What is Thread Count?
Thread count is simply the sum of the warp (lengthwise) and weft (width-wise) woven together in one square inch of fabric. In general the higher that number, (thread count) the better the fabric. But in our days, I have to say that thread count has almost nothing to do with the fabric quality, and has become more of a marketing tool.
Around 20 years ago, textile mills around the world would use one type of quality yarns woven in the same exact process, so whomever achieved a higher thread count in those days, did in fact achieve a better quality fabric.
Now days, things have changed dramatically. As technology advanced, what was not possible for the older generations of textile manufacturers, became available for this generation. Lower quality fiber which was not used in making 250 thread count sheets for example, now we are able to be use up to 300 thread count sheets. Weaving looms were updated as well to able to weave fabric in many methods and speeds.
To simplify things, a 300 thread count sheets made with quality yarn from quality fiber, woven in an authentic weave can well be of much better quality than a 500 thread count or even higher. Does thread count is sheets still mean quality to you??
What is Cotton Quality or Yarn Quality?
Quality of the fiber used in spinning the yarns can be the most important element in sheet making. Longer fiber such as Egyptian cotton or "Pima" cotton can produce much better yarns than other cotton which lacks such fiber. Combing is an additional process in which raw cotton is blended and cleaned from short fiber. Fibers of 1.25 to 2 inches in length are of Egyptian cotton while 7/8 of an inch for those of Pima cotton. The longer the fiber, the better, stronger & smoother fabric can be constructed.
What are the Weaving Processes?
The way in which the fabric is woven has a very important effect on the finished fabric. The old traditional weave, plain weave or percale weave, is one process in which the fabric is woven in one over one. It produces much stronger fabric but also limits the ultimate thread count which can be achieved to 400 thread count.
Sateen weave or satin, is the weave in which the fabric is woven in four over one; it means four yarns acts as if they were one. In this weave, most of the yarns would be on the top surface of the fabric, resulting in a silky smooth touch. In this weave a higher thread count can be achieved; up to 1000 thread count per square inch.
Just as the previous steps were affected by the advancement in technology, weaving also received its share. The term insertions started to be used. The more insertions used in weaving a fabric, the lesser quality it will get. For example a T400 woven with one pick insertion can be of a much better weave than the T1000 woven with 10 pick insertions. It means 10 yarns were being inserted into the fabric from the weft (width-wise) as if they were one single yarn, creating a thicker heavier fabric as a result of the yarn build up.