An Introduction to Knit Fabrics

Welcome to our first stop in the Beginner’s Guide to Sewing Knit Apparel! Download the ebook for free!

Many new apparel sewers shy away from knit fabrics because of their more intimidating qualities:

Why You Might Be Scared of Knit Fabrics

  • They can be slippery
  • Sewing machines like to “eat” knit fabrics
  • Their stretch can make wavy seams without the proper tools
  • Some knit fabric edges tend to roll

But don’t be scared! With a little training and experience, none of these things need to intimidate you. So now that we’ve identified what scares you about sewing with knits, let me tell you why sewing your clothes with knits is actually da bomb!

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Learn All About the Different Knit Fabrics Out There and Where To Get Them

Why You Should Love to Sew With Knit Fabrics

They Stretch

Stretchiness means so many good things for you as an apparel seamstress. First, knit sewing patterns are easier to sew because they work with the stretch of knit fabrics. This means a fitted top or bottom can hug your sexy curves without you needing to mess with darts or other cuts and stitches to make the piece form fitting.

The stretchiness also makes the sewing process more forgiving. What I mean by this is that if you are still getting used to the sewing process, you can be a little less than precise and get away with it. A little stretch and pull here and there and your pattern pieces will still fit together. Obviously, the more experienced you get the less you will need to depend on the forgiving nature of knit fabrics. But for those of you who are just starting out, knits will give you a little wiggle room to learn in.

They Don’t Wrinkle As Much

I don’t know about you, but I ain’t got no time to iron my clothes. Many knit fabrics don’t wrinkle very easily, and the ones that do still don’t wrinkle nearly as much as woven fabrics. This is an epic win for knit fabrics in my humble opinion.

They Are Super Comfortable

Between the stretch, drape and general softness, knit fabrics are known for producing some seriously comfortable clothing. I’m not making this up – my mother in law was checking out my clothing yesterday and she says to me:

It’s like you get to wear pajamas all day but they look like gorgeous daytime clothing!

This statement could not be truer. And while I’m all about looking nice, I’m so much more about feeling comfortable in my clothes. Which is pretty much why I can’t remember the last time I wore an article of clothing made out of woven material.

All of the “Scary” Qualities Aren’t So Scary

Everything “bad” that I’ve mentioned before about knit fabrics, are only intimidating without knowing the proper tools and techniques of sewing with knits. Completing this Beginner’s Guide to Sewing Knit Apparel will make sewing knits just as enjoyable (dare I say MORE enjoyable) for you as sewing with wovens.

Different Kinds of Knit Fabrics

So hopefully by this point I’ve convinced you that knit fabrics are amazing, and that you need to give them a try if you haven’t already. Now let’s talk about some different types of knit fabrics and what they’re good to sew with. Oh and if you want something to print out and have readily available for you to take to the fabric shop, download my Knit Fabrics at a Glance printable!

DOWNLOAD THE FABRIC CHEAT SHEET!

Are you a visual learner? Watch the comparison video instead! Or you can read about each of them below 🙂

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzAvC3CcMc4]

Cotton Lycra/Spandex

Cotton lycra is a smooth fabric that is very popular in the custom fabric world. It is made from mostly cotton with a small percentage of lycra/spandex. This makes it nice and stretchy with amazing recovery. The cotton makes it nice and breathable so it is fantastic for leggings and other activewear. It’s also my preferred choice for bands since it has such fantastic stretch and recovery.

It is kind of a perfect “middle of the road” fabric for many fabric qualities. It’s not super light, yet not super heavy. It’s got some drape to it while also giving you some structure. Because of these qualities, cotton lycra is a sort of “universal” fabric type to sew with. Which means you can pretty much make anything out of it.

Pros Breathable. Fantastic 4-way stretch. Complete recovery. Has enough drape stretch and structure to be used for pretty much any type of garment.
Cons Is in "the middle of the road" for many qualities. So it's not the most drapey or the most structured. It also tends to wrinkle a lot more than other knits because of the amount of cotton in it.
Favorite Things to Make From It Waistbands. Cuffs. Neckbands. Leggings. Tight fitting tops and dresses.

Editor’s Note: Enjoying this fundamental lesson on knit fabric? Put it to use on our Nicolette Shirt and Dress Pattern !


h3>Rayon Spandex

Rayon spandex is nice and stretchy. It is a soft, lightweight option and is usually my go-to for coordinating fabric and linings (such as hoodie or sweater linings). It doesn’t have great recovery, however. This means you don’t want to use it on patterns with too much negative ease (super form fitting on the body) because over time it will start to sag and the fit will change.

Pros Fantastic 4-way stretch. Lightweight and very soft. Very drapey.
Cons  Clingy. Although it's lightweight it's not very breathable. Doesn't have great recovery.
Favorite Things to Make From It  Hood linings and jacket linings. Loose fitting tops. Cardigans. Circle skirts/flowy dresses.

Modal

Modal is very similar to rayon spandex. In fact, it’s a kind of rayon spandex. What makes modal so fancy, pancy is its insane amount of softness and its resistance to pilling when compared to other rayon spandex blends. Its texture is a bit more slippery than other rayon spandex fabrics as well, which gives it a more elegant look. It is incredibly drapey so it is beautiful for flowing dresses and loose tops or bottoms. Be careful buying modal because you might just never want to wear anything else.

Pros Fantastic 4-way stretch. Insanely soft. Insanely drapey. Doesn't pill as much as other rayon spandex fabrics.
Cons  Clingy. Although it's lightweight it's not very breathable. Doesn't offer a lot of structure or recovery.
Favorite Things to Make From It Loose tops. Jogger or palazzo style pants. Flowy dresses. Peplum tops.

Polyester Spandex

Polyester spandex is the hot ticket fabric of the day. If you are a fan of LuLaRoe leggings, then you are familiar with the double brushed version of polyester spandex. It typically comes in single brushed and double brushed varieties. Double brushed has a wonderfully soft, very light fuzz (or brush) on both the inside and outside of the fabric. This is what makes it so dreamy, soft and buttery. Single brushed poly spandex has this brush only on the outside of the fabric. It’s still incredibly soft but it will be smooth on the inside of the garment.

It is one of my all time favorite fabrics to sew apparel with. It has incredible drape, great stretch, great recovery and like I said – buttery soft. A big thing to note about polyester spandex, however, is that it is not a breathable fabric choice. It is very insulating. So if you sweat a lot or live in a consistently hot climate, it would not be my first recommendation for you. It’s also not a great fabric choice for athletic leggings because that hoo-ha gotta breathe! 😉

Pros Fantastic 4-way stretch. Insanely soft and comfortable. Good drape. Warm (a plus for people in colder climates). Great recovery.
Cons Warm (a downside for people in hot climates).
Favorite Things to Make From It  All the things! Seriously though the only things I wouldn't recommend making with brushed poly spandex are workout leggings (pants you intend on sweating in) and long sleeved shirts because it's just too insulating.

Cotton Jersey

Jersey knit is an incredibly breathable and comfortable fabric. It is a favorite summer time fabric! Most jersey knits have a little stretch but lack a lot of recovery. So similarly to rayon spandex, I avoid it with patterns that have too much negative ease to them. Long story short, if it’s warm outside and I’m in the mood for a comfortable dress or boyfriend style t-shirt, I’m reaching for my jersey stash.

Pros  Very breathable and comfortable. Lightweight.
Cons Doesn't have a lot of stretch or recovery. Wrinkles a bit easier than other knit fabrics.
Favorite Things to Make From It T-shirts. Loose dresses. Lightweight jackets.

French Terry

French terry is another hot fabric type in the knit sewing space. The first thing you’ll notice about french terry is that is has a loopy knitted inside and a smooth outside. These loops are great for comfort, warmth and moisture absorption. French terry is very versatile and, depending on where you get it from, it can have many different qualities.

You can get it in thick, warm varieties. You can get it in thin, drapey varieties. You can get it with tons of stretch going both ways. You can get it with hardly any stretch at all. The key to shopping for french terry, is reading the listings thoroughly to understand all of the different fabric qualities so you know exactly what you’re getting (more on that in the next article of this series).

Pros Breathable and comfortable. Extremely versatile.
Cons You need to pay attention to the listing closely before purchasing. Some varieties are very stretchy and drapey. Others are very structured with no stretch. Both are useful but you need to pay attention so you don't get the wrong kind for the project you have in mind.
Favorite Things to Make From It  Cardigans. Jogger pants. Long sleeved shirts. Hoodies.

Sweater Knit

Sweater knit is exactly what you would expect. When you think of a nice sweater, you’re most likely thinking about sweater knit. It has a looser weave than most knit fabrics. Sweater knit is best known for being breathable, drapey and comfortable.

Another quality of most sweater knits is that they generally only have a 2-way stretch to them. Some varieties have more stretch than others but none of them will have a great deal of recovery. It is my number one pick for cardigan patterns.

Pros  Cozy and comfortable. Extremely breathable. Amazing drape. Virtually impossible to wrinkle.
Cons Can be a little trickier to work with because of the open weave. Also more prone to pulls or holes.
Favorite Things to Make From It  Cardigans. Sweaters. Long sleeved shirts. Winter dresses. Pajamas.

Fleece and Sweatshirt Fleece

Fleece and sweatshirt fleece are a fabric type most of you will be familiar with. It is extremely warm and soft. The difference between fleece and sweatshirt fleece is the outside of the fabric. Fleece will be fuzzy on both the outside and the inside. Sweatshirt fleece will have a smooth finish on the outside but still be fuzzy on the inside. Some sweatshirt fleece can be very stiff. So when shopping for sweatershirt fleece, pay attention to the drape. The drapier the fleece, the more slouchy/comfy your sweatshirt will end up looking.

Pros

Super warm and comfortable. Virtually impossible to wrinkle. Stable and easy to work with.

Cons Certain kinds can “box you up” if they aren’t good quality. The fuzz can upset your machine.
Favorite Things to Make From It  Sweatpants. Sweatshirts. Hoodies.

Performance

Performance fabrics are what you’ll be looking for for athletic wear. The three most popular ones are scuba, spandex and supplex. Spandex and scuba don’t have much breathability to them. All performance fabrics are made to take a beating, hence their use in athletic clothing. They stretch a ton and have the best recovery of all the knit fabric types. Supplex (pictured below in the aqua color) is a bit softer than scuba and spandex.

It is by far my preferred choice between the two for athletic leggings. It’s far more comfortable than spandex because it has less structure to it.

Pros Extremely durable. Incredible stretch and recovery. Lots of structure to keep things in place.
Cons  Not breathable.
Favorite Things to Make From It  All of the athletic wear! Swimming suits. Tight skirts.

Liverpool

Liverpool is a really fun fabric to work with! It is a fantastic option for your first knit project because it is more stable than most knit fabrics. It has an elegant crepe texture on the outside of the fabric that gives it a bit more dimension than others. It generally has good 2-way stretch. This combination of stability and stretch makes it a great option for form fitting patterns that you want a little more curve control with – pencil skirts and tighter dresses for example. Keep in mind though, you when you get stability you are losing out on drape.

Pros Easy to work with. Perfect for garments that you want more structure for. Elegant look.
Cons Lacks drape in place of structure.
Favorite Things to Make From It  Pencil skirts. Tight dresses. Bomber jackets. Blazers. Peplum or other form fitting tops.

Ponte Knit

Ponte knit’s greatest feature is its support/structure. It typically has less stretch to it. The combo of structure and little stretch makes it somewhat of a crossover fabric good for many knit and woven apparel patterns. It is a great fabric choice for jackets, skirts and structured knit dresses.

Pros  Very structured to keep all of the lumps and bumps in control.
Cons  Not breathable or drapey.
Favorite Things to Make From It  Pencil skirts and tight dresses. Pants.

ITY

ITY (It’s an acronym for interlock twist yarn, but lots of people call it “itty”) is a beautifully drapey knit with lots of mechanical stretch. That means the weave is what gives it most of its stretch rather than high contents of lycra. This makes it more breathable. It makes dreamy skirts and flowy tops. It is, however, a very slippery fabric. So if slippery makes you nervous, try working with a few different knit fabric types before using ITY.

Pros  Extremely drapey and elegant looking. Comfortable lightweight and breathable.
Cons  Slippery so it can be tricky to work with for beginners.
Favorite Things to Make From It Dresses. Flowy tops. Loose tank tops and shirts.

Stretch Lace

Stretch lace is such a gorgeous overlay fabric to dress up your knit apparel. As I’m sure you gathered from the name, it is a stretchy form of lace. You can use it over top of a solid fabric to dress it up or use it alone in a layering garment for a boho chic look.

Pros  Beautiful and stretchy.
Cons  Not very versatile.
Favorite Things to Make From It  Formal wear overlays. Sleeves as an accent. Cardigans for layering.

Your assignment for this lesson: go to a local fabric store and get yourself all up in that knit fabric! Touch it, stretch it, imagine it on you. Then check out the fabric content to see what kind of knit fabric it is. The more you handle fabric, the more you’ll get to know exactly what your preferences are.

Are you following the Beginner’s Guide to Sewing Knit Apparel? Continue onto the next lesson here.

5 thoughts on “An Introduction to Knit Fabrics”

  1. This is super helpful! I loved the video too. I just started sewing, and I am so overwhelmed by the fabric choices that is available. I find that my local fabric store doesn’t have much to offer when it comes to knit fabrics so I will have to buy fabric online. it sure is a daunting task, but using this as a reference will be super Helpful. I really like visual aids. This is the most simple yet comprehensive guide to knit fabrics i have come across online. Thank you so much!!!

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