Thread Count! I first noticed this term when I went to buy bedsheets. Maybe you did too. They also seem to be important when buying shirt fabrics. But knowing the term and using it to your advantage is different. Questions in my mind are :
How to buy quality fabric looking at its thread count?
Does high thread count mean you get a soft, fine fabric that is sturdy and durable?
And do you buy only fabric with the highest thread count possible?
What is thread count?
The alternative term used for thread count indicates its meaning well – threads per inch (TPI)
Thread count refers to the total number of threads in every square inch of a woven fabric especially that of cotton. It is a measure for fabric quality and durability and indicates how tightly the fabric has been woven. To go technical, the total number of warp threads (length) and weft threads (width) per square inch of fabric. ie thread density in a certain area of your fabric. The thread count is the number of threads counted thus added together.
So a 400-count fabric will have 200 warp threads and 200 weft threads in a square inch.
In countries like Australia, France and Italy the thread count is calculated every 10 square cm which measures 3.16cm x 3.16cm. The count in threads per 10 cm square will tend to be higher than threads per square inch. You have to be aware of this difference if you shop internationally.
Higher Thread Count = Better quality fabric ???????
Higher thread count is said to be better than lower thread count. A piece of fine quality fabric with high thread count will be made with fine, long staple, quality yarns with a balanced and dense construction.
Is thread count the best way to gauge the quality of the fabric?
This is a very ambiguous question.
Normally a high thread count is a good indicator as to the fabric being of good quality. But this also depends a lot on the quality of the yarns and the way it is woven and even where it is made. Some low thread count fabric may be of finer quality than a densely woven fabric woven with low-quality yarn.
The problem with depending solely on thread count is that you may end up duped – especially when shopping online. This is because fabric with the same quality may be labeled as having different thread counts.
There is a lack of standards in this area- textile manufacturers have their own labeling and they are not at all standardized. This results in different brands of fabrics with the same thread count to feel different and look different
One fabric may be marked 1000 thread count but you may find that it looks and feels lower quality than a finer fabric you have which is marked 250 thread count.
So when buying fabric rather than only look at the thread count, check on these factors as well –
Whether the yarn is of fine quality
Long staple yarns which have been combed to remove short fibers produce very smooth fine quality fabric. In true Egyptian cotton, they maintain a standard for fiber length throughout, which is why it has the reputation as the best and softest cotton. You can feel this in the fabric’s hand.
If cheap yarns are used or thick and coarse yarns or inferior short plied yarns are used a high thread count would not matter much for the fabric and the fabric would not feel smooth and fine.
Ply of the fabric
Ply refers to how many yarns are twisted to form a single thread.
Two-ply fabrics are made with two yarns twisted to form a single thread and this is superior to a single-ply fabric. Two-ply fabrics are more durable. A two-ply fabric is usually bought for shirting. When counting the thread count manufacturers should be counting only actual threads rather than each ply forming the threads. Usually, a thread count above 100 will imply a 2-ply fabric.
A two-ply fabric with medium thread count is preferred for dressmaking otherwise the fabric will turn out to be too thick/dense.
The place where it is made
Some places are notorious for inferior textile production. Without naming the places, a buyer needs to be cautious about the quality of products.
How the fabric is made
This refers to the quality of the weaving processes involved and finishing processes used.
The best weaving processes result in the best fabric – this is a simple truth. If the fabric is made with multiple, inferior yarns plied together and woven, this may result in an exaggerated thread count. For marking higher thread count, the manufacturers may use multiple-ply yarn where individual threads are twisted around each other but this does not make a good quality fabric.
In dressmaking, the weaving process may excuse a low thread count – like in the case of an oxford weave fabric used to make shirts – the open weave with tiny holes in this fabric make it all the more attractive and some ask for this. But some may prefer a pinpoint oxford fabric because it has a higher thread count and lighter finer weave than the Oxford fabric. More on shirt fabrics here.
What is a good quality thread count ? Is there a minimum and maximum to thread count?
Thread count is not used for knitted fabrics or fabrics like flannel, satin, or microfiber. Different types of fabric have different thread count ranges.
A thread count of 150 is what you can expect for an average quality cotton fabric. For clothing fabrics, this is a pretty high number. Even 120 is high for dressmaking and 150 is termed excellent.
180-300 thread count is considered for good quality bedsheets but 300 to 400 thread count range is what people expect when buying higher quality sheets.
But if you notice thread count above 400 it may be bogus as the maximum number of threads you can get on a loom is around 400, so how can it get higher.
The fine percale woven cotton has a thread count of 225 or more and is much in demand for bedsheets. 280 thread count Percale gives the best quality.
The best check for the quality of fabric ultimately is whether it is smooth, fine and has a natural luster (You may contrarily want a textured fabric – in which case check out this post on the 30 best fabric with texture). If the fabric feels smooth and fine and the high thread count goes with it you can feel confident about the fabric.
A linen fabric may have lower thread count than cotton but linen is a far superior fabric. So Linen may be marked with a thread count as low as 50 but may still be the best fabric you want. 50-140 Thread count is good with Linen.
For Sateen fabric a thread count of 300-600 is marked as of high quality.
For silk fabrics, thread count is not counted as very important. Silk threads can vary greatly in terms of diameter and length. High momme weight is the usual measure used to gauge its quality. 19-25 momme weight is considered when buying silk bedsheets and a higher than 22 momme weight is used for clothes.
But when everything is equal, thread count is used as a measure. Then higher thread count is considered to be better. When momme weight and thread count is high you have a good quality silk. A thread count of 300-350 is considered good quality though you will find superior luxurious 750 thread count silk fabrics.
Low Thread count uses
There are many instances in sewing where thread count is ignored – when you need a more open weave fabrics and thread density does not matter at all. Cross stitch embroidery uses fabric with low thread count – the stitches need to pass through fabric weaves which are visible.22- 25 thread count Aida fabrics are regularly used for cross stitch. A linen used for embroidery usually comes with a higher thread count of 32.
Interesting reading: These people really counted the thread count of an inch of a pillowcase and found it to be true here