Knit garments are fun to wear — and sew, once you get the hang of working with stretch knit fabric. But, how do you choose a knit fabric that’s just right for your next T-shirt, dress, or activewear?
This knit fabric guide will:
- Help you understand the characteristics of stretch knit fabric
- Give you knit fabric examples of the most-common knit fabrics used in garment sewing
- Teach you what to consider when choosing knit fabric yardage for a specific sewing project
- Allow you to discover the easiest knit fabrics for new sewers
This knit fabric guide may be a little more technical than others out on the interwebs, but I know sewists are smart cookies, and it’s my belief that the more you understand a topic, the less hesitant you are to jump into it. With this in mind, let’s master our medium! Prowess sewing stretchy fabric is within your grasp.
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Table of Contents
What Type of Fabric is a Knit Fabric?
A textile made of looped yarn, either parallel to the grain or on the cross grain, is considered a knit fabric. Unlike woven fabric, which is created when yarn is interlaced at right angles, knit fabric can be created from one or more yarns.
Stretch knit fabric can be made of basically anything:
- Even more! (Name a fiber, and it probably can be knit.)
And these fibers can be blended with each other, too! And many of these fibers are blended with spandex/Lycra/elastane for extra stretch.
Knit fabric comes in many different weights of fabric.
This table shows fabric weight measurements and knit fabric examples you might see while shopping for fabric.
A more practical way to assess knit fabric weights is to think about what the textile might be good for (e.g., knit fabric example):
|Knit Fabric Weight||Imperial and Metric (Approximate)||Good For…||Fabric Example|
|Top/Lightweight||Up to 4 oz/yd² / 130 gsm||Light shirts, scarves||Rayon jersey|
|Medium Weight||4-9 oz/yd² / 130-300 gsm||Dresses, skirts||Liverpool jersey|
|Bottom/Heavyweight||9 oz/yd² / 300 gsm and up||Pants, jacket||Ponte di Roma|
According to “The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory,” (my fave book on fabric), characteristics of knitted fabrics include:
|Desirable Characteristics of Knitted Fabrics||Less Desirable Characteristics of Knitted Fabrics|
|-Faster manufacture compared to woven fabrics|
-Looped stitches that allow the fabric to be softer, have more drape, and be easier to fit on the body
-Wide variety of surface texture and patterns
|-Looped stitches often snag|
-Can stretch out of shape easily
-Not wind resistant due to looped stitches
Knit Fabric Examples
Before getting technical, let’s look at in which garments you might find different types of stretch knit fabric. I want you to see these not-woven fabric examples in your mind’s eye.
Knits for Pants
- Double-brushed polyester – leggings
- Ponte di Roma – “woven-look” knit pants
Knits for Tops
- Jersey – t-shirts
- Tubular knits – seamless t-shirts
- Ribbing – neckbands
- Jacquard – reversible sweater/cardigans (pattern is “negative” on reverse side)
- Pique – polo shirts
Knits for Dresses
- Interlock twist yard – wrinkle-resistant dresses
- Ponte di Roma – knit dresses with less drape, more structure
Knits for Activewear
- Tricot – slippery lining for swimwear
- Mesh – shorts
Warp vs. Weft Knit
There are two types of knits: warp and weft.
Warp is the straight grain, parallel to the selvage. Warp knits are made by looping stitches of yarn in the direction of the straight grain.
Weft is the cross grain, perpendicular to the grain/selvage. Weft knits are made by looping stitches of yarn in the direction of the cross grain.
Pro tip: I remember warp vs. weft by recalling that it’s WEFT to right. (Get it? Left to right = cross grain.)
Weft knits are stretchier than warp knits. That’s because weft fabrics are knit on the cross grain, which stretches more than the grain.
Warp fabrics are strong and stable. That’s because they’re knit in the direction of the grain.
Weft Knit Fabrics
Weft fabrics use knit (V-shaped) and purl (arch/bump-shaped) stitches, and the arrangement of these stitches determines a fabric’s name and characteristics.
Single Knit Fabrics
These fabrics are stretchy, especially if their fibers are blended with spandex.
- Jersey: I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that jersey is the most-common knit fabric. The right side features tiny V’s (knit stitch), and the wrong side features tiny bumps/arches (called a purl stitch). This is T-shirt fabric.
- Double-Brushed Polyester: DBP is a jersey knit that’s been brushed on both sides for softness. It often has colorful prints and is popular for leggings.
- Interlock Twist Yarn (ITY) Knit: The yarn in ITY knits has an extra twist in it that gives the fabric more elasticity. ITY usually is a polyester blend and often features colorful prints. It’s drapey and has a bounce to it. It’s great for dresses.
- Drawn Textured Yarn (DTY) Knit: DTY is similar to ITY, but it has more body. It’s like a lightweight swimsuit fabric with less structure. It’s often brushed.
- Tubular Knits and Ribbing: These fabrics are knit in a circle; the yardage is sold in a loop. Ribbing is used for neckband, cuffs, and the like. Tubular knits can be made into seamless T-shirts.
Single and Double Knit Weft Fabrics
These fabrics can be single knits or double knits.
- Sweater Knits: Includes fine-gauge sweater knits (thinnest yarns), medium-weight sweater knits, heavyweight sweater knits (thickest yarns that often mimic handknits), and hacci knits. Hacci is a semi-open and more loopy knit.
- Jacquard Knit: This is a textured knit that features geometric or curved designs that are knitted — not embroidered, printed, or stamped — into the fabric. On the wrong side of the fabric, the knitting creates a negative of the design, which can make the fabric reversible. Note: Jacquard knits can be weft or warp.
Double Knit Fabrics
A double knit is two layers of fabric knitted together. Its two sides show knit V-shaped stitches, and the purl stitches (on the wrong sides) are locked together.
- Interlock: Looks like the right side of jersey (knit-stitch V’s) on BOTH sides. It’s lightweight but more rigid than single-knit jersey; good for dresses that don’t need a ton of drape.
- Rib: Features alternating high and low rows of knit and purl stitches to create “ribs.” More ribs = more elasticity. Rib knits and ribbing are not the same. Good for more curve-hugging garments.
- Pointelle: Pointelle has open-spaced patterns, which usually are geometric. It’s common in lingerie and baby clothes.
- Thermal: These are knits with the square “waffle” pattern. Often layered to trap body heat in cold weather. This is long john fabric.
- Ponte di Roma: This stable bottom weight is soft and can have varied surface textures. Ponte doesn’t drape well, but it’s easy to cut and sew. Good for pants, skirts, lightish jackets.
- Pique: Usually medium weight, double-knit pique is what polo shirts are made of. You could describe the texture as pebbly, honeycomb, or waffle.
- Matte Jersey: High-twist crêpe yarns give this fabric a pebbly, crêpey texture. It’s drapey and easy to sew. Try it for dresses and skirts.
- Liverpool: Sometimes called bullet fabric because of its bumpy, crêpey texture. The wrong side of this medium-drape knit is smooth. A cousin of this fabric is fukuro, which has a crinkley, bubbly stripe texture. Fukuro fabric can be jacquard, metallic, or otherwise sparkly or special occasion-ish.
- Double-Faced (Reversible): Double knits sort of have two “right” sides because of how they’re made. A double-faced knit has a “wrong” side that’s as appealing as the “right” side.
- Scuba: It’s a stable mid-weight double knit that’s easy to cut and sew, and it often comes in vibrant prints. Scuba knit is smooth and moderately slippery. FYI: Techno knit is similar to scuba but lighter weight and drapier. Both these knits are sometimes called neoprene.
Looped Pile Fabrics
These knits have an extra set of yarns added to create loops.
- French Terry: Knit V-shaped stitches on the right side and loops on the wrong side. This is hoodie fabric.
Cut/Sheared Pile Fabrics
Same as looped pile knits, except loops are sheared.
- Polar Fleece. The right side of polar fleece is cut, and the wrong side is brushed for softness and warmth. The brushed side is prone to pilling. Wonderful for pullovers, cardis that don’t need drape.
- Velour: The right side of velour is a soft, deep-cut pile, and the wrong side is an unnapped knit. Velour can be knit or woven, but only velvet can be woven. Velvet has a longer pile than velour. Weft-knit velour is stretchier than warp-knit velour.
- Faux Fur: Cut pile (on the right side) imitates fur. The wrong side is knitted.
- Sweatshirt Fleece: Has a right side with V-shaped knit stitches, and on the wrong side is a cut pile that’s been brushed to create soft, warm fleece.
Warp Knit Fabrics
Warp knits do not use knit or purl stitches.
Tricot Knit Fabrics
Pronounced “TREE-koh,” not “TRY-cot.”
- Tricot: With this knit, the right-side stitches are 90 degrees to the wrong-side stitches. You’ll find tricot used for lining, lingerie, swimwear, and activewear.
- Mesh: A fabric that’s mostly holes! Common in activewear and lingerie.
Raschel Knit Fabrics
Raschel knit is an open-work fabric knit on the warp.
- Elastic Power Mesh: Stretchy and constrictive. The holes in power mesh provide airflow and make the fabric lightweight. Common in bras.
- Netting: Open surfaced and lightweight. Helps skirts stand away from the body.
- Point D’espirit: This netting, with flecks of texture, is used in veils and fascinators.
- Tulle: Tulle netting is made with fine yarn and has very small holes. It’s similar to netting, in that it helps give garments overall volume.
- Mass-Market Lace: Usually very lightweight but strong on the grain. The texture of this lace is flat.
Looped Pile Fabrics
See above for a photo.
- French Terry: Smooth, flat stitches on the right side and loops on the wrong side.
Cut/Sheared Pile Fabrics
See above for photos.
- Velour: The right side of velour is a soft, deep-cut pile, and the wrong side is unnapped and smooth. Velour can be knit or woven, but only velvet can be woven. Warp-knit velour is less stretchy than weft-knit velour.
- Faux Fur: Cut pile (on the right side) imitates fur. The wrong side is smooth.
- Sweatshirt Fleece: Has a right side that’s smooth, and on the wrong side is a cut pile that’s been brushed to create soft, warm fleece.
✨ SHOP FOR KNIT FABRIC ✨
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How to Choose a Knit Fabric: Questions You Must Ask
Choosing a knit fabric can happen without a pattern in mind (yes to stash building mode!). Obviously, if you’re shopping for a stretch knit fabric for a specific pattern, refer to recommended fabrics and stretch percentage (more on that in a minute!) for the pattern before putting down your cash.
That said, the following questions can help you choose a knit fabric ANY time you see yardage that catches your eye. Record you knit-fabric findings and save them with your yardage. Your future self will thank you!
own research and sewing a muslin to make sure you get what you need out of your fabric choice.
RELATED: How to Choose Fabric: A Crash Course in Fashion Textiles
1.) What is this Fabric’s Stretch Profile?
What’s the No. 1 reason we love knit fabric? Because it S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-S! So, if stretch is good, how much stretch is best? Let’s learn to describe and quantify the stretch of knit fabric.
First, let’s describe knit fabric stretch direction. We want to know if the fabric stretches on the warp (grain) and weft (cross grain).
A fabric that only stretches on the warp OR on the weft has two-way stretch (up and down OR left and right). In general, two-way stretch refers to stretch on the weft (aka, width).
A fabric that stretches on the warp AND on the weft has four-way stretch — up, down, left, AND right. (Four-way stretch sometimes is called “all-ways stretch.”)
A four-way stretch fabric is good for jersey fabric patterns with negative ease, e.g., swimwear, leggings. Think about garments that expand to accommodate your body volume.
A two-way stretch fabric is good for sewing patterns that require more stretch in one direction vs. the other direction. For example, think of a pullover that needs to expand left and right to accommodate your shoulders but doesn’t need to stretch (much) to accommodate the length of your torso.
How to Calculate Stretch Percentage for Knit Fabric
Now that you know how to describe a knit fabric’s stretch direction, let’s get into how to calculate stretch percentage. THis is a tactile AND math-y exercise.
You need a piece of the fabric for the stretch percentage test — a rectangle 4 to 6 inches long with the long edge either parallel to OR perpendicular to the grain (selvage). In my experience, I’ve usually tested stretch percentage on the cross grain (weft).
Hold the long edge of the fabric rectangle along a ruler WITHOUT stretching it. Record its unstretched length. Now, hold one end of the rectangle and stretch the other end to its reasonable limit. (I stretch the fabric to the max I’d be comfortable wearing it as a garment.) Record the stretched length.
Here’s the stretch percentage formula:
Stretch Percentage = ((Stretched Length – Original Length) / Original Length) x 100
For example, pretend I had a rectangle that was 6 inches unstretched and 8 inches stretched.
((8 inches – 6 inches) / 6 inches) x 100 = 33 percent stretch
A couple of notes about stretch percentage:
—> 1.) Stretchier is better.
It’s better to have too much stretch than too little stretch. For example, if you have a pattern that calls for 50 percent stretch and your fabric has 75 percent stretch, your garment won’t be baggy, but there will be less tension on fabric as you wear your article of clothing.
To compare, the same pattern made with fabric with 33 percent stretch might not expand enough to go over your body, and if it does, it probably will feel like a rubber band that’s stretched too tight. (We no likey.)
—> 2.) Understand recovery time.
Stretch knit fabric recovery describes how a fabric snaps back into shape after it’s been stretched. Have you ever had a fitted T-shirt bag out in the bust or armpits after you wore it? The recovery for that garment was less-than desirable. So, to get an idea about knit fabric recovery, do your stretch percentage test and pay attention to how the fabric bounces back.
A fabric has good recovery if it quickly returns to its original length and shape after stretching. Usually knits with spandex content have better recovery vs. knits without spandex. But, test and see, and think through how knit fabric recovery plays with your intended garment. The more fitted the garment is, the more important recovery is (especially if the sewing pattern has negative ease).
2.) Can I See Through This Stretch Knit Fabric?
When you consider a fabric’s weight, don’t forget to check if it’s see-through under different circumstances.
Hold up one layer of fabric to a window; is it transparent?
Now stretch the single layer; how do different tensions impact transparency? For example, if you’re making a garment with negative ease (e.g., leggings), will they be sheer as they stretch over your body?
We don’t want a Lululemon situation.
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3.) Will this Knit Fabric Pill?
Knit fabric pilling on a me-made garment is such a bummer. Knits are so fun to wear, but wearing a knit garment with pilling is so not the look.
Fabric pills are caused by abrasion that breaks yarns. The yarns tangle together and… ta-da, a fabric pill.
Abrasion comes from regular wear and tear on a garment — for example, the side of a shirt rubbing against the underside of sleeves — and from a garment rubbing against another garment during laundering.
To avoid pilling, choose a knit fabric that’s made from one fiber: cotton, linen, etc.
When fibers are blended, one fiber usually is stronger than the other. The weaker fiber breaks and wraps around the stronger fiber, creating a pill.
When a single-fiber knit fabric isn’t a good option for you, you can keep knit fabric from pilling (or pilling less) by:
- Turning your knit garments inside out when they’re washed
- Washing your knit clothes in small loads on a gentle cycle
- Washing your knit garments with like clothes, e.g., T-shirts with other T-shirts, not heavyweight denim overalls that could rub your knits too aggressively
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4.) Does this Fabric Need Lining?
Sometimes you look at a stretch knit fabric and declare it needs lining to counteract transparency, prevent clinging, or something else I haven’t thought of.
When lining a knit stretch fabric, I suggest:
- Self-lining with the same fabric. That way, you know how the fabric will behave (vs. buddying up two fabrics that might not play nice together). If self-lining is for you, be sure to buy extra fabric!
- Power mesh. Be aware that there are different levels of compression when it comes to power mesh. Sewlebrity Mimi G has a video tutorial about how to add mesh to a bodycon skirt. Plus you can get power mesh in nude — perfect for linings!
This forum convo on PatternReview.com has some great talk about HOW to line knit fabric. Tactics recommended include:
- Lining a shirt: Sew the lining to the neckline, right sides together. Flip the lining to the wrong side and topstitch.
- Lining a sleeveless shirt: Use the burrito method (it’s too complicated to cover in this post!).
As for lining a skirt or pants, I say attach the lining at the waist and let it hang loose.
Use your paper pattern pieces to create fabric lining pieces, i.e., front skirt pattern piece to cut out the front skirt lining fabric. And because most knits don’t fray, it’s likely you don’t have to finish the hems or seam allowances of a lining.
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What is the Easiest Knit Fabric to Sew for Beginners?
The best knit fabric for beginners is something that:
- Doesn’t roll at the raw edges. Cutting fabric that rolls at the edge is a pain.
- Isn’t slippery. Matte fabric is easier to handle at your sewing machine, serger, and sewing table; it won’t slip to the floor.
- Isn’t exceptionally stretchy. It’s all-too easy for the seams of super-stretchy fabric to be stretched out of shape while stitching.
To get comfortable sewing knits, I suggest starting with a medium or bottom weight double knit, such as scuba, interlock, or Ponte di Roma, and making a skirt (because they’re often easy to fit).
The Colette Mabel (or something like it) is a wonderful primer into the wild world of knit fabric. Most double knits will be relatively easy fabrics to sew. When in doubt, get a small amount of yardage and play around with it before going all in on a pattern or fashion fabric.
Build on your success with a woven-ish knit before moving to a thin knit fabric such as rayon jersey. And even then, go for a simple sewing pattern, such as Sie Macht’s Cass T-shirt, with few, straight seams.
Knit fabrics come in an epic number of fiber content, drape, weight, and cost combinations. It can make even a seasoned sewist feel overwhelmed. However, when you match the right knit with the right pattern to achieve maximum comfort and style, all the rigmarole around choosing a knit fabric is worth it!
Over to you: I gotta know — which of the knit fabrics listed were new to you? I had never heard of Liverpool before, and big-time online fabric store Girl Charlee sells a ton of it. Also: What knit fabric do YOU recommend for rookie sewists? Please leave a comment! Thanks for reading.
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