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What’s the difference between Sea Island and Egyptian cotton?

Posted on: 12th Jun, 2018

You may have stumbled across the terms Sea Island and Egyptian cotton already, especially if you’ve spent any time browsing our site for striped fabrics or coloured fabrics for your summer wear. So when it comes to picking out a fabric for your bespoke shirting or other garments, which cotton is the best to choose? Well, it’s not quite as simple as that. Both Sea Island and Egyptian cotton are famously high-quality, and they each have their own unique characteristics – which we’ll be explaining in our post below! First up, Sea Island cotton.

What is Sea Island cotton?

Essentially, Sea Island is the ultimate in luxurious cotton fabrics, the finest and rarest type of cotton in the world. In fact it’s so rare that by some estimates it makes up only 0.0004% of the world’s cotton supplies – which should give you an idea of how expensive it is, too!

luxury cotton

Bear with us as we get technical for a moment; its uniquely luxurious feel is all to do with its staple length (in other words, the length of each individual fibre from butt to tip). Sea Island cotton is cultivated with ELS fibres; Extra Long Staple cotton, the fibres of which are longer than 34mm. These qualities allow it to be woven at the very highest yarn count. Basically, the longer the staple, the more luxurious the cotton. There are very few cottons with a longer staple length than Sea Island, which is what gives it its uniquely soft and silky feel.

The story behind Sea Island cotton

If you’re wondering about the name, Sea Island cotton is named after the area of South Carolina in the US, where it was once grown. However, Gossypium Barbadense (to use its proper name) isn’t native to North America, but far further to the south. In fact, it wasn’t actually planted on the ‘Sea Island’ by settlers until 1786. Just a few centuries later it was almost entirely wiped out by a widespread weevil infestation, one which took a massive figurative bite (in addition to millions of little ones) out of the entire belt, stretching all the way from Mexico to the Eastern seaboard.

sea island cotton

Luckily for us, Sea Island cotton itself was preserved elsewhere and today it’s carefully grown in the Caribbean; namely, the beautiful paradise climates of Jamaica, Antigua and Barbados, where the ideal amount of sunshine, rain and humidity provides the optimal conditions for it to grow.

Key qualities (in short):

  • Incomparably silky texture
  • Unparalleled soft feel
  • Long fibre length
  • Remarkably high tensile strength
  • Fine uniform texture
  • Resists wear while smoothing over time
  • Prized for high quality garments (such as bespoke shirts)

What is Egyptian cotton?

Egyptian cotton is one of the types of cotton that we rely on most here at Acorn Fabrics. Our Windsor Plain White or Imperial White are both great examples of fabrics made from Egyptian cotton. It’s not quite as uniquely silky as Sea Island cotton, but it remains a high-quality fabric that’s far more widely available, and much more affordable as a result. (To be honest, unless you have both types of fabrics held in either hand, the differences will be lost on most casual observers.)

Egyptian cotton is also long staple, with the length of the fibre enabling it to be spun into the finest of yarns (with a yarn count of up to 200) without sacrificing strength. Overall, it strikes the perfect balance between luxury, durability and affordability. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that it’s earned itself a reputation as being the best cotton in the world, in terms of softness, strength and superior characteristics.

The story behind Egyptian cotton

egyptian cotton

As you may have inferred already, Egyptian cotton was historically grown in Egypt. Specifically, in the Nile Delta, whose warm, dry desert climate is ideal for growing cotton. Today, it’s been exported to a number of other continents and countries around the globe, accounting for its widespread availability and global popularity.

Key qualities (in short):

  • Sustainable, high quality and widely available
  • Fibre strength makes the final fabric solid and resistant to stress
  • Ability to absorb liquids gives Egyptian cotton fabrics deeper, brighter and more resistant colours
  • Versatile and hugely popular, used in a wide range of garments

Here at Acorn Fabrics, we endeavour to maintain a huge range of fabrics for a variety of occasions. You can browse our extensive range of fabric colours (many of which are made from Egyptian cotton), and if the idea of soft and silky textures has piqued your curiosity, you might be interested in browsing our range of superfine poplin fabrics – perfect for summer!