Crisp, Cool Bed Sheets: The Best, Most Comfortable Bed Linens Are Also the Simplest

I've been obsessed with finding some affordable 100% cotton sheets that are of the cool, crisp weave and quality that my grandma used - the kind you'd see drying on clotheslines in her neighborhood.

Here's my problem.  In the hot, humid weather of summertime, I can't fall asleep without a sheet on top of me, but I don't want it to cling.  I hate the feel of those shiny, high-thread-count, soft, drapy sheets in sateen or other luxury fabric, especially in the summer - it might feel okay at first, but it's not really ideal for year-round wear.  Those high-thread-count, so-called luxury sheets feel  as breathable as wet silk to me - which means not breathable at all.  (Silk, though airy when dry, gets stifling when it's damp, and is much harder to care for, so it doesn't make the best comfortable day-to-day sheeting).

I considered linen sheets, which are airy, smooth, and cool.  They would be perfect, I realized...if I could afford them.

Which left me, oddly, with an option I had almost forgotten:  those wonderful, old, kinda stiff, sorta wrinkly, but smooth, crisp sheets that rustled against the skin when I was a kid and gave me this great feeling of being tucked in and cozy.

So then my mission began.  Find the crisp cotton sheets!  And while I was on a sheet shopping crusade, I decided I wanted my pillowcases airy and crisp, too, and not stifling my face, right where I'm trying to breathe!

I also wanted to find single sheets and pillowcases - bedding a la carte, basically.  See, I love flannel sheets in winter, but I can't stand flannel pillowcases against my face.  And because we have been trying out some unconventional bed and mattress designs (like shikibutons), I wanted to be able to buy a flat sheet here, a fitted sheet there...and any number of pillowcases I choose, not just the standard single pillowcase that comes with a twin set, or the two cases with full, double, and queen, or the two king-sized pillowcases that come with king size sheet sets (I mean, I like a big bed, but my head is normal size, you know?)

So what have I learned in my quest for those traditional crisp sheets of yesteryear?  I've learned that the best sheets aren't the fancy ones, like the Thomas Lee cotton sheets.  They sent me a swatch, but although it felt really lovely - in fact, it felt very much like fine silk to me - it wasn't what I wanted to sleep in every night of the year.  I want something substantial on me.  And although I know the company has a guarantee, I thought they were too expensive to try, just to try them...

I learned what I need to look for when I buy crisp sheets.  I learned that the thing that makes cotton sheets cool, crisp and smooth is the percale weave.  For the non-fabric-techies, percale is the simplest, most basic weave there is, tight and strong, and not stretchy, fluffy or linty.  I learned that a good quality cotton can make the difference between scratchy percale sheets and smooth, that combed cotton feels somewhat warmer than plain cotton.

And thread count?   Sheets of 200 thread count (which means 100 threads going in one direction and 100 threads going in the other direction, per inch) to 280 thread count are usually what we think of when we think of our grandma's clothesline sheets.

In my research, I found some highly rated and very affordable sheets, which you'll find here.   I've tried some of these sheets, and others I only found after I did my sheet shopping.  (For some reason, my husband is not thrilled with the idea of replacing the entire contents of our linen closet with sheets while I test each one.)

I did use my newly gained sheet-shopping savvy to pick out the sheets that earned positive reviews by people of like minds - those who remember their grandmother's sheets and scorned the sissy sateen and impossibly high thread counts (after 400, apparently, it's all hype) for those basic, comfy, smooth and firm sheets that are best for everyday use.

Besides percale sheets, you'll also find here some great sources for quality flannel sheets and old-fashioned 100% cotton quilts that have a heirloom look but not price tag.  And for those who can afford it, some nice linen sheets.  And any other bedding products I found that I thought were nifty.