Flannel Sheets: “The Longer You Use Them, the Softer They Get”

“We have been using flannel sheets year round for the past 20 years. These are by far the softest, thickest, nicest flannel sheets I have ever bought. They keep you warm in the winter & cool in the summer.” ­­– Betsy from Bradenton, Florida

The holidays have wound down. As cozy feelings brought on by familiar strains of holiday music, twinkling indoor lights, and loved ones around the table fade, I find myself seeking comfort and warmth to support me through the stretch of winter days and nights ahead.

Lucky for me, this year’s haul of gifts stands at the ready. I’m relishing my plush purple slippers, wrapping myself in my fleece bathrobe, and I’ve dressed my bed in brand-spanking-new flannel sheets.

I’ll admit that I’m something of a sheet snob these days, after a youth of sleeping in practical, economical, rough-hewn poly-cotton blend bed clothes. I learned the joys of high thread count, Egyptian cotton sheets largely in sleek, cool, upmarket hotels. Now I treat myself to sets of my own.

Only in recent years, though, have I become a convert to the soothing delights of brushed flannel bedding. Sure, there was always something romantic about the idea… it was much touted in the film The Sure Thing, starring my teen heartthrob John Cusick. Along with Daphne Zuniga, he dreams of renovating a Vermont farmhouse, and kitting it out with well-worn flannel sheets. “The longer you use them, the softer they get.”

It was late fall in Pemaquid, Maine, in a seaside cottage on the water, when I first slid between a pair of welcoming old flannels. Science says that flannel’s brushing process, mastered by Portuguese artisan craftspeople, fluffs up the downy surface, or “nap” of the fabric, creating tiny pockets of air. These pillows insulate, and hold in glorious body heat. Warmth and softness at the end of an active day kayaking and hiking? Yes, please. It’s like sinking into a hug.

High-fashion magazine spreads illustrate the ubiquity of flannel shirts across the demographics, and across the globe. There’s a reason flannel is the choice of laborers, grunge-rockers, rappers, and business suit-wearers alike. It carries a person from climate to climate, season to season. Warm but never bulky in winter, it’s perfect for layering. In spring and summer, it’s light enough to carry as armor against sudden cold fronts and chilly, climate-controlled offices.

The wonders of flannel feel fresh to me, like a new discovery, but 17th-century Welsh farmers know the truth. To them, it was gwlanen, the warmest lightweight fabric with the best range of motion available. Their wives and women began carding wool, and weaving this element-resistant fabric made of worsted yarn, for wearing in the fields.

I, for one, am grateful for their innovation. While I neither have to toil outdoors in the damp fog, nor rely on burning peat to warm my home, the luxury of my snug flannel jammies and my toasty, sumptuous flannel bedding cheers and soothes me.

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