Why Don't Linen Sheets Have a Thread Count?
From the first time we purchase new bed linen for ourselves we're told one thing: the higher the thread count, the better the quality. As we check out in store or unpack our online delivery, we are comforted by the marker "400 thread count" listed on the swing tag, anticipating heavenly sleep on buttery-soft sheets.
While it's technically true that a high thread count—usually sitting at around the 400 or 430 point—is a sign that your sheets are going to be like clouds, it is not the only marker of super-soft, high-quality bed linen. In fact, experts argue that high thread counts are often an indication that your sheets could be less pleasant to sleep in, as astronomical thread counts in the 800 or 1200 range can't be produced organically.
When you see a thread count nudging the 1000 mark you need to know that all those extra threads have been woven into the fabric artificially, usually by machine or other manufacturing device. In short, thread counts might be a bit misleading.
But where things start to get really confusing is in the linen category. Below, we explain what a thread count is, the difference between thread count and GSM, and what makes 100% linen so buttery soft.
Why Don't Linen Sheets Have a Thread Count?
What is thread count?
Thread count is a measure of the number of threads woven into every 10cm2 of fabric. It's calculated by counting the number of horizontal threads and the number of vertical threads which make up the weave of the fabric e.g. if 10cm2 of fabric is made from 100 horizontal threads woven with 100 vertical threads, its thread count is 200.
The number of threads you can fit into this area depends on the kind of fabric used and its quality. Given linen is actually twice as thick as cotton and therefore more durable, the amount of threads squeezed into each square centimetre is less than other kinds of sheets, like cotton, which usually carries a thread count of about 200. On top of being more durable, linen is actually more eco-friendly, temperature regulating, and has a unique and luxurious feel to it.
What exactly is "GSM"?
Linen sheets are given a rating based on their GSM, or grams per square metre. This metric measures the weight of any given fabric and gives you an idea of how heavy that fabric will be. For example, fabrics with a GSM of 900 are some of the heaviest, most dense fabrics out there, and you'll find those fabrics in things like bath mats. 700 GSM fabrics are the kinds of things that your winter coats are made out of. Denim has a GSM of about 400, while jute and hessian—the fabrics used to make those hefty sacks—sit at the 275 mark.
Our linen is a GSM of 170, one of the most lightweight fabrics out there. What that means is that a square metre of Bed Threads flax linen weighs 175 grams. A touch heavier than the kinds of linen and cotton used in summer dresses and shirts (135 GSM), but still lighter than the netting you might find in gardens and in fly screen doors (196), flax linen is a cool, easy-to-dry, light fabric to sleep in all year round. The low GSM means that it will be airy and breezy in the summer months, but still thick enough to keep you warm in the winter months. It also means that, at a slightly higher weight than fashion linen, your sheets will be able to withstand the wear and tear of multiple washes and the making and re-making of your bed.
How is GSM different to thread count?
Strictly speaking there's no comparison to be made between GSM and thread count. One measures the weight of a fabric, while the other the number of single threads woven to make that fabric. Flax linen is thicker than cotton because the flax fibre used to make linen comes from the large centre of the plant.
Don't be put off because your linen sheets have a lower thread count than cotton ones, or other popular varieties of bed linen. As we've learnt today, more threads doesn't necessarily indicate high quality or even softness. Linen has a low thread count and GSM, even though it is considered incredibly durable and smooth to the touch.
What's more important is to figure out what kind of sheets work best for you and what you are looking for in bed linen. If the answer is a set of lighter-than-air flax linen sheets—maybe even in a dreamy colour like Sage or Rust or a perfect, crisp White—then you must heed no attention to the thread count whatsoever. Let your hands be your guide instead, and like Goldilocks seek out the sheets that feel just right.