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February 07, 2014
Thread count is a unit of measure for fabric. Simply put, it refers to the number of threads in a one inch square of fabric. The use of finer threads enables higher numbers of thread to fit inside the square inch and since finer threads are equated with a smoother, softer feel, they are equated with better quality and a higher level of luxury.
It seems fairly straightforward. In terms of fabric, the more threads the better. This, however, is where the water becomes muddy. Finer thread can also be more fragile thread. Further still, these thread count comparisons only make sense when comparing apples to apples. There are differences in composition between cotton and pure linen, for example. Linen fibers are inherently thicker than cotton fibers. This is one of the reasons why linen is several times stronger than cotton and it also explains why pure linen will have a lower thread count than cotton, despite being considerably better quality.
So if not thread count, then how is the quality of pure linen measured? The difference among pure linens comes from the spinning of the yarns. A fine yarn for a sheer linen may have the same "thread count" as a coarser yarn used in a more rustic fabric but it is their weight that tells the true story. The standard measurement for linen is Oz/y2 and this denotes the fabric's weight in ounces per yard squared. As an example, Libeco's "Faro" sheer weights only 2.7 ounces while their heavier "Milano" fabric weights a hefty 16.5 ounces.
So if you take your linens seriously, save the thread count for cottons but become savvy about Oz/y2 when shopping for quality linen. This is one instance where thin is not in.
For more info on thread count, check out:
Yarn density conversion
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