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TUESDAY, JANUARY 9, 2007
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Yves Delorme's 'Indigo' bed linens, above, incorporate Indanthren dyes that allow the printed pattern to remain strong while giving a fine feel to the fabric.
AP photo
Yves Delorme' s "Indigo" bed linens, above, incorporate Indanthren dyes that allow the printed pattern to remain strong while giving a fine feel to the fabric.

White sales
Tips to get you the most
out of January event

By Fran Golden
For The Associated Press

January is white sale time. But as you head out to buy new sheets and towels, throw your misconceptions away. Sheets don't have to have the highest thread count to be soft, and towels don't have to be fluffy to be absorbent.

And of course, not everything sold in a white sale is white. But it once was.

'Topkapi' linens have a satin weave that produces a softer feel than a classic linen weave.
AP photo
"Topkapi" linens have a satin weave that produces a softer feel than a classic linen weave.
Philadelphia's John Wanamaker department store is credited with holding the first white sales in January 1878. At that time and for years thereafter, the sales featured only white bed linens, the only kind then available, at highly discounted prices.

The push for sheets in colors and prints came in the late 1950s and early 1960s, according to Diane Fagan Affleck, director of interpretation for the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Mass.

"I remember personally when sheets were white, and so a white sale made sense in terms of the language of it," said Affleck. "It's just like people call their tablecloths and tableware linen. Well, they've not made out of linen for the most part anymore."

White sales now include not only sheets but towels and bath accessories, blankets and more. But the concept of big bargains during the sales has continued.

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of the white sales.

Thread counts

If you think a thread count is all that matters when it comes to choosing the best sheet, you're wrong, according to the experts. A high thread count (500 or 600 being most desirable) may mean your sheets are sturdier, but doesn't necessarily mean they'll be soft.

"For so long, we have been educating the consumer about the importance of thread count, and while thread count is important, it is more important to look at the type of cotton and the kind of weave," said Cynthia White, vice president of design for Macy's Home.

In fact, there is controversy as to whether thread counts may be deceiving to consumers. In a staff opinion, the Federal Trade Commission has agreed with the National Textile Association that consumers could be misled by some manufacturers who count plied (or twisted) yarns in the thread count number which is supposed to indicate how many individual threads run lengthwise and widthwise in a square inch.

Virginia Peale, director of marketing for fine French linen firm Yves Delorme, said she wished Americans would approach sheet-buying like Europeans do.

"What they care about is how sheets feel and what they call the 'hand.' And really that's the most important thing," Peale said. Softness depends on the quality of the fiber, Peale added. Best are sheets made with extra-long staple cotton (meaning that the fibers are longer than 37 millimeters) such as the most desirable Egyptian cottons, supima and pima.

Weave is also important, whether you choose a classic linen weave, silky sateen (which White said was most in vogue currently) or crispy percale. Since feeling the sheet is the best way to decide what you like best, you should do some in-person shopping (or touching) even if you plan to buy online.

The No. 1 best-selling sheet in Macy's Hotel Collection is the 100 percent Egyptian cotton with a 600 thread count, a sheet that White said should last a lifetime.

When buying sheets, consumers with newer, thicker mattresses should also make sure they pick sheets with deep pockets (14 inches or above) as sheets that slip can be incredibly frustrating.

And remember that sometimes even the experts get confused when they are shopping. "Even as a consumer I have stood there in the store looking at the sheets and thinking, do I really want 500 or 600 threads per inch?" said Affleck.

Bedding design trends

The best-selling color of sheets? White, according to Macy's White. Peale said for Yves Delorme, white is also the top seller, despite the fact the firm is known for its prints (a new collection is introduced each year).

Still, for those who like colors, it's perfectly OK to use different colors on upper and lower sheets to reflect other colors in your bedroom. White said with all the home decorating shows on TV these days, people are more aware of how they can use bed covers (bedspreads, quilts, comforters and duvets) to create their desired bedroom ambiance. The Macy's Hotel Collection features contemporary, gender-neutral colors.
But the retailer has also introduced Style & co., a new brand with a younger, urban vibe as
exemplified in geometric patterns and florals. "It's a more modern look moving forward," White said.

Towels

When purchasing towels, thickness should not be your only determining factor. New fibers hitting the market are both lighter and more absorbent than traditional cotton. Some are made of natural fibers.

"There is a movement, people looking at new fibers, interested in them," White said. "And when it comes to big fluffy towels, people are having a downsizing mentality."

The new technologies include Modal, a natural fiber made from beech wood, that when blended with cotton creates a lightweight, highly absorbent towel, according to Peale. She said consumers shouldn't be put off by the initial stiffness of some towels, explaining that in the weaving process, a potato starch is sometimes used on the thread and some of that may remain.

"But the towels get softer as you wash them," Peale said.

Washing tips

The best way to care for your sheets and avoid wrinkles, said Peale, is to avoid overloading the washing machine, and don't mix cotton sheets with anything polyester, as the combination can cause the cotton to pill. When you take the sheets out of the washer, give a good shake before putting them in the dryer rather than wadding up the bundle. Then take them out of the dryer slightly damp, and fold or line dry.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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