Sewing Blog

3 Types of Knit Fabric You Should Know

A lot of beginners are scared by sewing knits, but they actually shouldn't be: Knits are easy to fit and to sew — you just need to practice a little bit and play with them. But knits are not all created equal. Before you start sewing kits, take some time to learn a bit about the different types of knit fabric, how to identify them and which ones are most suitable for your project.

Characteristics of knit fabrics

Although there are many different types of knit fabric, most of them share similar properties:

  • They don't unravel
  • They usually don't get as wrinkly as woven fabrics
  • They all have some degrees of built-in stretch

Sadly they also tend to shrink a lot, so pre-washing is a step you don't want to skip!

Types of knit fabric

Let's talk about three of the most common and popular types of knits, how to recognize them and when to use each one, so you can gain more confidence and finally enjoy sewing knit fabrics.

Note: Each of the following can have a certain amount of spandex content, which will increase their stretch and recovery factor. Properties for each one are given for fabric without any spandex content.

1. Jersey

Robert Kaufman Laguna Jersey Chevron Fabric

Robert Kaufman Laguna Jersey Chevron Fabric

The most common type of knit is jersey, which is what most basic T-shirts are made of. Jersey fabric is made with a single needle that works approximately like knitting needles, putting together knit and purls in rows.

Characteristics of jersey:

  1. It doesn't have a lot of stretch factor.
  2. It usually doesn't recover very well after being stretched (unless it has spandex in it).
  3. Right and wrong sides are different: Vertical knit ribs are shown on the right side, while you can see horizontal purls on the wrong side (see picture above).
  4. When pulled, its edges tend to curl toward the right side (perpendicular to the grainline) and to the wrong side (along the selvedges).
  5. It usually hangs quite well from your body, depending on weight and fiber content.

When to use it

This kind of knit fabric is perfect for sewing clothes to wear on the top half of the body: T-shirts (like the one above), blouses, pullovers, T-shirt dresses.

For example, I used jersey fabric in the my Mom's Raglan Dress pattern, where jersey is used for the front and the back pieces. The split raglan sleeves are made of lightweight woven fabric, and an interfaced interlock creates an empire under-breast strip.

2. Rib knit

Rib Knit Fabrics

Rib knit is a type of knit fabric created using two needles that has vertical textured lines. The vertical ribs are created with a certain number of knit stitches (more prominent) and a certain number of purl stitches (the groove between the ribs), repeated multiple times along the width of the fabric (which is usually made and sold in circular pieces, without any selvedge).

Depending on how many knits and purls, you can have different rib knit fabrics. A 2x2 rib knit will have a sequence of two knits and two purls.

Characteristics of rib knits:

  1. It has a lot of crosswise stretch, even without any spandex content.
  2. It usually recovers pretty well after being stretched.
  3. Right and wrong sides are similar, but different: You can use either of the two as the right side, but choose one and stick with it.
  4. It's stiffer than jersey and less smooth
  5. When pulled, its edges don't curl like a jersey.
  6. It perfectly hugs the body, highlighting shapes and curves.

When to use rib knit fabric

Free Girls Nightgown Sewing Pattern

This is the perfect type of knit fabric to be used for neckbands, collars, turtlenecks, cuffs, waistbands, wristbands, bubble hems (like in the free Bubble Vitaminic Nightgown pattern above). It's also great for any time you need a knit fabric that really highlights your shape.

3. Interlock

Interlock Knit Fabric

Interlock is a variation of the rib knit, also made using two needles. It looks like it's made of two layers of jersey on top of each other, both showing the smooth vertical ribs.

Characteristics of interlock fabric:

  1. It's more stable and thicker than jersey.
  2. It doesn't recover very well after being stretched (unless it has spandex in it).
  3. Its edges don't curl, so it's easier to work with (perfect if you've never sewn with knit fabrics).
  4. It's hard to distinguish between right and wrong sides: I would suggest you mark the right side before you start cutting your pattern pieces to keep them straight.

Pleated Knit Fabric

Pleated in Pink FREE pattern by Craftsy member Serger Pepper

When to use interlock fabric

Since the a double-knit fabric is stiffer and more rigid than jersey, use interlock instead of plain jersey every time you need to add more body to the garment like on pants, skirts or more formal knit dresses. Interlock can work for T-shirts, tanks and camisoles with a high-end RTW look.

What about the best fiber content? 

Jerseys, interlocks and rib knit fabrics can be made of natural fibers like cotton, wool, hemp, silk, bamboo or linen (just to name a few), or man-made fibers like rayon, modal, acetate, polyester, nylon or acrylic.

Although natural fibers are my favorites for a lot of reasons (like breathability and a better smell after a few hours of wearing), sometimes a man-made knit fabric can be the best way to go. Just think of swimwear! Would you wear a cotton swimsuit? You can, but it takes hours to dry.

Another con is that after a few cycles of washing, natural fibers can fade a little bit more than man-made ones. They also tend to shrink more than, say, a polyester knit. There's no one best fabric, but think about how you're going to use your finished piece of clothing before you choose the fabric!

Get more tips for choosing fabric for clothes here.

Other types of knit fabric

If you want to learn more about different types of knit fabric, how to choose the right one for each project and how to sew and hem knits, don't miss Linda Lee's class The Ultimate Guide to Sewing Knit Fabrics. She covers everything you need to know about this huge topic. If you're not sure about this class, take a look at the review I wrote about it: I was hooked by this class, and I bet you'll be, too!

19 Comments

Christina

Wonderful information I would have never known to ask! Thank you!!

Reply
Irene

Thank you Christina for appreciating it 🙂

Reply
KAY

A bit of info about “pilling” would have been helpful here. I’m always stymied when buying fabric trying to remember which blend it is that pills worst. I’m sure I could do a search, tho, and find the answer.

Reply
Irene

Hi Kay!
Sorry for the late reply – I’ve been busy putting together my now-7-yo daughter’s birthday party (involving 50 guests) 🙂
My opinion about “pilling” is that you can’t predict it by only knowing the blend is made of. And I don’t think that spending more can guarantee a non-pilling knit fabric.
As a rule of thumb, natural fibres tend to “pill” more but I hate more a bad-smelling T-shirt (because non-pilling fabrics tend to be not that breathable).
My tip to reduce pilling is to wash inside-out your knit fabrics… and cross your fingers 🙂

Reply
Sharon

Nice information. Thank you. I agree a little information about “pilling” would be another helpful hint.

Reply
Irene

Hi Sharon!
Sorry for the late reply – I’ve been busy putting together my now-7-yo daughter’s birthday party (involving 50 guests) 🙂
My opinion about “pilling” is that you can’t predict it by only knowing the blend is made of. And I don’t think that spending more can guarantee a non-pilling knit fabric.
As a rule of thumb, natural fibres tend to “pill” more but I hate more a bad-smelling T-shirt (because non-pilling fabrics tend to be not that breathable).
My tip to reduce pilling is to wash inside-out your knit fabrics… and cross your fingers 🙂

When all else fails and my clothes made of knit fabric start pilling… I use this one to solve the problem: https://www.facebook.com/SergerPepper/posts/973706829365318

Reply
Susan Ness

I’m confused about the pricing of the classes. For an example, the sock knitting class. I see 19.99.
But then I see a whole list of prices for different parts of the stocking that adds up to over 122.00.
Can you tell me what the total cost is for the entire stocking class? Thank you.

Reply
Marian Allen

The numbers you see after each section in the description are the length of the segment, ie 21.15 is a twenty-one minute 15 second lesson, not the price!

Reply
JC

Thanks for the article. I’m still a newbie with knits. Have some that I got on sale a couple years back, but haven’t used it. :-). Where does “ponte” knit fit in this mix? Thank you for clarifying.

Reply
Irene

Hi JC and welcome to the fabulous world of sewing knits!
Ponte is a type of double knit fabric, looking like an interlock, but made of Polyester, Rayon and Spandex. It holds well shapes and you can find it in skirts, dresses, and pants for women. Personally, I don’t like the feel of it (I can’t touch polyester and rayon together, my hands seem to repel it) but I know a lot of people who love it)

Reply
santosh singh

pls sir give me your answer is very essy and short to my question my question is what is diffrens knits any type fabrics

Reply
santosh singh

pls sir

Reply
Alice

Santosh, I’m sorry but I think no one can answer your question. It is hard to understand. The article explains about different kinds of knit fabrics. I think you should go into a large fabric store and ask. Perhaps they can answer your questions.

Reply
Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Great suggestion, Alice!
Nothing beats touching different fabrics, to get familiar with them 😉
I mean: the web is a huge help, but you need to touch them to really understand the differences!
Happy sewing,
Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Reply
Nitasha Gupta

thanks for the great article .My tip to reduce pilling is to wash inside-out your knit fabrics.

Reply
YUNUS KHAN

VERY GOOD EXPLANATION,THANKS A LOT.
ONE THING I WANTED TO KNOW ,I AM MANUFACTURER OF FULL CUSHION SOFAS,CAN I USE KNIT FAB FABRIC FOR SOFA MAKING PURPOSE?.SO I REQUEST YOU TO PLEASE GIVE TECHNICLE INFORMATION,IT WILL BE HIGHLY APPRICIABLE.
BEST REGARDS

Reply

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