Wallis Simpson was wrong when she said you can’t be too rich or too thin. Sheets can be too thin. Then they rip. Then you have to improvise with top sheets as fitted sheets. And not only do those things get thin and rip, they also slide around a lot, getting tangled in your legs and all.
I’m telling you this because we splurged recently, and bought new bed linens. ‘Splurge’ is a relative term. For the last few years we’ve been sleeping on a series of well-aged cotton sheets that that I had for the king size that needed replacing about three years prior to that. As we wore each sheet out, it got tossed to the old sheet pile in the hugelkultur to molder away into soiled goodness.
Just a note, we’re not really that rough in bed, these were old sheets. And we have hard water. Hard water is hard on fabric. Not us. No sir. Not us.
Why am I discussing such a private thing as old bed linens with you? Well, having to juggle finances to keep the other, more crucial items — cars and kids, for example — in good repair, new linens for us went down to the bottom of the ‘must have’ list. But in November, we tore the last of the old sheets.
We discussed the type of sheets to get. First off, cotton. Because cotton = yummy. But also because it can be recycled into the garden when it’s old and worn out. I try to think of new purchases in terms of our place being their last stop. Making our place somewhat like The Hotel California for consumer goods: they can check out any time we like, but they should never leave.
So cotton. (In a future article, I’ll take a dive into cotton growing practices, which I know are bad.)
Me, I think it’s decadently luscious to slide into the shock of cold cotton sheets and then have the warmth of your body sidle back up to you as you snuggle in. However, there’s nothing as luxurious as climbing into bed and piling into a cozy flannel nest.
Also, my partner hates cold cotton sheets and threatens to buy an electric blanket every fall. I can’t even begin to say how much I am not down with that. We’d have to get one with 2 controls and I would be sweating rivers anyway just from proximity to the near-boiling point that the other half of the bed would be set at permanently. Even though there’s swearing up and down from that side of the bed that it would only be to warm up the bed before we jump in.
We spoiled ourselves with thick cotton flannel. And no, there are no baby prints or cute winter themes. They’re white. We like a blank canvas in bed — much more interesting.
Flannel. Soft, cozy, cloudlike flannel. It’s made cozy by being brushed to raise the fine fibres from loosely spun yarn, this is called a ‘nap’. Essentially, flannel is fuzzy.
Who came up with this lovely piece of human ingenuity? I mean before it was all lumberjacky and grungy and smelled like teen spirit? Yes, I did go there. Besides, if you google ‘flannel’, and look at the images, all you’re going to see are variations on red plaid.
You can’t be called a true Canuck if you haven’t had — at one point or another — the quintessential Canadian dinner jacket hanging on that old nail banged into the wall by the back door?
Or hung up in a closet. That’s OK, you do you.
So to get past the red plaid, I did a bit of research.
Flannel was originally a wool fabric, first made in Wales, sometime in the 16th century as a more durable, affordable and comfy way to weather Welsh winters. It’s manufacture quickly (well, over a century or two) spread all across Europe, but it really hit it’s stride in the 19th century with faster mechanical carding processes. In the 20th Century, the world was blessed with not only wool, but cotton flannels and silk flannels. And there’s even vegetable flannel made from Scots pine fibre.
Human ingenuity is a marvel.
Flannel has long been used in work clothing and bedding, but it’s versatility truly knows no bounds — think lovely Cary Grant and his lovely grey flannel suits. I spent many years as a dressmaker, and tailoring exquisite flannel suits for women lawyers was right up there with creating stage outfits for drag queens in terms of tactile delight.
Textiles for the tactile. It’s a thing.
If you’re tactile, you will totally get the joy of rubbing a napped fabric one way and then the other (over and over and over…first with your hand, then your other hand, then your face…oh! Sorry, back again…)
Velvet, corduroy, flannel. Mmmmmmm.
Read this Gear Patrol article for more on the history of flannel.
Back to the sheets. So why are we so much warmer now than we were with plain cotton sheets (setting aside the fact that those ones were full of holes and tears, for a minute)?
The fact that flannel has a nap, doesn’t really explain the delight of sleeping in the equivalent of a warm cloud, or keep you cozy in a Canadian dinner jacket. Or does it? Think of how insulation or polar bear fur works – small pockets of still air slow the transfer of heat. The fuzzy nap creates many little air pockets, insulating your body against the heat loss that you have when you lay on a smooth-surfaced fabric.
You get to be your own little polar bear when you rummage your way down into the sheets.
You can role play **that** however you like.
I had flannel sheets when I was a kid. When they were laundered, they were bleached and then hung out to dry. The combination of the scents and the sense of flannel meant everything was right in my world. I noticed it the few times I’ve been in hospital as an adult, the smell of warm, bleached cotton flannel. Being wrapped up in it calmed me right down.
It’s amazing what a little fuzziness can do for your well-being.