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What is Knit Fabric?
There are two main classes of fabric: Knits and woven. Knits are very common in our everyday clothing choices. From T-shirts to yoga pants, underwear to hoodies, we wear them every day.
Woven fabric is, well, woven with the fibers weaving above and below each other. Most slacks, jeans, button up shirts, pillowcases, and bedding are made with different types of woven fabrics.
Knit fabrics are knitted by machine — and forms a much finer knit fabric than you would get by hand knitting. The knitting process makes a naturally stretchy fabric.
One thing I often find in the sewing community is either a fear of working with knits, or a fear of working with woven fabrics. Both are fun to sew, but require slightly different techniques and approaches. If you’ve tried one, but not the other, don’t be afraid, give it a try!
2-Way & 4 Way Stretch
Knit fabrics are either 2-way or 4-way stretch. This means that with a two-way stretch knit, the fabric will stretch either horizontally or vertically, but not both (Though there is usually a little mechanical give in the non-stretch direction). Four-way stretch means that the fabric stretches both horizontally and vertically.
What is Stretch Percentage?
Some knit fabrics stretch more than others. The amount a knit fabric stretches is called stretch percentage.
An easy way to determine stretch percentage is to take your fabric and pinch it in two places, 5″ apart. Do this away from the edge of the fabric and make sure you’re not stretching it diagonally. For every inch that the fabric easily stretches, that’s 20% stretch.
So, let’s say your fabric stretches from 5″ to 10″ — that’s 100% stretch. If it stretches from 5″ to 7″, that’s 40% stretch. Make sense?
You can also download the free Stretch Percentage Chart at the bottom of the page!
Knit fabrics have what is called recovery. This is the fabric’s capacity for returning to its original size/shape after being stretched. Fabrics can have good recovery or little to no recovery. Spandex/lycra is usually added to the fiber content of a knit fabric to increase its recovery.
Recovery is important because it can directly affect the clothing you make.
Fabric with little to no recovery is not good for neckbands, cuffs, waistbands, and anything that you need to retain its shape with wear.
For instance … it would be quite traumatic to make a swimsuit with fabric that had no recovery. You need that suit to have good recovery so it stays where it belongs!
So, how do you tell the recovery of a knit fabric?
Take your fabric and push your fingers into it, stretching it up and out — essentially leaving finger prints. Notice how long they take to disappear. If they bounce right back, you have a fabric with good recovery. You can also stretch it out and see if it bounces back.
Fabric Choice Matters!
Every knit fabric has different properties, stretch percentage, etc. They will behave in different ways. Like with woven, sewing denim is different than sewing felt or chiffon or rayon challis. They have different properties and behave in different ways. The more you sew each type, the more you will understand the differences — it’s an adventure. 😀
This means that it’s important to pay attention to the fabric recommendations in the pattern. But … also experiment! Sewing is all about being creative and learning!
There are things I know about sewing with different types of knit fabric because I’ve experimented … I’ve experienced … I’ve tried and flopped terribly!
For instance, from personal flop experience, I’ve learned that Rayon Spandex is not great for styles that need have more detailed and structure. It’s too soft and grows with wear. So, that lovely cross front top I made … yeah, that ends up gaping in a very unflattering (way too revealing) way as I wear it!
Knit Fabrics To Start With
If you’re new to sewing with knits, there are some types of knits that are easier to work with than others.
Double knits (also known as stable knits) are easy to work with. They are stretchy, but not super stretchy, thus it’s more stable. They are an easy knit fabric to start with because they generally don’t curl and they are thicker, so they don’t have a tendency to be eaten by your sewing machine.
Some double knits are:
- Ponte (or Ponte Di Roma)
- Knit Crepe
- Jacquard Double Knit
French Terry, Interlock Knits, and thicker cotton lycra are also fabrics that would be easier to work with if you’re just getting in to knits.
French Terry and Sweatshirt Fleece is great for hoodies, joggers, and cozy shirts.
Cotton lycra is great for tshirts, leggings, boxers and underwear.
Patterns for Beginners in Knits
Here is a short list of some simple patterns that are good for getting into sewing with knits. Whatever fabric you go with, just check that the stretch percentage matches the required stretch percentage of the pattern.
Patterns For Pirates’ Pirate Pencil Skirt (Free) Great with double knits.
Itch To Stitch Lindy Petal Skirt (Free) Great in liverpool and knits with at least 50% stretch.
Sinclair Patterns’ Demi Classic Raglan Top Try it with French Terry or Cotton Lycra.
Sinclair Patterns’ Sunset Lounge Pants Try out some French Terry with these comfy lounge pants! Pattern comes with petite, regular, and tall versions included (one of the reasons I love Sinclair Patterns).
Sinclair Patterns’ Men’s Tao Raglan Shirt Great with cotton lycra or French terry. Raglans are a great place to start if you’re brand new to sewing shirts.
Sinclair Patterns’ Men’s Walker Hoodie Great for French Terry or heavier knits like sweatshirt fleece.
Bella Sunshine Designs’ Reagan Raglan (Free) Lightweight French terry, cotton lycra.
Hooded Raglan Sweatshirt (Free) Use with interlock or French terry.
Pitaya Bummies Try them in French Terry or Cotton Lycra.
Free Stretch Percentage Chart Download
This is usually where you would see a sign-up form for some email list so you can get your files. But honestly, at the moment I am over email lists and subscriptions because my email inbox is overflowing with stuff I don’t even remember signing up for. I want to spare you that.
If you enjoy what you see here and want to follow me for the latest, I’d love to see you over on Instagram. If you’re only here for the stretch percentage chart, download and enjoy!
A Final Note
Sewing is all about experience … and you gain experience through sewing. The more you sew, the more you gain experience. That includes projects that are flops. No project is ever a failure, because you have learned something through it! Use that experience to try again and keep learning … keep experiencing … keep experimenting!
Don’t be afraid to try things and if you have a question, ask! Feel free to contact me or leave a comment anytime with questions. 🙂
Loving & Sewing Knits Series
Are there other topics you’d like me to cover? Let me know in a comment below!