A Guide for Bed Linens and Bedding Fabrics

When shopping for new bed sheets or other bedding items, it’s helpful to not only be familiar with the various types of fabrics and fibers but also to understand the different weaves. What does percale mean? Is sateen the same as satin? What’s microfiber? The answers aren’t complicated, but knowing them makes it easier to choose the perfect bedding for your needs, whether that’s warm sheets for winter, lightweight sheets for summer, or a duvet, sham or throw pillow. Here are brief descriptions of the most common weaves and fabrics you are likely to encounter.

Thread Count

Most people are familiar with thread count, but many mistakenly assume that it’s the only important factor to consider when choosing sheets. A sheet’s thread count reveals the number of threads, both horizontal and vertical, contained in one square inch of fabric. While it’s true that in general, the higher the thread count, the softer the sheet, it’s also true that midrange thread counts (400 to 600) are often very soft, are usually more durable than sheets with super-high thread counts and are far more affordable. So don’t rely on thread count alone to make your decision: the sheet’s weave and fabric also have a big impact on its feel.


Percale is a plain-weave fabric made from both combed and carded cotton yarns. This type of weave is lightweight and closely woven, producing a smooth finish and a crisp feel. If you like sheets that feel a bit starched and crisp against your skin, this is the weave for you.


Sateen, which is not the same as satin, is a type of weave with more vertical threads than horizontal. This produces an exceptionally soft bed sheet with a smooth, lustrous finish that resembles satin. While luxurious, sateen sheets are far more fragile than percale or plain weaves.


Satin is a silky, smooth finish resulting from very thin, high-thread-count synthetic materials, such as nylon, polyester or acetate, woven or knitted tightly together. When buying satin sheets look for "woven" materials verses "knit" to get the smoothness desired in this weave. The shiny finish and silky feel of satin sheets have made them nearly synonymous with a sexy bedroom.


Microfiber is a tight weave made up of man-made fibers spun into a very fine yarn, which creates an ultra-soft finish and excellent wrinkle resistance. Because of the tight, thick weave, this fabric can be somewhat water resistant and allergen-proof, but may also be hot, depending on the denseness of the weave.


Jersey bed sheets are often sold as "tee-shirt sheets," as they are the same type of knit cotton or cotton-blend fibers that are used in the ubiquitous clothing item. Jersey sheets are very popular with kids and teens, thanks to the stretchy and soft feel, but they rip or snag easily, so keep the family cat off the bed if you want to avoid holes.


Damask is a reversible fabric with a woven pattern visible on both sides. Often intricately detailed, damask can be found on decorative pillows, pillow shams, or other decorative bedding pieces.


Jacquard is an elaborately woven fabric containing a slightly raised area of embroidery or embellishment. This elegant and somewhat old-fashioned fabric is produced on a jacquard loom. It’s often used for formal style on coverlets, decorative pillows, pillow shams, and comforters.


Two-ply is a type of fabric made of yarn plied from two threads. This creates heavy-duty and durable sheets with a “heavier” feel.


Single-ply fabrics use individual, un-plied threads in the weaving process, resulting in a softer fabric. Single-ply fabrics are often used in window treatments or other decorative bedding pieces. It's a decorative fabric, not a functional one.


Flannel is normally made of 100 percent cotton and is a medium-to-heavy-weight bed sheet material. It has a napped finish on one or both sides, creating the "fuzzy" and soft feel that is characteristic of this fabric. Flannel sheets are ideal for winter because the fuzzy weave holds in body heat, and creates a warm, fluffy and cozy feel.