How it’s made: Better bedding
Today, we pack our bags and travel to the charming, historic city of Guimarães, Portugal. The city is known as the birthplace of Portugal as its first king, Afonso Henriques, was born here. It has a population of over 158,000 with a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
Traditional homes in Guimarães, Portugal where we make our sheets
Guimarães is a popular day trip destination for tourists given its historic significance. It is home to picturesque plazas, medieval architecture and many attractions that we never got to see. Reason being: it is also one of the most industrial municipalities in Portugal, popular in the textile and shoe industry - which is why we went to Guimarães.
We traveled the world in search of high-quality, ethical production facilities that share our values for innovation and craftsmanship. We found that all here - so now the birthplace of Portugal is also the birthplace of our bedding line.
Aerial view of our partner factory
We partnered with a local family-owned mill that was founded shortly after the Second World War. The facility is a vertically integrated factory certified by the OEKO-TEX Standard 100, the textile industry’s leading certification standard (we’ll get to more about this in future posts).
The facility employs more than 700 individuals who engage in the process of weaving, dying, printing, sewing and finishing bed linens – all under one roof. This differs from some other production methods where products are sent to multiple facilities and subcontractors. Investing in a centralized structure allows the factory to maintain control at every step of the production process. By buying directly from a single, integrated factory and then selling directly to consumers, Merchant Sons, avoids mark-ups that can occur when too many parties are involved along the way.
Cutting a sample of our striped performance fabric
But how are your sheets actually made?
The process starts with product design which we do back home in Toronto. To appeal to the young, modern male, we visit their homes, look in their closets and study trends in both menswear and home décor to decide on colours, prints and details that will work in his home. Though our first collection of solid colours and striped bedding looks simple, there are many detailed design decisions that go into a bedding line. What exact shade of white? What direction do the stripes run? What distance between stripes? What type of seams? Where to place the seams? What type of zippers, buttons, elastics? What dimensions? What label design? Where to place the label?
Armed with artwork and Pantone colour swatches, we meet with our design counterparts in the factory to translate our simple, masculine designs on paper into bedding.
Greg with our early colour swatches
As a technical homewares company, the design process also includes specification and iterations on the fabric itself so we can create a more breathable, comfortable bed sheet. For Merchant Sons and our partner factory, this means experimenting with different fibres, thread count and weaves, before ultimately landing on our custom 50% Tencel / 50% cotton, 300 thread count, single-ply, percale weave.
Over the course of the next few weeks, our partner factory will weave samples and perform lab dips to match our colour choices for approval. We’ll take those samples and send them for independent quality testing before finalizing the prototype for full production.
Warping and Weaving
Once a prototype is approved, the factory begins the process of creating the fabric. The factory imports long-staple Egyptian cotton yarn and Tencel yarn which is then placed onto large, industrial looms. One fibre is the warp – which ones lengthwise – and the other is the weft – which runs horizontally. Just like weaving blades of long grass at the cottage, drawing the weft fibre over and under the warp fibres as its held in tension on the loom, creates the cloth.
Dyeing and Printing
The raw, unprocessed cloth that comes off the loom is called greige. It needs to be washed and bleached before it can be dyed and printed.
Merchant Sons’ bedding products get their colours through reactive dyeing, a process whereby a chromophore contains a substituent that reacts with a substrate to form a covalent (organic chemistry refresher, anyone?). In other words, the dye becomes part of the fibre and is much less likely to wash off or fade – unlike what happens if the fibre only absorbed a non-reactive dyed.
Our striped fabric is printed with a rotary screen, where ink is forced through a screen with a stencil of the design, onto the fabric.
Cutting, Sewing, Finishing and Getting it Home
Sewing extra-strength elastics into the seam of our fitted sheets
With the fabric completed, it is then cut and sewn into our various bedding products. We’ve added little details in the construction of our line to ensure a superior product:
- Fitted sheets feature an extra-strength elastic that is sewn into the seam of sheet for a better gripping fit around your mattress.
- Flat sheets feature a 4” hem and high-quality thread and stitching
- Duvet covers are closed using handsome, faux-horn coat buttons, rather than flimsy clear buttons typical of duvet covers
- Pillowcases have an envelope flap inside to keep your pillow nicely tucked in
At last, the finished products are washed and packed up before making their way across the Atlantic to Toronto. At our concept store on 273 Richmond Street West, we inspect and package each order by hand before sending it out to your home.
After all those design decisions, trips to Portugal and lab samples, we finally have bedding worth coming home to.
Credit: Christian Thompson of Christian Confidential