Percale is defined as a fine woven cotton cloth, used primarily for sheets and industrial uses, has 17th century French origins (ooh la la!). The word itself is believed to be derived from the Persian pargālah, meaning rag.
Why is percale weave, such as Grande Hotel, Orlo, Celeste or Sereno, a good choice for customers who yearn for the smooth, sleek feel of pill-fee sheets? The answer is simple, if one has just a little education on the nature of fabric. It is a common, yet mistaken belief that the answer relates to the fabric content (i.e. cotton, polyester or a blend thereof). Not true. Rather, the solution is hidden deep in the core construction of the fabric and in the length of the fibers themselves. Simply put, the longer the fabric (known in the industry as long staple) and the tighter the twist of the yarn, the more resistant to pilling.
Pilling occurs when fibers in the fabric break, tangle, and “ball up.” The shorter the fibers used in the fabric, the more likely the chance for breakage, leading to tangling and inevitably to pilling. The shorter and more brittle the fiber, the more breakage (pilling) will occur.
And what exactly causes fiber to break and getting intertwined in itself? In the case of lesser quality sheet (i.e. that which is constructed with short, brittle fibers) the simple act of using the sheets as intended, that is sleeping, causes fibers to snap, twist and pill. As an individual sleeps, the predictable act of tossing, turning and moving against the short, weak fibers creates friction which, over time, causes fibers to break. This is why fitted sheets tend to pill more heavily at the foot of the bed, the very place where the most abrasive and recurrent movement occurs.
It should be noted that even high quality sheets, such as Sferra’s fine linens, can pill without given correct care. Sferra uses only long staple (long length) fibers; however, even the finest of fabrics can pill without proper handling and laundering. The most common “abuse” such fine linens endure is the use of chlorine bleach and excessive fabric softener (which can weaken the fibers), followed by drying at high heat levels (which can cause fibers to break). Weakening + Breakage = Pilling.
Fine linens must be handled like the investment that they are by following the prescribed care instructions. For the care of Sferra’s fine linens, we recommend a short wash cycle with gentle detergent. Then, use a low-heat setting during the drying cycle and remove the bedding while still slightly damp. Please take note that even the agitation of the washing machine or the tumbling of the dryer can cause breakage, so never overfill the washer or dryer to avoid additional friction during these cycles. Also, avoid laundering your sheets with other items, such as towels, for the high nap on a towel may cause a breakdown of the cotton fibers. To be safe, launder sheets separately.
Your fine linens will give you years of satisfactory, sleek, smooth use by following a few simple rules. Although its origins maybe in the word “rag”, if handled correctly, your fine percale linens will not be reduced to such a state. Even the most discerning Persian would agree.