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.

33 comments:

  1. Hi :) I have been looking for Grandma style sheets!! So many shiny uncomfortable ones available now, I wanted the semi-canvas hard-wearing ones so good to see someone else searching too. Any good shop recommends?

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  2. Hi Rebecca,

    I did find some I love. I'm working on a list - check back soon for concrete recommendations. :)

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  3. Shabby Chic sheets are light and airy and crisp.

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  4. I was searching for those good, crisp, old-fashioned cotton sheets when I stumbled onto your blog!

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  5. Okay, I've started a list of crisp cotton sheets, and started one for quilts, too. They're here

    http://grandmothershome.blogspot.com/p/crisp-sheets.html

    and here

    http://grandmothershome.blogspot.com/p/buy-quilts.html

    Or you can just navigate to the "Buy Crisp Sheets" and "Buy Quilts" links at the top. Let me know in the comments if you have other suggestions!

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  6. Thank you so much for this Blog! I am so frustrated, with not being able to find our good old fashioned plain sheets, I'm ready to scream! I did a search and your blog came up. I was actually relieved that I'm not the only one who doesn't care for all these new sateen, Egyptian cotton, etc.. sheets because I was starting to think I was a bit crazy! : ) Thanks again!

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  7. It's so nice to finally find others that remember their grandma's clean, crisp & always so nice & cool sheets! I've been searching for years. I've tried so many only to be so sadly disappointed! I also dislike the silky sateens, egyptian cottons, etc that so many claim are luxury. I thank you for this blog & thank the others that contributed to this blog w/ their comments. I will check out the ones you have listed. Thanks again, Sherri.

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  8. I am a die hard simply shabby chic fan and I can no longer find sheets at Target anymore. I am completely bummed. I can't imagine sleeping in anything other than that. Any good suggestions.

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    1. I too bought the Target/Home Brand crisp sheets. Not anymore. I've purchased two sets but they are just not the same. I found at another site that The Country Store may have the crips sheets or Wamsutta superCale, now I see that Vermont Country Store may have them. Good Luck all!

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  9. I've looked everywhere for crisp cotton sheets as well. Loved Martha Stewart's cotton sheets at KMart but they are no longer available, like so many of those listed on various websites or blogs. FINALLY found Vermont Company Store's Clothesline Crisp Sheets. You would think that these sheets would be more available. Are we really that old fashioned???

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  10. Im on board with you all! When my grandmother passed, we were all asked if we would like something, and I asked for her sheets. They are so wonderful!

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  11. Wow, we must all have grown up in the same era. I too am looking for the wonderful old fashioned sheets. I've put you on my favorites list and will check back often.

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  12. I tried the Vermont Country Store "crisp" sheets and was very disappointed. They're heavy, and loud whenever you move, and never quite relax to the body or bed. It's hard to describe but there's almost a plastic feel to them. So, I'm still looking. The Target website says my local store has the Simply Shabby Chic sheets in stock, maybe those will be what I'm looking for...

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  13. The 220 ct percale seashell pattern at LL Bean are great. When I first unpacked them, they felt coated and plasticky but after a few washes, they are perfect, yes wrinkled but crisp and cool. I hang them up outside because we live in LA. Unfortunately they are discontinued. Their 280 ct percale are ok but not as crisp and cool. I think what we're seeing is the difference in cotton mills and the old sheets were made in the US at the old cotton mills. They are no longer operating

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    1. aaah, the seashell percale are the ones we sleep on at cottage we frequent as guests. I ADORE those sheets! May have to do the 280 if you think they are close. Have you tried the egyption percale with LL Bean?

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    2. I think you hit the nail on the head Kara. I live in the hometown of what was at one time the home and headquarters of Springs Mills, known for their Wamsutta brand among others. At one time a large percentage of sheets mfg in the US were made within a 50 mile radius of me. Now Springs is called Springs Global and operates out of Brazil. Even though the name is basically the same the products being produced are in my opinion substandard to the quality we were accustomed to.

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  14. Oh my gosh---I thought I was alone as well...All I can find are sateen which are ok-but not what I really like. Some people make fun of me and say--"a sheet's a sheet" Not!!!! I'm glad I found this...btw--my favorite sheets seem to be old ones I've found at yard sales! I like a nice ,crisp, cool, soft sheet which no lint balls..:)

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  15. Hi Chris,
    Of the ones still available, can you tell me your favorite and second favorite? Many thanks!

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  16. My favorite turned out to be the 250 thread count percale at Eddie Bauer. Unfortunately, I don't know if those big retailers use the same suppliers all the time - I suspect not. Their stock seemed quite diminished when I checked the other day. I was not crazy about the way Shabby Chic held up over the test of time. I'm still looking, to be honest, as I am also looking for bargains - I have a hard time paying the prices I'm seeing as if low-thread-count percale were at a premium (though in a sense, it is!).

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  17. Oops - I said Eddie Bauer, but turns out I meant Lands End. I just checked my order receipt - seems I always mix up those two along with LL Bean! I have been very happy with the sheets and pillowcases I got with a 200 thread count. They're having a Christmas sale right now, too. Better selection than Eddie Bauer, certainly. :

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  18. Well...these are only 55% cotton, but I just ordered three more sets...because I slept in mine last night and they were JUST what I wanted. Crisp...cool...I was back in my childhood. And...soooooo reasonable price wise. Check them out.

    http://www.overstock.com/Bedding-Bath/Classic-Percale-250-Thread-Count-Oversize-Sheet-Set/5090026/product.html

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  19. Thank you for this info!So glad I stumbled on this. I have bought so many sheets only to return them. At times been so frustrated that I have taken them out of the pkg in the store, put them against my face and leave empty -handed. The sheets we have now were bought 2 years ago and the company doesn't make them anymore. I had a set, "high quality" wedding gift, that made so much noise that turning over in the night would wake both of us! They are on the guest bed which,btw, is a great way to get rid of company that stay too long.

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  20. I thought I was the only one on this quest. 3 years ago I bought two sets of sheets for my parents when they finally entered their independent living home. But they were twin sheets. I found them at Sears, threw out the packaging and didn't notice that they were the holy grail until I slept on them after my parents passed and my sister and I cleaned out the apartment. We share the room and slept side by side on the heavenly sheets. We both woke up and the same time on the first night and said "OMG these sheets are just what I want at home on my own bed".
    Sad to say I haven't found a pair to fit my king size bed since. They were cool, crisp, snapped when you fold them, a nightmare to iron but who would try that? and just enough weight on a summer night. I get a blank stare from linen department clerks and everyone wants to sell me Egyptian cotton that feels like damp kleenex. To top it off, I live in Canada and after I have scoured all the major department stores and bedding specialty stores all I have left is on line stores...but I can't feel them first. Does anyone have any ideas for me?

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  21. Glad to have this place to discuss/vent I too am frustrated with the selection and I'm on an avid hunt to find these sheets. Several years ago I picked up some random sheets from Sears and had used them for several years until the fitted sheet got a rip. I got the name from the tag - Whole Home. But I've searched Sears stores and the internet high and low with no luck. I've subsequently bought and re-bought sheets at various places but have gotten nothing but those sateen luxury sheets that stick to me that I can't stand. I hate it when I can't move around in my bed. After some research I finally learned that I needed "percale" sheets. Well, now that I know that I'm having a difficult time finding them. Last week I did find some labeled "percale" at Bed Bath and Beyond. Ha! They were for kids - in Hot pink, purple, polka dots and all were twin or double.

    For about $54, Lands End will sell me a fitted queen that is very very close. It's 100% pima cotton, 280 thread count. They do not sell them in sets. But its the best match I have found. But the fitted sheet is loose on my mattress. Ugh.

    Last week I was digging around in my collection of old mismatched sheets that I save for wrapping furniture, taking on trips to sleep on someones couch, etc. ( I always save old sheets.) Lo and behold I found a fitted Queen sheet that "felt" like what I have been looking for - cool, crisp, yet soft. The label says JCPenney HOme Collection 100% Eqyptian Cotton and It's Perfect! Sadly it's no longer a product they sell.

    Anyway I'm frustrated as the others are who have posted here. Apparently we are a small group. If we were large enough perhaps the powers that be would realize there is a market here.

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  22. Add me to your list of seekers. I have one thick, heavy soft white cotton sheet with white embroidery top center, found at a garage sale, and it's soooooooo cozy. I've been wanting to find something comparable. Thanks for the info. Maybe we should form a Vintage Sheet Lovers' group? Count me in! smiles...

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  23. Me too! I have one set of inherited crisp, heavy, sateen, cotton, made in India, no-name full-size sheets I adore, even patched to smithereens as they are, and my Great-Aunt's antique white sheets and that's it. The rest are clingy, nasty, thin high-thread count which must mean very fine threads. Give me the OLD JC Penney Percale of my youth! Please!!

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  24. Hillcrest fine linens 400 thread count 100% long staple cotton I bought from a store that sells clothes with imperfections turned out to be very crispy, they make a sound when handled, best of all they are not thin.
    I went back and only found a Hillcrest luxury linens 600 thread count 100% long staple cotton, these are too smooth, don't wrinkle or make a sound.

    I should find another set of 400 count before I claim anything, maybe it's a fluke.

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  25. Haa haa 5 am uk time, bring back the old army sheets, im sick of paying a fortune, to find their soft like a baby wipe, and paid £60 for et of flat and fitted, 30 yrs down the line, passed down and only 2 of them

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  26. I have been searching for over 10 yrs for the crisp sheets of my youth. I'm a senior now & as a child I was in charge of ironing all the sheets for my large family. They were crisp & fresh from wash to wash. The bedding today is very poor & I think that the higher the thread count, the more they feel like cheap polyester sheets and I think the sateen sheets are garbage.
    My mother would add a small amount of starch to the bedding wash about once a month. Perhaps the starch & the ironing helped & I plan to try this on my newest set of bedding.

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  27. I am also searching for 100% cotton percale sheets that are cool and crisp, not too thin or flimsy that will last for years and years. I read some reviews on the Thomas Lee sheets that stated they only lasted a year or two. Has anyone tried them?

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  28. I, too am on the quest for those cool crisp sheets of my youth. I can't stand the "sateen". I did get a set several years ago at Kmart but they are no longer available. I line dry and iron the pillowcases so I don't care if they "wrinkle". Any recommendations would be so appreciated.

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  29. Hi ladies, glad I'm not alone. I buy, return, buy, return. I'm refusing to settle. I long for crisp, wrinkled but soft good old fashioned cotton sheets! I hate to admit defeat, but one reader above probably has it right. It's the source and quality of the raw product that we just don't have anymore. Soooooooooooo frustrated. If anyone has success please share ;) I'll check back here.

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  30. My wife understands, but thinks I'm semi-crazy on this subject -- but she has tried repeatedly to find the kind of sheets I like. I remember my mother saying that i preferred "precale" to "muslin," but all I know for sure is that the twin sheets (and especially the pillowcases -- heaven!) that I took from my parents' house when I moved out were the best! When I got married 33 years ago, we had some great sheets from Penney's (because they matched the comforter we wanted): I still remember the pattern name -- Stencil Flowers. Anyway, I'm still looking for those cool, crisp pillowcases and sheets. Came close with a set from Big Lots, but still on the hunt. Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone (or crazy).

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