A higher thread count usually indicates a better quality fabric, which should be softer and have a finer texture - and it will be more expensive.
Linen Obsession's Guide to Thread Counts:
“Basic quality” bed linen has 132 to 144 Thread Count.
“Good quality” starts at 180 to 220 Thread Count.
“Great quality” is 300 Thread Count plus.
“Excellent quality” has 400 Thread Count.
“Luxury” fabrics have 500 Thread Count or more.
Technical answer: Thread count simply refers to how many threads are woven (both ways) into each square inch of fabric. It indicates how coarse or fine the fabric texture is.But there’s one more thing to consider: Thinner threads have to be used to make a higher thread count fabric - because you have to squash lots more threads into each square inch of fabric!
Therefore if a fabric is higher than “300 Thread Count”, the fabric may be less strong, due to the thinner yarn used. This is why “300 Thread Count” is considered by many to be the perfect thread count for sheets – it’s a fabric that looks and feels great, but is still strong and durable.
Additional Technical Information: Don’t assume the only definition of luxury bedding is a high thread count. Whilst Thread Count is an important factor; there are other features which are equally important when measuring linen quality:
a) The type of cotton used e.g. carded/ combed/ pima/ Egyptian cotton
b) The quality of the cotton or "grade of cotton".
c) The type of fabric weaving.
d) The manufacturing processes.
e) How the fabric was finished.
f) The quality of the dyes & pigments used to colour the cotton.
g) The sewing quality and details.
h) Any additional decorations or embroidery on the fabric.
It’s always better to buy high thread count bed linen (or even Egyptian cotton bedding) from a trusted brand, then you know you will get the right mix of quality components.
Can you verify the thread count yourself? Unfortunately not, as the human eye cannot count see even 200 thread counts per square inch. A special magnification & counting device is used by professionals to measure the thread count in any fabric.
More Technical Information of Thread Count: Thread Count is the number of threads woven into one square inch of fabric. This number is based on counting the number of threads woven horizontally ("weft") and vertically ("warp") into the fabric. Some weavers may use “multi-ply cotton yarns” (i.e. yarn that is made by twisting together a number of shorter or thinner threads) to increase the claimed thread count, whilst long fibre (long staple length) “single-ply” cotton yarns are usually of higher quality. This is why the idea that high thread counts equal better quality isn't always correct. Most weavers report that the maximum number of SINGLE threads that could be woven into each square inch of fabric is 500 to 600.
(Image credit: Australian Textile Mills)