A comparisons of three types of weaves
If you have gone to the home furnishings section of any departmental store recently, or run a search on the internet, you would surely be aware of the large number of companies that offer their products. But something which a majority of buyers do is only focus on the name of the manufacturer or the brand. Most are not aware of all the types of fabrics that they can choose from, much less the comparative features of each. This blog seeks to explain the differences between the three most popular varieties of weaves in cotton bed sheets - sateen, percale, and flannel.
The very first thing you should be aware of is that we have not spelt the word sateen wrong. This is not the more commonly known fabric known as satin, although it sounds similar. The weave structure of sateen is very similar to satin but the material used in sateen is spun yarn instead of the filaments used in satin. The cotton threads used to make sateen fabric are first combed (the process is sometimes called carding too) to align them in the same direction and remove impurities. After this they are soaked in sodium hydroxide (commonly called lye), followed by an acid dip. This process is called mercerization. This increases the life of the fiber and also makes them ready to accept and absorb dyes. But most importantly, it makes the surface of the fibers more smooth and reflective. That is why sateen fabrics can be useful in making cool crisp sheets. This, apart from the phonetic similarity, is what often leads people to confuse satin with sateen.
In terms of weave, one major difference between sateen and other fabrics is that sateen usually employs diagonal weaves instead of the traditional straight and across. This imparts durability and strength to the cotton sheets made with sateen. Additionally, because of the chemical treatment during mercerization, sateen sheets are resistant to water and prevent mildew.
Sateen does have all the advantages mentioned above, but there are some unscrupulous manufactures who take a shortcut during the mercerization, and go straight to one of the steps in the finishing process called calendering. In this, a similar smooth or polished look can be imparted to the sheet set made from the sateen fabric by simply passing the threads through two sets of heavy rollers.
This is a more traditional yarn compared to the sateen mentioned earlier. The fabric is made by weaving one thread across, and the next forward below it, and then the next one across again, and so on. This gives the percale bed linen a more matte look. Bed sheets made using the percale weave breathe well, and hence can be equally cooling during hot days and warm and snug during the colder winters. People who use these sheets love the crisp feel of the fabric and say they can almost hear the rustle of the bedsheets. While buying cotton percale sheet sets, one must be careful to check the thread count. Usually a thread count of upto 300 made using longer threads would make the sheet more durable and less prone to pilling. But a common ploy by manufacturers is to promise a much higher thread count, which is usually achieved by using three ply threads instead of single ply, which isn’t an actual increase in the numbers of threads per square inch.
Like sateen, most organic cotton sheets made using the percale weave are priced higher than regular bed sheets. But once you have experienced the comfort and the durability of good quality organic percale sheets manufactured by a dependable brand of bed linen, then you are not likely to go back to any other choice again.
When you hear the word flannel you might first think of the checked Scottish kilts, but in the context of bed linen, flannel refers to a twill weave. You will love its lush and warm feel, but you must remember that it will feel nice only when the mercury has dropped a little. The reason for this lies in the way flannel is manufactured - using worsted yarn or even carded wool. That said, the speciality of bed sheets made of flannel is that they can make you feel warm, but yet not get you to wake up all sweaty and hot. If you wish to dig deeper into the technicalities of the flannel manufacturing process, you must know that the unique brushing process during this manufacturing process produces little cells of air within the yarn, which helps trap the warmth. Another unique feature of flannel that many people are not aware of is that it has very good moisture absorbing qualities, so you will feel warm and dry.
Compared to the percale weave bed linen mentioned above, flannel has one disadvantage. It is prone to pilling with prolonged use, which refers to the formation of little balls of yarn or fabric on the surface. Also, compared to percale or sateen, flannel has a very low thread count, sometimes less than 100. This allows air to be trapped between the threads and provides the resulting benefit, as already explained above.