When the weather outside is frightful, waffle knit fabric is utterly delightful. Turns out there's a lot to learn about this thermal fabric.

When the weather outside is frightful, waffle knit fabric is utterly delightful.

Turns out there’s lots to learn about this iconic textile.

Keep reading to discover:

  • The properties that make thermal fabric unique.
  • Tips on how to sew waffle knit fabric — most importantly how to keep it from stretching out of shape.
  •  RTW-inspired sewing pattern suggestions for waffle fabric.

Let’s get cozy and become armchair experts on thermal fabric.

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Thermal Fabric at a Glance

Consider this good-to-know “trivia” about waffle knit fabric.

1.) Waffle fabric can be woven or knit. (This article focuses on knitted waffle fabric.)

2.) Waffle fabric is sometimes known as honeycomb fabric.

3.) Thermal knit fabric and waffle knit fabric are two terms for the same material.

4.) The size of the waffle grid squares is the gauge. Waffle knits come in gauges of all sizes.

5.) Waffle knit fabric can be made of any fiber — polyester, rayon, etc. Cotton is very common for thermal fabric.

6.) The primary fiber in waffle knit may be blended with spandex/lycra for additional stretch and/or recovery (the ability to snap back into shape).

7.) The 3-D surface of the fabric makes it more absorbent, breathable, and fast drying vs. other fabrics.

8.) The textured grid of pockets of waffle knit fabric traps body heat to keep the wearer roasty toasty. 

9.) Pique (think polo shirt fabric) sometimes is confused with waffle knit. Waffle knit is a looser knit; it breathes better and has better thermal properties vs. pique.

10.) The henley shirt — the garment most often associated with thermal knit fabric — was first worn by rowers in the British town of Henley-on-Thames. The town is the site of the famous Henley Royal Regatta rowing event, which started in 1839.

11.) The henley went mainstream in the 1970s, thanks to a buyer for fashion designer Ralph Lauren who saw the shirt’s potential.

Grow Your Knit Sewing Confidence
3-Article Series

Part 1: 33 Knit Fabric Examples for (Almost) Every Sewing Project

Part 2: Sewing Stretchy Fabric without a Serger: Stretch Stitch Settings and More

Part 3: 28 Jersey Fabric Patterns You Can Sew in an Afternoon

Sewing Waffle Knit Fabric

Here’s guidance on how to get the best results when stitching thermal fabric.

12.) Because you’re working with a knit, use ball point or stretch sewing machine needles.

13.) Knit fabric (and sewing patterns for knits) often don’t need a lot of pressing, so don’t go too hot or hard with the iron (especially if there’s spandex in the fabric).

14.) If possible reduce presser foot pressure; the waffle texture might not feed the smoothest under the presser foot.

15.) The texture of thermal fabric hides stitches errors. Match the thread perfectly, and you’re home free.

16.)  Increase the length of the stitch when sewing waffle knit to avoid rippling seams.

17.) Be cautious If you have to use a seam ripper on waffle knit. It’s easy to snag individual yarns in this textured fabric, and it’s easy to stretch out (see below).

18.) Cut pattern pieces of thermal fabric on a single layer. It’s too hard to align the waffle grid on more than one layer, and if the grid drifts up or down, it’ll be obvious (especially if the waffle has a large gauge). Treat the grid as if it were stripes.

How to Keep Waffle Knit from Stretching Out

Waffle knit fabric doesn’t have the best recovery. The following nuggets are ways to keep thermal fabric (literally) in the best shape possible.

19.) Test stitch type, stitch length, tension, and presser foot presser combos on scrap fabric before working on your garment.

20.) Try a walking (even feed) presser foot when sewing thermal fabric.

21.) Thermal knit can be stretched out of shape while pinning. Don’t overhandle it.

22.) Stabilize the shoulders to keep them from stretching out.

23.) Staystich curved areas to keep them from stretching out.

24.) Consider stabilizing the hem with knit interfacing to keep the hem from… you guessed it, stretching out.


RELATED: How to Hem a Lightweight Knit on a Sewing Machine

RELATED: Best Serger Hems for Thin Knit Fabrics


25.) If you’re sewing on a serger and/or coverstitch machine, increase the differential feed.

26.) You *might* help fabric recovery by hitting misshapen areas with steam from the iron. Don’t touch the fabric — hover only.

27.) Pay extra-special attention to the pattern’s stretch percentage when choosing thermal fabric.

28.) If the pattern has negative ease/needs to stretch, go for a spandex-blend waffle fabric.

Fun Stuff to Sew with Thermal Fabric

Obviously I couldn’t leave you without sewing pattern ideas for waffle fabric. Here are fabric picks, RTW inspiration, and pattern suggestions for casual winter thermal fabric lewks.

Scarf, Blanket, Shawl, or Wrap

No pattern needed. Get yourself some luxe waffle knit fabric yardage and finish the raw edges to your liking.

Inspo | Fabric | Pattern

Loungewear

It’s a sweatsuit, but it’s a FASHUN sweatsuit. Closet Core Patterns Mile High sweatshirt and Plateau joggers fit the bill perfectly. You can buy the sweatsuit as a bundle, or each piece is available separately.

Inspo | Fabric | Pattern

Sergercore/Exposed Seams

I wrote about sergercore this summer, and Fashion Forward Folks™️ are still into the exposed seams trend. You could take the (free!) oversized Mandy tee, do some slashing, and come back with something remarkably similar to this inspo top.

Inspo | Fabric | Pattern

Cocoon Cardigan Sweater

One of the first things that popped into my head when it came to sewing a waffle knit garment was a cozy and chic cocoon cardigan. This pattern from Style Arc looks like a super-fast sew and is darn close to the inspo image.

Inspo | Fabric | Pattern

Robe

Doesn’t a waffle fabric robe scream LUXURY to you? You could live your best five-star hotel fantasy in the Samara pattern. I’ve sewn Victory Patterns Samara, and it’s *chef’s kiss* as a cardigan and would be amazing as a robe, too.

Inspo | Fabric | Pattern

Headband

Oh em gosh, you should sew a waffle knit headband to match a waffle knit robe! Cut out the robe, and use scraps for the headband. What’s more, sewing something small first, like a headband, gives you a chance to feel out how to sew waffle knit fabric before advancing to a larger project.

Inspo | Fabric | Pattern

Beanie

I love having a collection of beanies at my fingertips for cold-weather accessorizing. This beanie is a freebie from Workhorse Patterns. Beanies in several colors of thermal knit are a cheerful way to beat back the gray days of winter.

Inspo | Fabric | Pattern

Henley

Thermal knit + henley pattern = BFFs, fer sure. You can layer a henley under so many different garments, and you can layer tanks and tees UNDER henleys. And, the button placket is built-in climate control should you feel overheated or chilled. (P.S. Here’s a tute about how to sew a henley placket on any shirt, so if you have a pattern you already like, here you go.)

Inspo | Fabric | Pattern

Romper or Union Suit

Ah yes, the union suit. The ultimate expression of long johns. Obvs that a waffle romper/onesie would be a warm base layer for cold climate adventuring. But, it also would be super-cute PJs or loungewear, or even aprés ski attire.

Final Thoughts on Waffle Knit Fabric

Waffle knit fabric is comfy to wear, and it can be fun to sew, too, if you know a few tricks. Mostly, try not to stretch it out.

The lovely thing, though, is that if you get thermal fabric with a touch of spandex, woes over recovery significantly decrease.

Over to you: Have you sewn with waffle knit fabric? What tips can you share for working with this fabric? Please leave a comment. Thanks for reading!