Egyptian Cotton

ELS Cotton Boll

Not all extra long staple cotton

comes from Egypt. This ELS
cotton was grown in Hawaii.
Photo by Forest and Kim Starr

Egyptian cotton makes wonderfull soft and luxurious bed sheets and fluffy towels. Grown in the Nile River Delta, the long staples of Egyptian cotton are a big part of the fiber’s popularity. Long staples mean the fiber can be spun into fine threads and then woven at a higher sett (more ends per inch), or, as it’s known in bed sheet terms, thread count. The higher the thread count, the softer and more durable the sheets.


The other reason Egyptian cotton is so lovely is that it’s still picked by hand (not machine) and then it is very carefully and gently ginned to minimize any damage to the fiber. Of course, not all Egyptian cotton is created equal. All cotton grown in Egypt is Egyptian cotton, but not all of it is what’s known as Extra Long Staple (ELS), so it’s important to know what you’re buying.


Cotton has grown in Egypt for centuries, but it wasn't always the best quality fiber. The cotton we now know and love as Egyptian cotton actually originated in the Americas. The nineteenth-century ruler Mohammed Ali Pasha introduced American ELS cotton plants, and a national industry was born. As for the American ELS cotton, better known today as Pima cotton, it is just as soft and luxurious as its North African sibling—it just doesn’t have quite the same marketing campaign.


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