Buying guide: The truth about thread count
Is there anything better than sliding into a bed laden with good quality sheets? At the end of the day, I can't wait to stretch out under my fresh, soft covers and nestle my face into a good cotton-covered pillow. We spend a third of our lives in bed so quality sheets are key, but how do you get quality for your money? There's no doubt that most consumers believe the higher the thread count, the better the quality, but this isn't entirely true. With the help and expertise of Joanna Goodman, owner of Au Lit Fine Linens, we expose the truth about thread count and what it takes to find quality bed sheets.
What is thread count, really?
Simply put, thread count 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. This is why the idea that high counts equal better quality isn't really accurate. Consider this: Joanna says most weavers will say the maximum number of threads that can be woven into one square inch of fabric is 500 to 600. Though the number is arguable and, according to Joanna, "depends on the mill you deal with," it gives you an idea of where the line is between single-ply, unpicked weaves and ones that add threads here and there to bump up the count.
What to look for when buying sheets
Joanna lists three things to look for on the label: if it's Egyptian cotton, where it's woven and, lastly, the thread count. While thread count is a bit misunderstood, the buzz around Egyptian cotton is true. "The very best cotton in the world is grown in Egypt. So Egyptian cotton will be of a better quality," Joanna says. She also recommends pima cotton, which is grown in America, "though not quite as exceptional as Egyptian." When it comes to weaving, however, she swears by the Italians as being the "master weavers of the world" due to their "long tradition of weaving" and use of the best Egyptian cotton. Be sure the label says 100% or pure Egyptian cotton though, otherwise it may only contain a small percentage of the good stuff. As for the thread count, look for a minimum of 200. From there, it's all about preference!
What to avoid when buying sheets
Joanna's one key piece of advice is to watch out for extremely low priced, high thread count sheet sets. A complete sheet set with a high thread count for $100 or less is probably not the dream bargain you think it is. As Joanna believes, "you always get what you pay for." The price tag for bed linens will vary depending on the sheet size and what items you're buying, such as a duvet cover, sheet sets, or pillowcases. "A superior quality 200 thread count queen set (including flat, fitted, two pillowcases), made of Egyptian cotton and woven in Europe, could retail reasonably for about $150-$250," says Joanna.
What do you prefer?
After going through the quality checklist, go with what feels best for you. If you're looking for a durable linen, Joanna recommends any percale from thread count 200 to 800. Percale is any cotton woven with a 200 thread count or higher and will be more durable than a cotton satin of the same thread count. It's also less likely to pill than cotton satin because it has a denser weave. Love the feel of a cotton button down shirt? Joanna advises a crisp, dense 200 thread count percale. Prefer a silkier sheet? Go for a 300 to 600 cotton satin. If you want lighter sheets, Joanna says, a 400 thread count sheet can be soft and light, while an 800 percale would be soft and dense. The higher the thread count, the more likely multiple-ply thread is used or picks are added, making the fabric denser and heavier.
Now you know that quality is not just about the number, so don't let numbers rule your bed! Remember what to look for on the label and be wary of too-low prices for supposedly high quality items. Beyond that, go with what you prefer. Get a good feel of the sheets before buying. Whether you're unzipping the packaging or lying down on a display bed, make sure the fabric feels good against your skin and soon you'll be having sweet dreams!
Find out how to keep your new linens crisp and clean with our tips to whiter-than-white sheets.
A fresh seaside-chic lake house
This cozy lake house in Port Carling, Ont., boasts a fresh seaside-chic vibe while paying homage to old-school Muskoka.
Nestled on the south shore of Lake Rosseau in Port Carlin, Ont., this 6,800-square-foot six-bedroom house is decorated the way one would dress when visiting: in a crisp Polo Ralph Lauren Oxford shirt and comfortable, well-worn chinos paired with Sperry Top-Siders. It's a timeless look that's coastal, casual and effortlessly chic with a neutral palette at its core.
"The homeowners wanted to capture that warm, windswept lake house aesthetic but with a relaxed, cozy Muskoka feel for their young family of four," says Cory DeFrancisco of Mukoka Living Interiors, who designed and built the home from scratch, finishing in 2013.
Like a friendly smile and a firm handshake, the entryway makes a confident and inviting introduction to the home.
"A lot of old cottages have those tunnelling hallways in their guest cottage or service quarters, and this beadboard wall treatment references that," says builder and designer Cory DeFrancisco.
This small boathouse sunroom is literally right on Ontario's Lake Rosseau: On windy days, you can feel waves crashing up through the floorboards.
"We took up 90 percent of the wall with windows," says Cory of the gorgeous great room, where the ceiling's oak beams guide your eye directly to the view. "The overstuffed sofas are insanely comfortable," he adds. "They're slipcovered in high-quality Belgian linen that gets softer with each wash.
Though the spacious kitchen is crisp, white and polished, simple details, such as the grain of the reclaimed-oak floors and the texture of the brush strokes on the hand-painted cabinetry, keep it humble and homey. "It's a new take on a traditional cottage kitchen, with all the modern amenities," says Cory.
A big weathered farmhouse table paired with slipcovered seating and sophisticated lighting that doesn't block the view equals a dining room with easy elegance. But the best feature of this space is that, with the doors open, you really feel like you're eating alfresco.
Even though this home is grand, the family who lives here wanted an overall feeling of togetherness, so Cory kept it largely open concept.
The west-facing Muskoka room, with wall-to-wall windows, is so bright that it can pull off the charcoal walls. "The darkness acts as an anchor, while the light that shines in highlights the furnishings," explains Cory. The modular sectional is meant for the outdoors (so go ahead, get it wet) and can be reconfigured when company comes to create multiple sitting areas.
The whole master bedroom is very generous, but its sleeping area is quite small. In it, you'll find only an upholstered bed, two small side tables and a 180-degree view of the water.
The large window behidn the free-standing bathtub overlooks a garden and granite. "It's hard to make boulders sound nice," says Cory with a laugh, "but it's a beautiful view."
"All of those elements are, I think, what makes it feel authentic to Muskoka. There's nothing ornate in the whole place," says Cory. And just 35 feet away, in the boathouse, the look is much the same. The palette is almost all white and the dress code is bathing suits - after all, the lake's right there. Take one step out the door, and jump right in. The water's perfect.
Stylish and restful retreat.
We designed a restful retreat with a plush queen-sized bed as its focal point on budgets akin to a power nap and a full night’s sleep. Can you tell the difference?
1 Cotton Mesh Oval pendant light, 20", Union Lighting and Furnishings, $530. 2 Gianna Venetian mirror, Union Lighting and Furnishings, $20. 3 Powder-coated steel adjustable plug-in Ranarp sconce, IKEA, $90. 4 Linen Linblomma shams & duvet cover in Natural, per 3-piece set, IKEA, $18. 5 Glass Stripes bottle with plastic lid (not shown), Zara Home, $18. 6 Glass Stripes tumbler, Zara Home, $4. 7 Porcelain-topped brass-plated steel Oneda side table, Elte Market, $140. 8 Style at Home Collection cotton Embroidered flat & fitted sheets in White, per 4-piece set, Sears, $140. 9 Style at Home Collection polyester Periwinkle Paisley coverlet, Sears, $140. 10 North Afghan hand-spun wool kilim Chubi RUG, 4' x 6', Herat Carpets, $545. High & Low: Valspar Dogwood Petal Ci203 Wall Paint And Cashmere Pink Ci-119 Accent Stripe Wall Paint, Lowe’s; Portrait Linen Liz Toss Cushion, Trianon; White Nile Votive Holder, Crocheted Lana Cardigan (On Hook), Anthropologie; Gold-Dipped Porcelain Dish (Used As Coaster), Cambie Design.
1 George Nelson Bubble medium plastic-polymer-coated steel Saucer pendant light, 25", Design Within Reach, $329 US. 2 Inner Oval mirror with silver border, Union Lighting and Furnishings, $1,360. 3 Powder-coated steel accordion plug-in Morgan sconce in Ivory, Crate and Barrel, $199. 4 Lavato Italian linen/Egyptian cotton shams in Natural, $74 each, and duvet cover in Natural, Au Lit Fine Linens, $404. 5 Distinctly Home glass Como carafe with cork lid, Hudson’s Bay, $25. 6 Mikasa glass Swirl tumbler in White, Hudson’s Bay, $25. 7 Handcrafted marble-topped painted cast-aluminum Elke side table, Crate and Barrel, $699. 8 Ralph Lauren cotton sateen fitted & flat sheets in Deco White, $145 each, Hudson’s Bay, $290. 9 Cotton Grid Dot coverlet in White, West Elm, $205. 10 West Afghan hand-spun wool kilim Soumak rug with raised pile weave details, 5' x 7', Herat Carpets, $1,350.
Bored by the typical headboard? Here’s an easy DIY headboard alternative: Paint a stripe the width of the bed and the height of the wall using a contrasting hue. Then hang a large ornate Venetian mirror about two feet above the bed. Together, the two elements create the look of a grand headboard. Valspar cashmere pink ci-119 accent stripe wall paint, Lowe’s; Gianna Venetian mirror, Union Lighting and Furnishings, $530.
American architect and furniture designer George Nelson (1908–1986) was forever pushing the envelope. Working in the heyday of mid-century modern design alongside the likes of Eero Saarinen and Charles and Ray Eames, George honed in on his contemporaries’ fixation with seating. “Every truly original idea,” he wrote, “seems to find its most important expression in a chair.” it’s this keen sense of observation that led George to make waves in the realm of lighting in 1947. Inspired by a photo of cargo ships covered in netting encased in self-webbing plastic (a translucent white spray developed for military use), George and one of his in-house designers tracked down the “spiderwebby” spray and used it on a spherical frame they fashioned from steel wire. thus the prototype for the first bubble pendant was born, and the rest is history. Many of the original designs in the line, including the saucer, are still in production. George Nelson bubble medium plastic-polymer-coated steel saucer pendant light, Design Within Reach, $329 US.
Five oatmeal-coloured shams boasting homespun charm impress with decorative flanges. 1 Frayed Rough edges lend rustic countryside appeal. Cotton blend Daloni in neutral with envelope closure, Anthropologie, $98 US per pair. 2 Wide The voluminous flappy flange has a casual, laze-in-bed vibe. Lavato Italian linen/Egyptian cotton in natural with envelope closure, Au Lit Fine Linens, $74 each. 3 Classic A simple design and super-soft feel promise to make this washed-linen sham a long-standing favourite in your home. Alamode Home washed-linen Morgan in natural with envelope closure, Elte Market, $40 each. 4 Contrasting A warm charcoal accent colour smartly frames this one, giving it a slightly serious, sophisticated air. Linen blend Leah with button closure, Urban Barn, $200 per 3-piece duvet set. 5 Knotty The tie details give this option’s single flange an upscale look. Linen Linblomma with envelope closure, IKEA, $90 per 3-piece duvet set.
Our High and Low bedrooms get their old-world charm from the toss cushion, which is adorned with the image of a veiled lady borrowed from a vintage French oil painting. Here are a few other toss cushion options featuring historic Mesdames (and even a Monsieur!). 1 National portrait gallery polyester Queen Elizabeth i arrow with feather insert, 18" x 18", We Love Cushions, $72. 2 Chad Wys polyester Nocturne 109 with polyester insert, 16" x 16", Society6, $27 US. 3 Polyester Lucrezia Sommaria with polyester insert, 16" x 16", Zazzle, $42. 4 Portrait linen Andrea with down/feather insert, 24" x 24", Trianon, $325.
Stylish sewing room.
Two sewing studios designed on drastically different budgets. Can you tell which is high and which is low?
We've dressed two home sewing studios to the nines on both a bargain brand and a haute couture budget. Can you tell the difference between these two stylish workspaces?
1 Coiled cotton rope basket, Michaels, $25. 2 Sektion cabinetry bases, IKEA, $152. Painted fibreboard Veddinge cabinetry doors in white, 24" x 30", $28 each, and 24" x 60", $46 each, IKEA. 3 Powder-coated metal Inez task lamp in white, Structube, $49. 4 Lacquered engineered wood Hi-Gloss trays in Swoon Blue-Green, orange and white, CB2, $35 each. 5 Stained solid Acacia wood and veneer Verona dining table (used as desk), Jysk, $400. 6 Canvas Retro Jumbo Text bin, Jysk, $17. 7 Wicker basket, HomeSense, $20. 8 Powder-coated aluminum and wool blend Patrik Swivel office chair in Ullevi Blue, IKEA, $199. 9 Singer One Plus elec- tronic 231-stitch sewing machine, SVP Worldwide, $599. 10 Olfa Self-healing cutting mat, 24" x 36", Michaels, $45.
1 Small coiled cotton-blend rope cove basket, Crate and Barrel, $40. 2 Sektion cabinetry bases, IKEA, $152. Foiled fibreboard ringhult cabinetry doors in high-gloss white, 24" x 30", $98 each, and 24" x 60", $161 each, IKEA. 3 White oak and powder-coated steel rex task lamp in ivory, Crate and Barrel, $119. 4 Painted pine and engineered wood zuma trays in aqua sky, orange and white, Crate and Barrel, $35 each. 5 Solid reclaimed pine post and rail dining table (used as desk) in driftwood, Urban Barn, $999. 6 Seletti cotton bin, Neat, $99. 7 Hand-woven wicker basket, HomeSense, $50. 8 Chrome-plated metal Coup office chair with polyester Harper fabric in Teal Blue, CB2, $349. 9 Husqvarna Viking computerized 1,000-plus-stitch Designer Ruby Royale sewing machine with embroidery attachment (not shown), SVP Worldwide, $12,000. 10 Green cutting mat, 24" x 36", DeSerres, $68.
Wayward buttons, rolling bobbins...The very fabric of order can unravel quickly in the seamstress’s quarters. Give this creative organizing idea a whirl. Stack a few thick-rimmed square trays on your work table (mix colours for a fun look). Fill the top one with oft-used bits and bobs, including scissors and a measuring tape; stash flat sartorial essentials like fabric remnants in the bottom ones.
Keep supplies for current projects top of mind by storing them on open shelving. Here we’ve intentionally omitted doors on one cabinetry column. To give the display some cohesion, we lined the back of the cabinet with a favourite fabric.
When you think of a pincushion, the classic tomato shape likely comes to mind. The icon dates back to the Victorian era, when tomatoes were placed on mantels to ward off evil and invite prosperity. When the fruit was out of season, dummy versions (made from red fabric and filled with sawdust) were improvised. One seamstress thought to store pins and needles in hers, and the rest is history. As the design gained popularity, a small strawberry form containing an abrasive for cleaning and sharpening was added. To honour that creative spirit, we’ve compiled some unique pincushions from the Etsy-verse. Who knows – maybe the icon will be replaced by a red apple? Clockwise 1 Needle-felted wool Apple, Ewe and Me Yarns, $22 US. 2 Scented organic felted wool in Aqua, Simple Is Pretty Shop, $10. 3 Cotton Wrist, Caractacus Crane, $10.
Dreaming big, but your budget’s almost laughable? Don’t worry – here are four affordable sewing machines for the eager beginner. HIGH 1 Computerized 50-stitch CE-5000, Brother, $200. 2 Singer mechanical 8-stitch 1408 Promise, SVP Worldwide, $149. LOW 1 Mechanical 56-stitch XB2510, Brother, $130. 2 SY Electronic 13-stitch, IKEA, $80.