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What is Thread count : What is a good enough count for fabrics?

What is the meaning of the term 'thread count', thread counts of important fabrics, its relevance, and the myths around it.
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A thread count of 150 is what you can expect for an average quality cotton fabric. For clothing fabrics, this is a pretty high number. Even 120 is high for dressmaking and 150 is termed excellent.

What is a good enough thread count? And is there a minimum and maximum?

There is no consensus on minimum and maximum thread count. Generally, a good enough thread count for woven fabrics is about 150 threads per square inch. For lightweight fabrics a thread count of 150-250 indicates a good enough fabric. Very fine fabrics like silk or high-end Egyptian cotton may have counts exceeding 400 TC. They may not be able to withstand heavy use.

Heavy weight fabrics like canvas or denim often have lower thread counts (80-120 TC) due to thicker yarns. For medium weight fabrics good quality can start from 120 TC.
If you are seeing very high thread counts in the range of 500 to 1000s, it might be the manufacturers using thinner threads or multi-ply yarns (twisting multiple yarns together) to inflate the thread count. For eg. a 400 thread count fabric made with 2-ply yarn could be marketed as 800 thread count.

What is the ideal thread count for bedsheets?

180-300 thread count is considered for good quality bedsheets but 300 to 400 thread count range is what people expect when buying higher quality sheets. Higher thread count than 500 is mostly an inflated figure meant to trick you.

The fine percale woven cotton has a thread count of 225 or more and is much in demand for bedsheets. 280 thread count Percale gives the best quality. So you can say that a thread count of more than 225 is ideal.

Infact, I first noticed the term ‘thread Count’ when I went to buy bedsheets. Maybe you did too. They also seem to be important when buying shirt fabrics. But knowing the term and using it to your advantage is different. Questions in my mind are :

How to buy quality fabric looking at its thread count?

Does high thread count mean you get a soft, fine fabric that is sturdy and durable?

And do you buy only fabric with the highest thread count possible?

What is thread count? 

Thread count is threads per inch (TPI)

Thread count refers to the total number of threads in every square inch of a woven fabric especially that of cotton. It is a measure for fabric quality and fabric durability and indicates how tightly the fabric has been woven.

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To go technical, the total number of warp threads (length) and weft threads  (width) per square inch of fabric. ie thread density in a certain area of your fabric. The thread count is the number of threads counted thus added together.

So a 400-count fabric will have 200 warp threads and 200 weft threads in a square inch. Read more about warp and weft of fabric here.

In countries like Australia, France and Italy the thread count is calculated every 10 square cm which measures 3.16cm x 3.16cm. The count in threads per 10 cm square will tend to be higher than threads per square inch. You have to be aware of this difference if you shop internationally.

Higher Thread Count  = Better quality fabric ???????

Higher thread count is said to be better than lower thread count. A piece of fine quality fabric with high thread count will be made with fine, long staple, quality yarns with a balanced and dense construction.

Different types of fabric have different thread count ranges.

The best check for the quality of fabric ultimately is whether it is smooth, fine and has a natural luster (You may contrarily want a textured fabric – in which case check out this post on the Names of textured fabric). If the fabric feels smooth and fine and the high thread count goes with it you can feel confident about the fabric.

When everything else about the fabric is equal, thread count can be used as a measure that differentiates. Then, a higher thread count is considered to be better. 

How do you count the thread count?

You can count the total number of warp threads (length) and weft threads  (width) per square inch of fabric. This is your thread count.

What is a good thread count for linen?

Thread count is not a relevant measure for linen fabric. A linen fabric may have lower thread count than cotton but that linen may still be a far superior fabric. Linen may be marked with a thread count as low as 50 but may still be the best fabric you want. 50-140 Thread count is good with Linen. Infact lower thread count linen fabric may be considered a very soft and high quality fabric than a high count one which may be thick and not soft. Lea is the standard measure of Linen. Higher the LEA finer the fabric.

What is a good thread count for Silk?

For silk fabrics, thread count is not counted as very important. Silk threads can vary greatly in terms of diameter and length. High momme weight is the usual measure used to gauge its quality. 19-25 momme weight is considered when buying silk bedsheets  and a higher than 22 momme weight is used for clothes.
When momme weight and thread count is high you have a good quality silk. A thread count of 300-350 is considered good quality though you will find superior luxurious 750 thread count silk fabrics. 

What is a good thread count for Sateen?

For Sateen fabric a thread count of 300-600 is marked as of high quality.

When are thread count not counted?

Thread count is not used for knitted fabrics or fabrics like flannel, satin, or microfiber.
There are many instances in sewing where thread count is ignored – when you need a more open weave fabrics and thread density does not matter at all.

What thread count is used in embroidery fabrics?

Cross stitch embroidery uses fabric with low thread count – the stitches need to pass through fabric weaves which are visible. 22- 25 thread count Aida fabrics are regularly used for cross stitch. Linen used for embroidery usually comes with a thread count of 25-36. Different brands of linen like Edinburgh linen (36 count), Dublin linen (25 count), Belfast linen (32 count),Cashel linen (28 count) Linen Normandie Cork linen (19 count) are used as embroidery fabrics.

Thread count of quilting cotton

Quilting cotton doesnot have the high thread count of other types of high quality cotton. It can start from 50 to go as high as 200. Buying the 200 count cotton is better if you can afford it as it will be softer and more tightly woven leading to a more stronger and durable fabric.

What is the alternate term used for Thread count?

TPI (Thread per Inch)

What are the myths about Thread count? Are they true?

First myth I have always heard is this – This fabric has a very very high thread count, so it must be super good quality. This statement is a myth. Some fabrics are marked 1000 thread count, which is so false. They have obviously inflated the number.
The other myth is this – The thread count is high, so the fabric must be soft. No, sorry! If the fiber used is rough or the finishing is not soft, there is no way thread count is going to make that fabric softer. But if everything else is perfect, then a higher thread count can mean a smoother fabric.

Is thread count the best way to gauge the quality of the fabric? What are the other factors that contribute to the overall quality of fabric?

Normally a  high thread count is a good indicator as to the fabric being of good quality. But this also depends a lot on the quality of the yarns and the way it is woven and even where it is made. Some low thread count fabric may be of finer quality than a densely woven fabric woven with low-quality yarn.

The problem with depending solely on thread count is that you may end up duped – especially when shopping online. This is because fabric with the same quality may be labeled as having different thread counts.

There is a lack of standards in this area- textile manufacturers have their own labeling and they are not at all standardized. This results in different brands of fabrics with the same thread count to feel different and look different

This refers to the quality of the weaving processes involved and finishing processes used.

One fabric may be marked 1000 thread count but you may find that it looks and feels lower quality than a finer fabric you have which is marked 250 thread count.

So when buying fabric rather than only look at the thread count, check on these factors as well – type of fabric, weaving technique, and fiber quality.

Whether the yarn is of fine quality

Long staple yarns which have been combed to remove short fibers produce very smooth fine quality fabric.  In true Egyptian cotton, they maintain a standard for fiber length throughout, which is why it has the reputation as the best and softest cotton. You can feel this in the fabric’s hand.

If cheap yarns are used or thick and coarse yarns or inferior short plied yarns are used a high thread count would not matter much for the fabric and the fabric would not feel smooth and fine. 

Ply of the fabric

Ply refers to how many yarns are twisted to form a single thread.

Two-ply fabrics are made with two yarns twisted to form a single thread and this is superior to a single-ply fabric. Two-ply fabrics are more durable. A two-ply fabric is usually bought for shirting. When counting the thread count manufacturers should be counting only actual threads rather than each ply forming the threads. Usually, a thread count above 100 will imply a 2-ply fabric.

A two-ply fabric with medium thread count is preferred for dressmaking otherwise the fabric will turn out to be too thick/dense.

The place where it is made

Some places are notorious for inferior textile production. Without naming the places, a buyer needs to be cautious about the quality of products.

How the fabric is made

The best weaving processes result in the best fabric – this is a simple truth. If the fabric is made with multiple, inferior yarns plied together and woven, this may result in an exaggerated thread count. For marking higher thread count, the manufacturers may use multiple-ply yarn where individual threads are twisted around each other but this does not make a good quality fabric.

In dressmaking, the weaving process may excuse a low thread count – like in the case of an oxford weave fabric used to make shirts  – the open weave with tiny holes in this fabric make it all the more attractive and some ask for this. But some may prefer a pinpoint oxford fabric because it has a higher thread count and lighter finer weave than the Oxford fabric. More on shirt fabrics here.

Warp and weft yarns

The thread count is also influenced by the density of warp (vertical threads) and weft (horizontal threads) in the fabric. A higher thread count fabric will be costlier. But that can be misleading too. Do not be duped into buying fabric that has an abnormally high thread count at high prices.

Check out posts on denier that measures the fineness of thread for silk and other man made fabrics, a very important quality yardstick and tips for buying good quality silk fabric here.

Interesting reading: These people really counted the thread count of an inch of a pillowcase and found it to be true .

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Author: Sarina Tariq
Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
7 thoughts on “What is Thread count : What is a good enough count for fabrics?”
  1. Osteo Jo
    Fantastic and useful guide. I hope you don’t mind me asking you for advice. I’m thinking of buying some fabric direct from India, the thread found is 60 x 60 (so 120) – will this be suitable for a summer dress? Reply
  2. Joyce Fukuchi
    What is the tread count on windbreaker material ? Reply
    • Sarina

      Hi Joyce
      Windbreakers are usually made of synthetic materials like Nylon and for this material you look for denier than thread count. You can look for a good material with a denier of 200 up. Check out post on denier here

  3. Sherry Thorne
    Great info. Reply
    • Sarina
  4. stephen
    you don’t . say which tread . count . you are using Reply
  5. Isabella Reyes
    I didn’t know that knowing the fabric’s thread count is as important as knowing the type of fabric. Thanks to my friend who told me about this. I’m looking for bamboo b as a type of fabric for my sheet. Anyone here knows a good brand? Reply
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