We see the term thrown about indiscriminately for mass produced bedding with high thread counts at prices that are too good to be true.
Let's dispel the mystery.
The beginnings of any textile start with the quality of the raw materials, whether they be cotton, linen, cashmere, alpaca or wool.
Cotton: The finest yarns have an extra-long staple, high lustre and natural fiber strength.
Buyers for the major linen manufacturers regard these three factors when purchasing yarn. Inferior fiber strength, for example, produces a weak yarn that will break (pilling is a result of weak yarns and inferior spinning process).
The quality of cotton fiber depends not only on the variety (the best is GOSSYPIUM barbadense), but on the seed, soil, mode of cultivation and climatic conditions.
Much of the extra-long staple cotton comes from the Nile Delta in Egypt as the plant requires a hot, dry climate. However, not all Egyptian cottons are equal, and there are many grades of cotton fiber that come from Egypt.
Peru and the United States, for example, produce an extra-long staple cotton that is strong, has a natural luster, and is very fine.
***Only 6% of all the cotton grown is graded Extra-Long Staple.
For commercial classification of cottons by staple length, luxury linens are composed of:
extra-long staple: 1 3/8 inches and longer
long-staple 1 1/8 to 1 5/16 inches
Inferior quality cottons are called "upland long-staple", "upland short-staple" and Asiatic.
In the 19th century, the best cotton fiber came from the sea islands off the coast of the Carolinas. It was called "Sea Island" cotton, and was exported to Europe until the outbreak of the Civil War. During the Civil War, the embargo prevented cotton from reaching European markets. Therefore, an early variety of long staple cotton was developed in Egypt.
Sewing: Luxury linens are sewn individually with small even stitches after fabrics have been cut by hand. This is a laborious process, but results in a finished product that is the equivalent of a bespoke suit or haute couture dress. For an example of expert tailoring, please see the luxury designer bedding by Bagni Volpi Noemi.
Printed Fabrics: the best quality printed bed linens are screen printed, with each color of the print having it's own screen. The formulation of the dyes determines the intensity of hues and color fastness of the design. For an example of high quality printed bedding designs please see Mon Amour by Christian Fischbacher which consists of over 12 vibrant colors..
Embroidered Bed Linens: Hand guided embroidered bed lnens (as opposed to machine embroidery) have a three-dimensional quality that provides depth and texture. The embroidery machine requires a special skill that is becoming rare in Western Europe. You may be interested in the embroidered bed linens of Bagni Volpi Noemi or Cottimaryanne
How to buy luxury linens on the internet?
Buy a brand that has a reputation for producing a consistent, high quality product.
Look for manufacturers that are still family owned where they take pride in the finished product (Quagliotti, Christian Fischbacher, Dea). Some may not be household names in the US, but are very respected in Europe.
Purchase from a store with a knowledgeable sales staff that can guide you with your selection. At Aiko Luxury Linens we are passionate about textiles, their history, and importance in our everyday lives.
To be continued....we still need to talk about linen (flax), cashmere, wool and down comforters (goose down and eiderdown). So much to do - so little time!