Shoppers to sheet makers: Wake up!


There is a silent crisis in America begging to be addressed.

I don’t want to take away from everything else our nation is dealing with — crime, poverty, accessibility to health care or elephants and donkeys whuppin’ on each other.

In each of those cases everything would be better with a good night’s sleep. Many a problem is solved with rest.

Apparently, however, we have become a nation needing great mollycoddling in bed. Starting with the size of our mattresses down to a bizarre number of throw pillows that multiply while we are at work. It’s all about “luxury” and “style design,” according to the bedding industry.

And we haven’t even gotten to the sheet situation. Right there is where our problems stem from, folks.

The wording on sheets is all you need to see. “Ultrasoft,” “Satin Weave,” “Dream Cloud” and “Cotton Velvet,” just for a few examples. As prices climb (Really, $150 for a set of sheets?) thread counts rise higher and higher. As if anyone could actually tell — or needs — 1,200 thread-count bedding.

And just why do we want to feel like we’re sleeping in sweat? Sheets that dense are not capable of air flow, I don’t care what the package promises. Every clammy point of contact leaves another layer of slick ick on the bedding.

I’m a product of my childhood. My nana hung our all-cotton bedding outside for an entire day, letting the sun bake away any softness. Then we hauled them inside to finish the assault with the hottest iron setting. It took me forever to iron the enormous squares of white, but it was “how we do things.”

Now I like doing things the same, at least for my own bed. I want to climb between sheets that feel like slabs of rock.

I want “crisper than the most perfect bacon” crisp. I want sheets so firm my body leaves no dent.

I want the old-fashioned percale sheets I used to be able to buy whenever I needed new bedding. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask, you might be thinking.

You’d be wrong.

It began last spring. I hadn’t bought new sheets for several years and getting married seemed like the perfect time to switch things up. My old sets were fine (if we’re not counting stray bleach spots), but certainly didn’t fit the occasion. You know, new marriage ... never mind.

I went to Walla Walla’s only department store, where I had been lucky before in finding just what I wanted and on sale.

What’s this? The brand I knew to be squeaky crisp seemed to be missing. I broadened my search and circled the floor thrice.


“What you’re looking for is percale and we’re just not carrying them in the store anymore,” a salesman told me. “And I don’t know why. People want them.”

It’s a little complicated, how percale — not just any percale, but all cotton — is “plain weave” and t-i-i-ght, making sure the fabric “is firm and smooth with no gloss” in Wikipedia-speak. These are the things I was forced to learn in my hunt for sheet love.

Instead of firm and smooth, every shelf was stuffed with the soft-as-slime sheets I specifically did not want to purchase. The sales guy completely understood my dismay, he assured me.

He checked to see what the store might have online. Oh, look! I can have the sheets of my dreams for $65. Per piece and not including pillowcases. So, like, $200 plus shipping to dress my bed.

Back to the starting line.

I took the quest to the Internet, the place where anything and everything can be found.

Except perfect sheets. By entering “crisp sheets” into search engines, up popped a number of sites claiming to be merchants of bedded bliss. Upon reading customer reviews, however, things became clear — (a) there are no such sheets any longer on the planet, not in my budget, and (b) I am not alone.

I found one old article from the Chicago Tribune that looked promising. Ellen Warren, writing as The Shopping Advisor, wrote as if she were living inside my head.

“This all started so innocently. I was trying to buy some sheets like the ones I remember from my grandmother’s house: cool and crisp and just simply great-feeling. They were brilliant white and smelled of fresh air. You’d pull them up under your chin and it was pure, sleepy-time bliss.

“If you’ve already guessed that this became an absurdly difficult and complicated search, boy, have you got that right. Also, confusing, frustrating and infuriating.”

I think Ellen and I were separated at birth.

That column generated a ton of mail, she wrote in a follow-up column. So she and a few others test drove (test slept just sounds wrong) six suggested sets of sheets that supposedly filled the bill.

One set sounded perfect for me, as in I could afford them and they got the high sign from Ellen. Hooray!

Six years later, those sheets don’t exist. I fell asleep over my laptop trying to compare the ones getting kudos in 2006 and the ones available now. I wanted to call Ellen, my sheet sister, and bawl.

There was one shining moment last month at a Target store. I spied sheets that looked like the percale I remembered, proclaimed themselves to be percale and felt just right.

They are not. Of course.

I find myself back to using the aging sheets I started with. Which will eventually wear out, as sure as death and taxes.

Help me. I’m begging you. If you have an inside thread on lovely, perfect, hard-as-a-board sheets, email me your shopping secrets.



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