Exploring the origins of bed linens and custom bedding might not top the list of intriguing historical inquiries. Despite that, every facet of human invention has a genesis worth exploring. Unraveling the evolution of the conventional fitted sheet, flat sheet, blanket, and comforter ensemble unveils a fascinating narrative. How does custom bedding or mattresses work into it? It's a story that’s more interesting than you’d think.
Before Bed Sheets were Sheets
Bedding predates antiquity, with early instances tracing back to 77,000 years ago. Evidence reveals mattresses were originally crafted from bug-resistant plant material. These ancient sleep surfaces were accompanied by “blankets.” They were fashioned from similar bug-resistant flora representing a solution to bedding needs.
Advancing through time to approximately 30,000 years ago, our ancestral heritage suggests a shift to utilizing furs as blankets. This was a noteworthy evolution in bedding materials. It's also around the time that you could argue custom bedding started. Furs were never one size fits all and were based on the size of the hunt. People could buy whatever size fur 'blanket' they wanted from there.
The historical transition from reed-based mattresses to the innovative use of furs as coverings underscores humanity's rapid journey in bedding innovation. This sheds light on the resourcefulness and adaptability of ancient civilizations.
Fancy Bed Linens in Antiquity
Many cultures utilized hammocks to stay cool at night and separate themselves from what’s crawling around on the ground at night, but the Egyptians and the ancient Scots began raising their beds off the ground around 5000 years ago to keep people from dealing with bugs and snakes. In Egypt, a raised bed was also a status symbol, as were the flax linen blankets that covered them.
The Egyptians put a lot of thought and effort into their bespoke bed linens. Besides signaling that you were socially superior and wealthy, bed sheets were seen as a sign of purity and light. Mummies were wrapped in linen sheets, and some people placed charms on their handmade bedding to ward away evil spirits.
A bit later, in Greece and Rome, we see flax linen bed sheets, but we also see the emergence of cotton bed sheets, too, from Egyptian cotton, which was highly-prized at the time. The Greeks and Romans painted their bed linens bright colors, which often corresponded to their place in the hierarchy of society. They would also embroider them with intricate designs.
Making the bed attractive may also be due to the fact that Romans did a lot more than sleep in their beds – they may be used also for socializing and studying. From this we can see the beginning of demand for custom bedding. These premium cotton sheets would adorn beds of all shapes and sizes and showcase wealth.
Bed Sheets in the Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages and up through the Renaissance, bed sheets were yet another way for the rich to signal that their lives were way more fun than those of the poor. While the lower classes slept on the floor on piles of hay under scratchy wool blankets, the rich slept in elaborate wooden beds (sometimes literally encrusted in jewels!) under the highest thread count linen or cotton sheets.
These were covered in fancy embroidery and covered by plush blankets made of the most expensive fabrics. We’re talking silks, velvets, satins. They also often included the family crest to display social power. Was this the first instance of monogrammed bedding? Maybe.
The first mention of the term “bed sheet” that we know of was coined in the 15th century. However, credit for the creation of the first real cotton bed set that reflects the ones we have now didn’t come until the 17th century.
There’s a really interesting story about one specific bed sheet from the early 18th century that a wife embroidered with her and her husband’s hair. She wrote a message to commemorate his stay in the prison tower of London, where he spend months awaiting his execution as a Jacobite. This bed sheet was officially considered a religious relic in 1723 when the wife of the executed Jacobite leader died of smallpox.
How the Industrial Revolution Changed it All
Like literally everything, the industrial revolution changed the way bed sets were made, which changed the way they were used. The cotton gin was invented in the 19th century, which made producing cotton textiles way easier. And this is likely why cotton became the go-to for bed linens.
Couple that with the invention of weaving machines and the like, now handmade cotton sheets were a thing of the past – we could mass-produce them now. Polyester was introduced, and quickly became the go-to stuffing for bed pillows. Fast-forward to 1959, when the first fitted sheet was invented.
It’s during this century+ that sleeping under nice sheets and blankets became a more democratic process, because sourcing, creating and distributing them was simple now. Today, you’ll find whole isles of bed sheets in stores. They come in every color, patterns, thread counts, and many other materials like jersey, polyester, etc.
Modern Mattress Marvels: Custom Bed Linens for Any Kind of Bed
It is 0% difficult to find bed linens for standard-sized beds today. And they range anywhere from cheap and scratchy to silky-soft and super-nice. Even so, sometimes it’s hard to find sheets you can be sure are what they say they are. Many bed linens claim to be cotton linen when they’re really a cotton blend of other stuff. Plus, where’d those materials come from? Is the thread count high? Does the thread count really matter?
When it comes to microfibers, polyesters, jersey and flannel sheets, thread count doesn’t really mean anything. When it comes to bed linens made of premium cotton or flax, it does. At CustomMattress.com, we craft tailored bed linens from 100% natural, sustainably-sourced 600-thread-count Egyptian cotton – because those guys knew what they were doing. Amazing that 3000+ years later and Egyptian cotton is still tops when it comes to bedding, right?