Saturday, January 9, 2016

Drowning in my Togs...

It is hard to believe that the first week of the year is over already! Only 6 weeks to go until WBP is completely finished prior to our first wedding, and we have been busy buying all the necessary things for the event and the accommodation. Over the last 2 weeks we have purchased literally hundreds of crystal glasses, fine china plates, bowls, cups, saucers, best quality knives, forks, and spoons; napkins, table cloths, table skirts, chair covers, chair sashes, rectangular tables, round tables, flannels, hand-towels, towels, bath mats, sheets, pillowcases, duvets, covers, mattress protectors, pillow protectors and bathrobes!

So many things to learn: Tog rating, thread counts, vitrified, machine wash, dry-clean only. And so many things which I thought I knew which I have had to re-think, such as how to determine the quality of a sheet!

It transpires that thread counts these days are misleading. Many years ago a very trusted and close friend told me that I shouldn’t buy anything with a thread count less than 500, and that 1000 was the ideal one we should punt for for WBP as that would be softer.

However, it turns out after more research that this very common understanding is actually grossly flawed. Everybody knows that thread count is the warp plus weft in a square inch (the sum of the number of vertical strands of cotton and the number of horizontal strands). So it is common sense that one could only possibly fit a certain number of strands into a square inch. This turns out to actually be about 300. So how do you end up with sheets that are advertised as 1000 TC? 

Manufacturers started to count the ply in a strand of cotton separately. Think about buying wool (yarn). You can buy 2, 4, 6, 8 ply yarn, but you’re still knitting with a single strand of wool, it is just thicker. If a manufacturer uses cheap 4 ply cotton at 150 vertical and 150 horizontal strands per inch, while the real thread count is only 300 it is being advertised as 1200. 

In order to fit this many strands into a square inch, each ply of cotton must invariably be thinner and thus can actually be of very poor quality. In summary, you would be better off buying 300 TC sheets made from a high quality cotton than '1200 TC' sheets made from multiple ply inferior cotton which didn’t last as long and wasn’t as soft.

So, we’ve established anything over 300 TC is acceptable if the way they count the thread is honest and if it is a good quality cotton. What constitutes a good quality cotton you may ask? Again, my well beloved friend said one must go for 'Egyptian cotton'. After more research one has discovered that this encompasses multiple definitions depending on what a manufacturer wishes to market. 

The original Egyptian cotton came from the plant Gossypium barbadense, a plant which grew along the Nile and was prized for the length of the strands it produced. So, now we find that it is possible to buy linen marketed as Egyptian cotton which is not actually Gossypium barbadense, but is grown in Egypt as well as being able to buy linen from cotton that does come from Gossypium barbadense, but which is not grown in Egypt (which due to climate and soil type may not be as good as the original plant grown in the right place under the right conditions).

Above: Gossypium barbadense

But surely you just need to take it out of the packet and feel it to be able to tell whether it is a high quality soft fabric? Wrong, manufacturers are also starting to apply waxes and polishes to their fabrics to make them feel soft and luxurious according to Scott Tannen in an article for Business Insider Australia. Unfortunately these wash out after a couple of washes. You only really know how soft your sheets are going to be after a couple of washes. If they remain soft or get even softer you are onto a winner.

So, what I have learnt is read the packet, look carefully at the weave, take it out and feel how thick the fabric is, and only shop at reputable retailers.

We ended up buying a variety of brands of sheet sets, duvet covers, duvets, pillows, pillow and mattress protectors, pillowcases, coverlets, etc. and managed to get them all in a '2 for 1' deal because it was the silly season...

Similarly when it comes to duvets and pillows their stuffing is rated on the Tog system in the UK (a system of testing the insulating properties of a fabric, developed in Manchester in the 40s). The idea is that for warmer summer months you should choose a lighter tog weighting (typically 3.0 – 4.5) in colder months you may need a tog rating as high as 12.0-13.5, and in intervening months something in between.

In NZ the tog rating is not widely used, but the products are sold with good descriptions of their suitability, usually arranged on the shelves in summer, autumn/spring, and winter. We chose high quality intermediate duvets on the basis that WBP is air-conditioned and has 1 foot thick masonry walls and double glazing, therefore has a stable temperature inside most of the year round.

Well, we still have a big list of things to get done in the next few weeks, such as putting the final column details on, completing the top-course of the driveway and courtyard, putting in the courtyard fountain, sourcing noise-limiters, getting stationery printed, setting up the in-room electrical systems, sewing the curtains, installing the security cameras, finishing the final landscaping details including lighting, repainting the boat, fixing the lights to the front entrance along with brass plaques, and removing the old green barn. Still, we have a detailed project timeline for the coming weeks so we are confident everything will be completed well on time with a full compliment of tradesmen commencing again this Monday after their Christmas break. 

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