Anyone familiar with the textile industry knows that Egyptian cotton is one of the most expensive fabrics currently on the market. There are several reasons for this; it is incredibly durable and has vast applications. It is also preferable to regular cotton because of the length of its fiber and how they feel after processing.
But not many people are fans of this fabric, and some insist that it isn’t worth the hype and is just a clever marketing strategy. This article will explore these issues and the uses and care for Egyptian cotton.
What is Egyptian Cotton?
Egyptian cotton is a special type of cotton grown only in the hot, dry climate of the Nile Delta in Egypt. Despite having a near-desert environment, clever irrigation systems and fertile soil have guaranteed cotton’s success.
The Egyptian cotton plant produces extra-long fibers smaller in diameter than regular cotton, and these long fibers produce an excellent yarn that is resistant to stress and extremely strong. Despite being robust, Egyptian cotton feels surprisingly soft to the skin and has good drapability. Like most cotton, they are hypoallergenic and make extremely comfortable and luxurious products.
Brief History of Egyptian Cotton
A Frenchman named Monsieur Jumel was the first man to cultivate Egyptian cotton. Having discovered some neglected cotton plants in a Cairo garden, he decided to experiment with the plants and ended up creating extra-long staple cotton.
With the help of Egypt’s ruler, he expanded cotton cultivation. Egyptian cotton flourished during the American Civil War as American cotton supply to Europe was reduced. By 1865, the demand for Egyptian cotton had doubled. The government’s completion of the Suez Canal aided the supply to several parts of the world.
From the 1970s to the 2000s, the Egyptian government embarked on projects that further cemented the legacy of Egyptian cotton. Projects like the Aswan High Dam construction and the introduction of Cotton Egypt have made Egyptian cotton synonymous with luxury and comfort worldwide.
How is Egyptian Cotton Processed?
Egyptian cotton comes from Gossypium barbadense, which grows well on the fertile plains of the Nile Delta. The climate and cotton species combine to produce longer fibers than are usually found in other cotton types.
Unlike other cotton bolls harvested with machines, farmers handpick the cotton to ensure that there is no stress on the fiber and that the cotton is as soft and refined as possible. Handpicking also ensures that the cotton lasts longer than when harvested with machines.
Once harvested, textile workers spin the long fibers into extra fine threads; they, in turn, weave the threads into high-quality fabrics. Textile workers can choose between different thread counts when weaving threads into fabrics.
Thread counts are the number of threads in each square inch. A higher thread count usually contains 1500 threads per square inch, giving the fabric a dense and luxurious feel. A lower thread contains 400 threads per inch, giving the fabric a soft and pliable fabric.
Typically, cotton with a higher thread count tends to last longer, and Egyptian cotton contains a higher thread count than regular cotton, which typically has a thread count of about 120-180 threads per square inch.
Types of Egyptian Cotton
Egyptian cotton is considered a luxurious fabric because of its strength and thread count, but it is classified based on its weave type. Here are some common types of Egyptian cotton weaves in the market:
Twill weave is produced using a distinctive diagonal weave with parallel ribbing. Weavers create this by passing the weft threads over one or more warp threads and then under two or more warp threads. The result is an eye-catching design feature that gives off elegance and class. Twill weaves are highly durable, sturdy, and resistant to wrinkles. The result is even more long-lasting when Egyptian cotton is woven in a twill pattern.
Many believe that the term ‘percale’ comes from the Peruvian word meaning ‘rag,’ but the elegance of the weave defies its name. It is a lightweight, highly breathable cotton created using a typical plain weave. However, percale Weave has one slight difference.
Unlike regular plain woven cotton, individual cotton yarns are woven over and under each other in a very close and tight manner. The closeness and tightness of the weave often require a higher thread count; it also gives the final percale product a smoother overall finish.
When combined with the naturally sturdy properties of Egyptian cotton, percale weave is firmer, smoother, and more durable than most cotton types or weaves. They are surprisingly easy to care for.
This weave type is one of the most intricately woven types of weave. It is usually done using a machine, but hand-operated looms are used rarely (though they are more tedious).
Jacquard weaves produce complicated patterns on the fabric, such as floral and damask patterns. The yarns used in the weaves are often of different colors and mix interchangeably to bring the design to focus. This weave type is preferred because the designs on the fabric are less likely to fade than printed designs.
The sateen weave leaves the cotton fabric with a distinctive lustrous sheen that is almost silk-like. The finished product is also remarkably soft and wonderfully smooth against the skin.
To achieve this lustrous finish, textile workers comb the cotton yarn repeatedly until all damaged and short fibers are removed, leaving only the longest and strongest fibers. After which, textile workers float the warp yarns over the weft yarns ( for example, four over and one under). This weave type produces one of the softest cotton fabrics on the market.
Uses and Applications of Egyptian Cotton
Egyptian cotton is highly sought after for its durability and elegance, making it a premium material for creating luxury items for commercial and private use. Here are just a few uses of Egyptian cotton:
- Egyptian cotton is used in making bedsheets and bed linen due to its soft feel to the skin. The cotton is also hypoallergenic and is recommended for people with sensitive skin.
- Egyptian cotton with percale weaves is ideal for summer clothes because they are highly breathable.
- Jacquard patterned Egyptian cotton produces cushions, throw pillows, and rugs. These items serve as important home decorative pieces.
- Egyptian cotton with sateen weave is used in more chilly weather because they are heavier and less breathable than other cotton types.
Caring for Egyptian Cotton
Care for Egyptian cotton will depend on the kind of weave used. Some weaves are sturdier than others; endeavor to read the manufacturer’s care label to find the best way of taking care of your fabric. In addition, here are a few precautions you can take:
- Machine wash your Egyptian cotton in cold water in a gentle setting. Handwash sateen-woven Egyptian cotton gently to prevent pilling.
- Tumble dry the fabric at a low heat setting, but remove it once the cycle is over and iron while it’s still damp.
- Avoid using chemicals such as fabric softeners and conditioners as the chemical can break down the fibers and leave the fabric feeling stiff. You need to wash Egyptian cotton repeatedly in cold water to soften it.
- Wash the fabric and separate other items to avoid things like zips or buttons scratching the fibers.
- Use a gentle detergent that isn’t silicone based to avoid reducing the water absorbency of the fabric.