Buying sheets can be tricky. There's thread count, material and weave to consider, on top of price and style. One option that's rarely considered -- but can save you money on bedding -- is making your own sheets.
Sewing Your Own
I was astounded to find that flannel and other sheet material sells for a few dollars a yard at Jo Ann's, a fabric store. Expect to pay about $2.99 per yard for flannel. And that's before coupons!
To make a queen-size flat sheet, fitted sheet and two pillow cases you'll need about 17 yards. That leaves ample room for shrinkage, borders and trim. Budget another $5 for needles, thread and 1/4-inch elastic if you don't already have them. Wash your material so that you are working with pre-shrunk fabric, and iron it so that it's flat and easy to handle.
Start with the Simple Flat Sheet
If your material is 42 inches wide, as most bolts of fabric are, for a queen bed you'll need to sew three lengths together so that they extend about 16 inches past the length of your bed. This leaves room to tuck the sheets in at your toes. The material is plenty wide enough to tuck in on the sides. (If you are working with a smaller bed, two lengths will be sufficient.)
Pin a 1-inch hem on all four sides. Sew in place.
Flat sheet complete!
Next, the fitted sheet
Sew two pre-shrunk, ironed lengths together. But this time, the material needs to extend down on four sides of the mattress, plus an extra inch all around for a hem.
Sew the hem, then pin a dart in each corner so that the extra material forms a triangle.
Sew the dart in place, then cut off each corner triangle, leaving a half-inch of material.
Tuck 1/4 inch of the hem inward, and repeat with another 1/4 inch of material. Sew this into place to create a sturdy corner. Repeat on the other three sides.
Cut four 12-inch strips of elastic. Center one piece of elastic on the underside of one sheet corner and stretch it as far as it will go, so that it pulls the corner tight. Sew in place. Repeat with the other three corners.
Fitted sheet ready!
To make a standard Pillow Case
Cut a piece of material that measures 41 inches by 34 inches. Fold it in half lengthwise so it now measures 20½-by-34 inches, with the inside of the case facing out. Sew a quarter-inch hem on one short side and the long side. Make sure to keep the second short side open! Sew a 1/2-inch hem at the opening of the case, then flip the material so the outside material is showing. Pin a 4-inch hem into the pillow case at the opening and sew. Repeat for a second pillow case.
You'll spend about $46, plus sewing time. For high-quality 500-thread-count sheets you'd expect to pay at least $60 retail, with prices soaring into the hundreds.
If you discount your time, making sheets is cheaper than buying them, especially if you compare prices on fabric, get it on sale and use a coupon. If you crave the satisfaction of a DIY project, jump right in.
If you score a deal on sheet material but aren't into sewing, look around for a tailor. I called three different tailors across the country and found prices from $51 to $170. Get multiple offers and use them to negotiate the best possible deal.
Beyond Thread Count
Thread count is the first thing we all check when considering a set of sheets. Comfort is the biggest advantage to going with a higher thread count, but weave, ply and the grade of cotton also are important when considering sheet quality and comfort.
Weave determines the feel of the sheet. Flannel is soft and fuzzy, percale sheets are smooth and crisp, while sateen feels particularly soft. Higher-thread-count sheets do not necessarily last longer; strength comes from how many yarns are wrapped around a thread, or ply.
As for cotton grade, Egyptian cotton is the best quality cotton, followed by Pima and then Supima. Make sure to finger the material before purchasing, if at all possible.
Very, very few retailers sell sheets separately. The only ones I saw were super-high-end Hotel brand sheets at Macy's and buying them separately was even more expensive than buying a set.
Thrift stores may have sheets, but you're more likely to find blankets and poly toppers. Buying used sheets gives me the heebie jeebies (though I buy plenty of used clothing), so make sure to wash them in hot water with bleach before you use them.