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Beware of labeling tricks. Unless a fabric label reads "100% Egyptian cotton" you are likely getting a blend of Egyptian and cheaper cotton fibers.

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Sheets
Towels
Down
Pillows




budget bedding, bath & table linens

Bed, Bath & Beyond
A favorite for wedding registries, this bed, bath & kitchen superstore carries mid-range brands like Wamsutta, DKNY, Jonathan Adler, Nicole Miller, Nautica and Croscil, as well as their exclusive cotton sateen "Hotel Collection" sheet sets. Returns can be made to any BB&B retail store.

The Company Store
This popular catalog company carries their own in-house brand of linens and beddings. This is a good place to shop for basics like mattress pads, pillows and summer and winter weight down comforters and down throws.

Pottery Barn
Pottery barn has a nice selection of solid color matelasse coverlets as well as an organic bedding collection. A good place to go for updated prints that aren't fusty.

Lands' End
This catalog company is owned by Sears and is known for its generous, guaranteed-for-life return policy. I've always been surprised by the high quality of its merchandise - everything seems to be better constructed than similarly priced items from other stores. Be sure to check out their Overstocks section for deals on discontinued bedding.

Cuddledown
Carries budget basics, plus more high-end options like Italian-made 100% linen sheets. I own their German-made Natural Cotton Fleece Blanket (pictured left) and love it - it's super-soft and thick, without being overly heavy, plus its machine washable, dryer-safe and Oeko-Tek (eco-friendly) certified.

Linen Source
This budget bedding store is worth a look for its large selection of matelasse coverlets. Bestsellers include the Williamsburg Solid Color Quilted Coverlet (pictured), which comes in 11 color choices (I have one in cornflower), is machine washable and looks great in country and colonial style bedrooms.

L.L. Bean
You won't find anything too fashion forward here, but this is a great place to go for L.L. Bean's own line of country-cozy basics - down comforters, flannel sheets and crocheted sheet sets (pictured here).

Eddie Bauer
Eddie Bauer has a very small selection of lodge-look basics (sheets, down comforters and blankets) - think plaid flannels, goose-down-filled, fireside throws and alpine-inspired patterns.




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> budget linens
> mid-range linens
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Down
Sheets Pillows
Towels
Table Linens

Down
  • Eiderdown is the best - Eiderdown is the best and most expensive type of down you can buy -- comforters can cost thousands of dollars. The down comes from the Eider duck, which plucks its own down and leaves it in abandoned nests where it is then hand-collected. Each down plumule has lots of tiny hooks which help hold the down together in a clingy network that doesn't shift around in the duvet cover like other types of down. Eiderdown is known for forming very even, smooth layers with lots of tiny, air pockets. The smaller the air pockets, the better the insulating and heat-trapping power.

  • Look for Mature Goose Down - Goose down is the next best type of down, but only if the down comes from a larger, older goose. Immature goose down and duck (with the exception of eider duck) down are lesser quality downs. Mature goose down is preferred because it consists of larger, fluffier, more resiliant plumules. These mature plumules also have lots of tiny hooks on the filaments which cling together, forming a tight network that is less likely to clump unevenly and shift in the duvet.

  • Look for a high loft or fill power - Loft is a measurement of how many cubic inches of space 1 oz of down will fill. The higher the number the better. A poor quality down will have a fill power of 300. A very high quality down can have fill power of 800.

  • Down Allergies & Down Alternatives - Some people who think they are allergic to down are actually suffering from sensitivities to the chemicals used to clean the down or to dust mites, pollen and other impurities, which can remain on the down if it is not properly cleaned before the comforter is stuffed. With most reputable manufacturers, this is not a problem as they super-clean their down to the point where it is hypo-allergenic, but if you are concerned about allergies, a good alternative is a silk-filled comforter (see more info below). Synthetic "down alternative" comforters are a good choice for people who want something that is budget-friendly and machine-washable and dryable, but they tend to be heavier, less warm and less durable than real down.

  • Silk-Filled Comforters -Silk-filled comforters aren't as warm as down, but they are a good choice for those who want a lightweight, cloud-soft comforter without all the unwieldy puffiness of down. Since silk doesn't shift and clump like down can, so no box-stitching is necessary to hold it in place -- the result is a lightweight comforter with a thin profile and a nice, smooth surface. Another advantage is that dust mites aren't attracted to silk the way they are to down, so it is a good choice for allergy-sufferers. You will need to purchase a washable duvet cover, however, because these comforters are almost always dry clean only and should be cleaned as infrequently as possible. Look for comforters filled with mulberry silk (a heavier silk that is made from silkworms fed exclusively on mulberry leaves). Lower quality comforters are filled with Tussah, a coarser, wild silk that must be bleached and processed before using.

Sheets

  • Thread Count - Look for sheets in the 300-400 TC range. Thread count measures the number of threads per square inch. To go beyond 400 threads per square inch, you need to use very thin thread, and this will adversely effect durability. Beware of super-high thread counts (800-1000), which aren't quite what they seem. A high quality 400 TC sheet will use single-ply yarn woven at 400 threads per square inch. A lesser quality "800 TC" sheet will use a double-ply yarn (yarn made by twisting two fibers together) and weave it at 400 threads per square inch, but both plies are included in the inflated "800" thread count. Double-ply yarn tends to produce a heavier, but less durable, sheet than single-ply yarn.

  • Egyptian vs. Pima Cotton - Egypt produces the world's finest cotton. It also produces its fair share of average-quality cotton, which means the generic "Egyptian Cotton" label on that sheet set isn't going to clue you in on which one you're getting. The best Egyptian cotton comes from Giza, where cotton divided into two types: Long Staple (LS) and the coveted Extra Long Staple (ELS). ELS Giza cotton is considered to be the best of the best -- its super-long (at least 1 3/8") cotton fibers make the smoothest, strongest and most lustrous fabrics in the world. Unfortunately, most sheet sets don't specify if they are made from ELS or LS cotton. Also, beware of labeling tricks. Unless the label reads "100% Egyptian cotton" you are likely getting a blend of Egyptian and cheaper cotton fibers. Another good option is 100% Pima (also called Supima) cotton sheets. Pima is a variety of cotton that is grown in the US, Australia and other countries. All Pima cotton is ELS, meaning it is made of 1 3/8" fibers, but it is not considered to be as prestigious a fabric as Egyptian ELS, and is actually most often compared in quality and price to Giza 86, one of the finest types of Egyptian LS cotton. If a sheet set isn't Egyptian or Pima, it is probably made from American Upland cotton. This is a cheaper variety that is made from shorter, weaker fibers than Egyptian and Pima cotton.

  • Percale vs Sateen - These two terms have to do with weave. A percale sheet is woven in a tighter pattern, which is ideal for people who like their sheets nice and crisp. Sateen sheets have a looser weave, which produces a buttery soft feel. The disadvantage is that sateen sheets aren't as strong and durable as percale sheets. More casual fabric options include jersey knit (a stretchy, summer-weight fabric that feels like a t-shirt) and flannel (a wintry-warm, brushed cotton).

  • Combed Cotton - Look for Egyptian or Pima cotton sheets that are "combed" -- this is a sign of quality. When cotton is combed, short fibers, dirt and impurities are removed, and this results in a stronger, smoother fabric that is less prone to linting and pilling.

  • Other Fabrics
    Polyester/cotton blends are known for being less prone to wrinkling than all-cotton sheets and any wrinkles that do appear are easy to iron out, but these are usually considered to be "cheap" sheets -- polyester isn't as breathable as cotton and it tends to retain odors.
    Bamboo is an eco-friendly fiber that can be grown without pesticides. It makes a super-soft fabric that feels as smooth as silk, but without all the slipperiness. One disadvantage is that it tends to be less durable than cotton.
    Linen sheets are a true luxury. They tend to start out feeling rougher than cotton sheets, but with each washing they get softer and softer. Linen is super-durable (two to three times as strong as cotton) and its great moisture-wicking properties make it a good choice for summer, but it tends to wrinkle easily and can be difficult to iron.
    Silk - Silk sheets are an acquired taste. They feel very light and luxurious, but they can be very slippery -- I find myself sliding all over the place in them. Also, they need to be gently washed and air dried.

Pillows
  • Traditionally, down pillows are considered to be the most luxurioust - You can refer to the Down guide for detailed info on what type of down is best, but here's a quick summary: 100% goose down is the best type. Duck down is usually inferior. Down pillows tend to be soft. If you want a firmer pillow, get one with down and feathers, but be sure the feathers are only contained in the core and surrounded by 100% down. If the entire pillow is a mix of down and feathers, you'll have quills poking you in the head. Also look for a high "fill power" (the range is 300 to 800). The pillow's cover doesn't need to be a high thread count - even the most luxurious brands use 200-300 thread counts -- higher thread counts are too delicate for pillows, and they will wear out too easily.

  • Natural Alternatives
    Buckwheat Hull - Pillows filled with buckwheat hulls an acquired taste - people either love them or hate them. My sister can't sleep without hers, but I felt like I was sleeping on a bag of beads. Fans love them because they don't attract dust mites and they conform really well to your head and neck.
    100% Natural Latex Foam - Made from the sap of the rubber tree, natural latex foam pillows don't need fluffing, don't ever get lumpy and the foam automatically contours to your head and neck providing pressure relief and support where needed. If you're trying to go all-natural, be sure the pillow specifically says "100% Natural Latex." Pillows labelled "Natural Latex" and "Pure Latex" are almost always a blend of natural and synthetic latex. Of course, if you don't mind using synthetic products, the synthetic blend pillow is also a good choice -- known as Talalay latex, synthetic/natural blends are a superior choice to 100% natural in terms of softness and pliability.
    Wool or Silk - Pillows stuffed with wool tend to be hard and unforgiving. Silk-filled pillows are soft and luxurious, but will lose their loft and go flat pretty quickly.

  • Synthetic Alternatives
    Most people choose synthetic alternatives because they have allergic responses to down or for their budget-friendly prices. The main choices include synthetic down (imitation down made of polyester), memory foam (supportive foam that responds to your body heat and contours itself around your head and neck), and synthetic latex foam (a non-temperature responsive foam that is actually made from a combination of natural rubber latex and synthetic latex.

  • Soft, Medium or Firm? - The traditional recommendation is soft for stomach sleepers, medium for back sleepers and firm for side sleepers, but since many of us don't always sleep in the same position, this isn't a particularly helpful guideline. Personal preference also plays into it, so you'll have to go by trial and error. If you're not sure what to get, buy a medium pillow. After sleeping on it for awhile, you'll soon learn if you need a softer or firmer pillow.

Towels

  • Look for a GSM count of at least 600 - The density of a towel is measured in grams per square meter (gsm). Better towels are at least 600 gsm and the best are 800.

  • Egyptian (best) vs. Turkish and Pima Cotton (better) - Egypt produces the world's finest cotton. It also produces its fair share of average-quality cotton, which means the generic "Egyptian Cotton" label on that bath towel isn't going to clue you in on which one you're getting. The best Egyptian cotton comes from Giza, where cotton divided into two types: Long Staple (LS) and the coveted Extra Long Staple (ELS). ELS Giza cotton is considered to be the best of the best -- its super-long (at least 1 3/8") cotton fibers make the smoothest, strongest and most lustrous fabrics in the world. Unfortunately, most towels don't specify if they are made from ELS or LS cotton. Also, beware of labeling tricks. Unless the label reads "100% Egyptian cotton" you are likely getting a blend of Egyptian and cheaper cotton fibers. Another good option is 100% Pima (also called Supima) cotton towels. Pima is a variety of cotton that is grown in the US, Australia and other countries. All Pima cotton is ELS, meaning it is made of 1 3/8" fibers, but it is not considered to be as prestigious a fabric as Egyptian ELS, and is actually most often compared in quality and price to Giza 86, one of the finest types of Egyptian LS cotton. Turkish ELS cotton (also called Aegean cotton) is another one to look for -- known for its absorbancy, it is used primarily in robes and towels. If a towel isn't Egyptian, Turkish or Pima, it is probably made from American Upland cotton. This is a cheaper variety that is made from shorter, weaker fibers than Egyptian, Turkish and Pima cotton.

  • Look for Combed Cotton - Look for Egyptian, Turkish or Pima cotton towels that are "combed" -- this is a sign of quality. When cotton is combed, short fibers, dirt and impurities are removed, and this results in a stronger, smoother fabric that is less prone to linting and pilling.

  • Ring-Spun is good; Zero or Low-Twist Cotton is even better - Ring-spun and Zero or Low-Twist refer to different ways of spinning the cotton yarn. Cheaper cottons are made using "open-end" yarn (also called "rotor-spun" yarn). Ring-spun yarn is made from a more time-consuming and costlier process that involves twisting the yarn fibers together very tightly. Ring-spun yarn is softer and 30% stronger than open-end yarn. Even softer and more absorbant than ring-spun cotton is zero or low-stwist cotton. In this type, the yarn is hardly twisted at all, creating a chunkier, looser yarn that can open up to absorb lots of water. This can only be achieved by using high quality, long fibers (ring-spun uses a mix of short and long fibers).