The term Egyptian Cotton is thrown around a lot when talking about bedding. It's true that Egypt produces beautiful cotton but it's the length of the cotton fiber that makes it top caliber. The longer the fiber is, the more durable and smooth it is when it's twisted into thread and woven. Thread counts from 800 and up start to look and feel just like silk. Egypt creates the best quality of this long fiber cotton, much of which is earmarked for luxury bedding producers, such as Frette, Anichini, Peacock Alley and Yves Delorme. Cotton is sometimes blended with silk, poplin, sateen and percale to control texture, stretch and durability.
Linen acts much like cotton and has the ability to remain taut and crisp, while remaining soft to the touch. The Old World popularity of French and Irish linen sheets manifested itself in literature and as family heirlooms among the elite class. Linen fabrics are typically more expensive than cotton sheets because their raw material, which is derived from the flax plant, is harder to spin into threads. These days, you can find linen sheets made from hemp as well a those that are certified organic.
Cultivated silk sheets are smooth, buttery and supple, a departure from the more stiff varieties of cotton, linen and their blends. Mulberry and Tussah are the highest quality silks, but only Mulberry silk is made from extra-long filaments, making it much more durable. Silk sheets are notorious for their high price tags, but the raw material is so durable that the bedding, if properly cared for, is destined to outlast any mid-range cotton, linen or blend. Silk bedding isn't just a luxury, it's an investment too.
Sateen has the same smooth feel and lustrous look as silk but the fabric is actually cotton. The fabric is created using a satin weave, which leaves one side with a shiny finish and the other side with a matte finish. The most luxurious sateen sheets for the bed are made from 100 percent cotton and will not contain rayon or other blending materials.
Percale is often a blended fabric, but the most luxurious types of Percale will exclusively contain Egyptian cotton or linen. The high thread count and tight weave means that Percale sheets are ultra fine and very durable. They're a favorite among luxury hotels because the sheets stay very crisp and uniform even after many visits to the laundry.