Percale vs. Sateen: Find Your Perfect (Sheet) Match
Time to hit the hay.
Updated Sep 20, 2018 12:30 PM
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Ever struggle to fall asleep because you just can’t get comfortable? Blame your bedding: If it hasn’t been tailored to your specific sleep habits, nodding off is going to be tough. Fortunately, a blissful snooze doesn’t have to be complicated. All you need are the right linens. Here’s how to customize your bed (and bath!) like a pro.
Find Your Type
We have the weave to thank for how our sheets feel, so first thing’s first: You’ll want to learn the difference between percale and sateen, two of the most popular types.
With its tight matte weave and crisp, cool feel, percale is the choice for balmy summer nights—or just keeping hot sleepers cool. It’s also incredibly durable, so you won’t have to worry about pilling. To keep it timeless, go for Sferra’s Celeste sheets, made with high-quality cotton percale. Or add a painterly splash of color with Matouk’s Lowell collection, also in cotton.
Known for its luminous sheen and Old Hollywood glamour, sateen is a heavier, more tightly woven fabric than percale. This makes it ideal for chilly sleepers or wintertime, though its buttery soft feel is appealing year-round. For a sleek, refined look, we like Frette’s Essentials Single Ajour sheets. Matouk’s Nocturne sheets, woven in Egyptian cotton sateen, features tonal striations that remind us of the sky.
Now that you know your percale from your sateen, let’s talk details—namely, staple, finish, and texture. The staple, or length of a fiber, is what determines a cotton’s quality. Long-staple cotton is what you want; it produces the softest, most durable weave and results in fewer exposed fiber ends, which means less pilling or tearing.
Finish refers to the process a fabric undergoes after being woven, which preserves the look of the textile and can also affect its hand (aka the feel). Some fabrics can also be treated so that they’re flame retardant or water repellent.
In terms of texture, the main thing to look out for is weight. The best sheets for you will feel just right—not too cold and never too hot. When shopping, be sure to consider your body temperature and the conditions in your space.
Fluff It Up
A bed’s not complete without utility bedding—i.e., the pillows and comforter. The right ones for you will feel inviting, cozy, and perfectly plush.
Comforters come with two different fillings: down and down alternative. Down is all-natural, sustainable, and renewable; it’s also exceptionally soft. Always chilled? Its clusters of feathers efficiently trap layers of air to insulate you from the cold. Don’t be afraid to splurge on the finest, like European or Canadian goose down. Frette’s Cortina down comforters, with their signature piped edges, are exactly what you’ll find in upscale hotels. For those allergic to down, a down alternative filling is a great option. It behaves just like down, but it’s sanitized and free of animal products, so you won’t have to worry about health issues. (It’s also a bit more affordable.) For a comforter that feels equally as luxe as down, try Matouk’s soft, warm Libero.
Find Your Filling
Not sure what type of comforter to get? Check the fill power, which indicates the size of the down clusters. The higher the number, the better quality the down, like Sferra’s Somerset Down pillows. And, of course, the better the down, the more comfortable you’ll be. (European and Canadian down clusters take more space than smaller down clusters, so they earn a higher fill power rating.)
Pillow density refers to the firmness of the pillow. This, in turn, dictates how much you’ll sink into it. Different kinds of densities work for different kinds of sleepers, so choose the best one based on your sleep habits. Side sleeper? Go firmer for more neck support. Back sleeper? Choose medium density. Stomach sleepers should always go soft.
Wrap Things Up
It’s time to build the ultimate bed. For a queen-size, start with the right foundation: a clean fitted sheet. Add your preferred sleeping pillows, then pull on some standard shams—in eye-catching patterns, of course. Top it off with your comforter—which you’ve covered by now with a duvet—and you’re set. You can always add a decorative pillow or two later.
Don’t Overlook the Towels
Towels are just as important as your bed linens. Here, hand type and weight are the two main factors. Typically crafted from high-twist or multi-ply yarn, towels with a dry hand feature densely woven pile and a coarser feel. But don’t let that fool you into thinking they’re like sandpaper—dry towels get softer with every wash. They’re also lighter, so they take up less space. And as any owner of Sferra’s Bello towels will tell you, they’re highly absorbent, too.
Soft hand towels are usually woven with zero or low-twist yarn. They have superloops, or pile, which creates an indulgent, cloud-like thickness. If you like your towels fluffy, Frette’s Diamond Bordo or Matouk’s Lotus bath towels are the way to go.
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