Your Guide to Luxury Linens

By Cindy McNatt / The Orange County Register

There are exotic vacations, fancy cars and Louboutin shoes. But those are fairly brief in terms of how much pleasure they give us. But since we spend up to a third of our life in bed, does it make sense to skimp on this very important part of our day?

Luxury linens at Camps and Cottages in Laguna Beach
Above: A display bed at Camps and Cottages in Laguna Beach
features an array of high-end "rough linens" and pillows by makers like Coyuguchi.

Linen vs. Linens

Since linen has been used since 5000 B.C. and was the first fabric constructed, "linens" is the term used for bedding; all cloth was made of linen until cotton became king in the late 1600s. The term linens is also used for napkins, tablecloths and other household items, especially if they are of fine linen damask. Linen is cycling back as the fabric of choice for heirloom-quality household linens.

Bed linens are the complement to the perfect mattress. Sheets are the cocoons that keep us warm and cool. Linens are the luxury we rest our face on and the smoothness that covers our shoulders. There are ways to layer the lusciousness so going to bed is the most comfortable it can be. Design is fine, but textiles rule when it comes to bedding. Natural fibers are the most luxurious of all and the ingredients are few: flax plants, cotton, goose down and goats. All add up to a recipe for a delightful sleep.

fine linens in south Orange County CA

One of the biggest trends in bedding is linen. Belgian and Irish linens from the flax plant not only last a lifetime, they feel better as they get older. As a testament to the strength and softness of linen, consider that flax is what "paper" money is made of. Tricia Rose, atelier of, said she had her linen awakening when she found a vintage linen pillowcase in her grandmother's closet in Scotland. She sought a way to have linen bedding for herself. Rose tromped around Europe looking for linen mills. When she found one in northern France, she ordered by the bolt and began to sew. "I'm going away for Christmas and I'll be taking my sheets with me," she said while stitching up another set of sheets in her Northern California studio. Her sheeting business has grown five-fold in the past year.

Pure linen softens with use. It's not the hot water in a wash that softens linen, but the agitation of the washing machine and dryer. The more you handle linen fabric, the softer it feels.

Linen is wrinkled, but that is part of its charm. One way to reduce wrinkles and ensure longevity is to remove your sheets from the dryer while they are still slightly damp, then hang to finish drying.

Molly English at Camps and Cottages in Laguna Beach carries the vintage-washed Bella Notte brand, a lightweight and supersoft linen line. At $95 a pillowcase, you can appreciate that linen bedding is an investment.
"There are all kinds of linens for bedding, from heavyweight burlap linens to very fine handkerchief lines," English said. Feel before you buy to find a kind of linen that suits you.

While linen sheets are the latest trend in luxury bedding, cotton is still king. Don't think about thread count. Look for the long-fiber cottons, such as Egyptian- or American-grown pima, for the softest hand. "Thread count is overrated," said Steve Bizel from Between the Sheets at South Coast Plaza. "It's promoted as a leader to get you in the store." Something scratchy that is 600-thread count doesn't mean much if the cotton is not long staple like Egyptian or pima. Not all Egyptian cotton is the same quality. Between the Sheets uses Giza Egyptian cotton, considered the softest of them all. Bizel also said sheet dimensions are important. "Length matters," he said. "A stingy sheet that won't tuck under the mattress is called short sheeting. Premium sheets will provide extra drop for tucking."

Percale is a weave that is usually one under and one over. Sateen is more luxurious, with three to five under and one over, giving it a smoother hand. Premium cotton sheets won't last for hundreds of years as linen does, but they will easily last your lifetime and can be handed down. Cotton also gets softer with use. One set is all you need, so be sure to put them in your will.

For ultimate comfort, you can't top your bed with anything other than down comforters. Down, like natural linens and cottons, keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Sarahdia Pierre-Louis, marketing manager at in Northern California, says her company has offered family-made comforters for 39 years. "Buying down products is very subjective," she said. "Customers should take into account the temperature of their home and whether they are usually warm or cold."

Buying the thickest comforter doesn't work for everyone. "Fill power is what you want to shop for," Pierre-Louis said. "It describes the fluffiness of the comforter – or the space that equates to warmth." A comforter that traps more air will be warmer than, say, a comforter with more feathers. The quality of feathers matters, she said. Warm Things uses goose down, which it says lasts longer than duck feathers. Thread count on the comforter doesn't matter over 300. "It's overkill," Pierre-Louis said. Look for baffled-box construction that disperses the feathers evenly and prevents shifting.

And lastly, don't launder too frequently."We recommend professional laundering," Pierre-Louis said. "Not dry cleaning. Commercial washing machines and large cool-air dryers provide the best result." There is a small but growing trend in the U.S. to order two twin-size comforters, as the Europeans do, instead of a single king-size comforter for couples.

Designers are jumping on the cashmere blanket trend. Everyone from Ralph Lauren to Frette in South Coast Plaza is using premium goat hair for cuddle comfort. Cashmere is the caviar of knits. Lightweight and incredibly soft, it provides light warmth for an afternoon nap, great for drifting off to sleep.

The cost of cashmere happens because of its rarity, as it comes from the soft hair from the underbelly of Mongolian goats. White goats are considered premium over gray or brown. European-made cashmere products cost more than Chinese cashmere. More care is taken with the handling process and the quality of the weaving. But all price points are soft and warm. Some softer than others.

fine linen pillow cases


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