Part 3 – Yarns and weaves

It's now time to spin fibres into yarn and weave a sheet. Yarns and weaves not only affect temperature; they also affect the way sheets feel much more than thread count.


When it comes to sheets, yarns broadly fall into two categories, single-ply yarns and multi-ply yarns. The easiest way to understand the difference is to imagine using a spinning wheel to spin a ball of wool.

If you run the wool through a spinning wheel once, you get a ball of single-ply yarn. If you take two balls of wool, twist the ends together and run them both through the spinning wheel, you get a ball of multi-ply yarn. In this case, a two-ply yarn. In a two-ply yarn, you have one visible thread that's made up of two threads twisted together (a bit like a rope).


Because multi-ply yarns are made by twisting multiple threads together, the resulting sheet is often thicker and doesn't breathe as well. This makes multi-ply yarn sheets great for winter or cold sleepers but terrible for hot sleepers or summer.

Also, twisting threads together strengthens threads (like rope) so when made from great cotton, they last a long time. However, this process also allows the use of cheaper fibres, and can temporarily mask the quality of the cotton. This is why some high thread count sheets feel stiff or like cardboard, or don't last.

And because each visible thread is made from threads twisted together, counting the 'invisible threads' can double or triple the thread count (we discuss thread-count later). While this looks impressive, be aware that if high thread count sheets are not eye-wateringly expensive, that high thread count could be hiding low-quality fibres.

And finally, when each thread is made from two or three threads twisted together, the sheet consumes two or three times the yarn. For example, when made from really great cotton, expect to pay upwards of NZD $700 per set. And when made from the very best cotton you can get, expect to pay upwards of NZD $1,300 per set. More about this when we dissect how thread count works.


By contrast, single-ply yarns generally result in sheets that are finer and breathe better. You may hear people talk about 'fine sheets that breathe', this is what single-ply yarns deliver. Single-ply yarns are great for summer, for hot sleepers, or as a base layer for both a hot and cold sleeper in the same bed.

Also, because single-ply yarns are not made by twisting multiple threads together, there's nowhere for bad raw materials to hide so you can often see the quality with your eyes in-store. Also, with single-ply yarns the thread count is based on the threads you can actually see. They're single-ply threads so there aren't any extra threads which have been twisted together. This means thread counts for single-ply yarns are often half that of multi-ply yarns (or more).

And finally, sheets made from single-ply yarns consumer less raw materials. Often, this translates into better quality for the same money when comparing high thread count sheets made from multi-ply yarns (all things being equal).


Now that we have a yarn, it's time to weave it into a sheet. Sheets generally use two types of weave, percale and sateen. The sateen weave can be woven into a higher thread count which has given rise to a myth that sateen is better than percale. But in reality, it comes down to heat, feel and personal preference. Here's a run-down.


Percale is a crisp, non-glossy weave. Percale's one under, one over structure (see image) has a crisper feel and better air permeability (breathability) compared to sateen. This makes Percale ideal for hot summer months or hot sleepers.

Percale also lasts longer which is why it's most often used in hotels. So if you love the feel of crisp hotel sheets, then you love Percale (and a low thread count). And if you sleep with a foot hanging out of bed, you're a prime candidate for that cool, crisp Percale weave.


Sateen, on the other hand, is silkier with a natural gloss. While it initially feels cool to the touch, it warms up quickly and traps heat. Sateen's three over, and one under weave (see image) traps more heat, making it an excellent choice for cooler seasons or cold sleepers. Sateen is also softer than percale. Although, when the best cotton is used, the difference becomes less noticeable over time.

The Sateen weave doesn't last as long as Percale with single-ply yarns and the same cotton grade is used. The Sateen weave generally requires a higher thread count to create cohesion or strength between the threads. And more cotton means a higher price, so along with a higher thread count, the higher price has contributed to the myth that Sateen is better than Percale. In reality, it comes down to sleep temperature and feel.

Percale = Cool and crisp
Sateen= Soft and hot


Cold sleepers

  • Cotton or synthetics
  • Multi-ply yarns (trap more heat and maintain hotter temperatures)
  • Sateen weave (softer and hotter)

Hot sleepers

  • Cotton or linen
  • Single-ply yarns (breathe better and maintain cooler temperatures)
  • Percale weave (cooler and crisper)

Hot & Cold sleepers in the same bed

  • Cotton or linen, then use layers
  • Single-ply yarns (breathe better and maintain cooler temperatures)
  • Percale weave (cooler and crisper) then use layers