When shopping for new bed sheets, you will have undoubtedly noticed words like sateen, satin, twill, percale, waffle, taffeta and basket. If you are baffled by these words, allow us to unpick the mystery.
They all refer to types of weaving used to make fabric.
Weaving the same fibre in different patterns has a noticeable effect on a fabric’s feeling. Different weaves can make a fabric softer, stronger, stretchier, more durable and produce a more delicate drape.
So it’s essential to know sateen from satin and plain from percale to choose the softest, most comfortable bed sheets.
What are warp and weft?
Before we jump into explaining the most common weave types, first, let’s define a few weaving terms that arise often:
Another word for “thread” or “fibre” used when talking about the technicalities of fabric.
Warp refers to the longitudinal (upright) yarns held in place by a loom.
Weft yarns travel over and under the warps in creative ways, producing the different weave types depending on how they cross.
How many warp and weft threads (yarns) appear in a square inch of fabric. Remember: a higher thread count does not always mean better quality fabric.
The most common fabric weave types
Depending on which corner of the internet you consult, you might be overwhelmed with weave types. But when it comes to bed sheets, there are only three classic weave types you should be familiar with: percale, sateen and twill.
Why these three? Well, many weave types are simply variations on a classic and more common in clothing than bed sheets. Others, like jersey, are not weaves at all but knitted fabric.
If you’re looking for an excellent all-rounder, percale bed sheets fit the bill with a medium weight, smooth matte finish and durability with regular washing.
A type of plain weave, percale is achieved using an interlacing over-under method where the weft passes under a warp, over the next, under the next and so on.
The difference, however, is in the details. Percale fabric usually has a thread count of 200 or higher, making it stronger, smoother and heavier than lower thread count plain weave, with a crisp, breathable feeling.
Sateen and satin weave
Satin and sateen are sometimes used interchangeably, and while both weave types are buttery soft, there is a difference. Sateen uses short-staple fibres like cotton, where satin is a synthetic material with a similar weave.
Sateen, prized for its softness, silky feeling and lustrous drape, is more common in bed sheets than satin.
To create a sateen weave, weft yarns float over warp yarns a few at a time. So if you see 5-harness or 6-harness on sateen sheets, this tells you how many threads the weft skipped before tucking back under.
Those longer floats give sateen fabric a smooth surface, while the thicker threads and high thread counts make the material warm in all weather.
Twill often has a coarser and heavier feeling than other weaves. However, the looser yarn arrangement does allow for soft, pliable fabrics with higher thread counts.
To weave twill fabric, the weft yarn passes over one or more warps, under two or more, then over again. The wefts above or below follow the same pattern, slightly offset to produce the characteristic diagonal pattern you can actually feel on twill fabrics with lower thread counts.
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