what it takes to weave the perfect bed sheet. Even our surname is derived from an important part of the weaving process – the “REED” which is essential to create a fine even cloth as it pushes each weft thread into the shed of the warp yarns.

What is Thread Count?

We often are asked to explain what is “Thread Count”? As you can look up in our Textile Dictionary on our website, the definition of thread count is the “number of individual weaving yarns in an area of cloth” traditionally expressed as the number of threads per square inch of fabric. If a sheeting cloth has a hundred yarns per inch in the warp direction, and a hundred yarns per inch in the weft direction, it is deemed to be a 200 count construction by adding the two together. There are 200 individual weaving yarns which create 10,000 (= 100 x 100) intersections in a square inch of cloth – and it is each one of these intersections which causes friction and holds the fabric together. Logically the higher the thread count, then the more intersections it has and hence the finer and tighter is the weave until a certain point where the cloth becomes too fine and is not durable enough to launder as bed linen.

All of this is straightforward and understood by many – and can easily be seen by using a piece of glass on your bed linen.

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A history of quality

Mark’s grandfather, William Reed, developed a symmetrical, or “square”, sheeting cloth with the same density of warp ends and weft picks. This was a plain weave with maximum intersections and had a thread count of 200 in the loom. He recorded it as “Quality 283” in our Mill Ledger and a copy of his entry using a quill pen is shown above. The letters EP stood for Egyptian Plain and referred to the staple length of cotton used and the weave construction – a simple “one up, one down” pattern. This construction produced a sheeting cloth with a relatively heavy 145 grammes per square metre weight and a very durable lifespan which he attributed to the fact that the cloth wears evenly under abrasion during sleeping as it is symmetrical and once cut you cannot identify the warp from the weft. Over subsequent years our Quality 283 proved itself to be a worldwide industry standard and was mimicked by many of our competitors. One famously difficult London hotel housekeeper described this quality as “virtually indestructible” and The Ritz Hotel worked out that it was cheaper to order extra length sheets and re-hem them every five years rather than buy standard length items and replace them. William left us the legacy of this construction which we cherish as one of the bedrocks of our business.


Plain Weave Versus Satin Weave

Experimenting with Finer Thread Counts

Until the mid 1930 s, spinning technology was only capable of producing relatively thick weaving yarns which were strong enough to perform under the tough conditions in a wide width Lancashire sheeting loom. But a new process called Ring Spinning changed all of this before the Second World War and weaving yarns which had been available in 24 s English Counts then became available in much thinner 40 s English Counts and were strong enough to weave under tension in wide looms. Spinners made these new fine yarns from long staple growth cottons which were typically sourced from Sudan and the Lower Nile region of Egypt when the Nile Delta was less polluted by fertilisers than it is today.

Mark’s grandfather, Clifford Reed, started experimenting with fine cotton weaving yarns at Springbank Mill in Nelson in the mid 1930 s. His aim was to create a lighter sheeting construction than his father’s 145 gramme cloth but a fabric which would still be durable and withstand boil washing because it is heat which cleans natural fibres and not detergent (more about this can be found under Our Laundering elsewhere on our website). He maintained his father’s principle that a symmetrical weave was best for equal wear and abrasion and started making warps using finer yarns. As his experiment progressed using thinner and finer yarns, he reached a limit using 40 s English Count yarn with 180 threads per inch in the warp and 179 in the weft – beyond this the yarns became too weak so that weaving was inefficient due to constant breakages. This new cloth quality had a 359 thread count (= 180 + 179) and was recorded in the Mill Quality Ledger as number “1405”.

Clifford Reed’s “1405 Quality” soon became the company’s deluxe product and our second best- selling fabric. After the Second World War as our sheeting was sent for scouring and bleaching, the thread count of the finished cloth was quoted at “400 Thread Count” after 10% shrinkage during this process. At this stage the finished fabric had a crisp weight of 125 grammes per square metre compared to his father’s 145 gramme quality. Despite this fineness and lighter handle, the new cloth had the same durability in laundering and so offered his clients a softer cloth on first use compared to the 200 count which takes about six months of laundering before it develops a really soft handle.


The Great Thread Count Myth

Thread counts were rarely mentioned on bed linen retail packaging until the late 1960 s. This measure of cloth fineness was not understood by consumers and was not deemed necessary to share with them. However, in the late 1960 s, the USA company Wamsutta under Vinnie Hynes’ leadership launched a revolutionary range of easy- care bedlinen made from a mixed yarn spun from Cotton and Polyester – this Dupont manmade fibre made the fabric feel like cotton but with much less creasing and hence immediately reduced the weekly ironing chores in households throughout North America. The range was an instant success and Wamsutta chose to weave this cloth as a 90 x 90 percale construction with the trade name “POLYESTER COTTON PERCALE”. For most consumers this was the first time that they had ever seen the word Percale, and many wrongly assumed that Percale meant “easy care” which it doesn’t – and many people still to this day think that “Percale” means non-iron. Vinnie Hynes’ licensed our product range in North America later in his business career and became converted back to the benefits of 100% cotton bedding.

From Wamsutta’s success every US mill followed suit and by the 1990 s most retail bed linen in America was labelled with the woven thread count, and terms like Percale, Super Percale and Supercale became common in the industry – but all mills still stuck to Clifford Reed’s limit of around 400 threads per square inch, as no one had found a fibre (other than silk) which could be used to weave a cloth with a higher thread count.

We believe that it was the Creative Director at Calvin Klein who changed the thread count convention when she launched their Home Collection in 1995. Calvin Klein opted to use a 400 thread count construction cloth from Italy but requested that it was woven from two ply yarns – instead of using a 40 s count single yarn, they used two 80 s count yarns twisted together resulting in a weave which they labelled as 800 thread count. This started a trend that led to various brands claiming as much as 1600 count bed linen over the ensuing years. However, by 2008 consumers realised this deception and one American socialite lodged a lawsuit against Bed Bath & Beyond for thread count mislabelling which ultimately caused this large retailer to file for Chapter 11. Today you will not find a single mention of thread counts on any US bedding products or websites – this whole topic is too litigious. What we quote on our website, and always have done, are the true and precise measures of thread count based on our control of the weaving process for all our products.

Thread Counts Today

In the past few years, we have seen bed linens made from transparent delicate fabrics which we doubt will last one wash. An Italian competitor is offering pillowcases in a silk and cotton fabric and are being sold with a Dry Clean Only label. We question h ow you can use bed linen without laundering it hygienically with a hot wash after each use.

At Reed Family Linen, we may be traditional, but generations of our family have tried and tested many constructions of sheeting fabrics. The perfect fabric has to have enough weight so that it can last in hotel or domestic use with a low carbon footprint which is environmentally friendly and not destined for landfill after a few months. Our joint experience over five generations has shown us that cotton and linen are the best fibres, that a plain symmetrical weave gives the best resistance to abrasion, and that the maximum single yarn thread count achievable is 400 per inch. This cloth has an optimal weight of around 125 grammes and will deliver at least 800 boil washes (3 to 10 years use) in commercial and domestic laundering environments; this makes our products both very sustainable in terms of their low manufacturing footprint and very cost effective on a “Cost per Night” basis.

We hope that this introduction to thread counts and how this term has been abused by non-weavers in the past two decades will help you in understanding this complex area of the bed linen business. If you have any queries, then please don’t hesitate to call or email us with your questions – we are passionate about our product and want to educate the world on what makes the perfect bed linen.




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