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.
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:
- It doesn't have a lot of stretch factor.
- It usually doesn't recover very well after being stretched (unless it has spandex in it).
- 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).
- When pulled, its edges tend to curl toward the right side (perpendicular to the grainline) and to the wrong side (along the selvedges).
- 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 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:
- It has a lot of crosswise stretch, even without any spandex content.
- It usually recovers pretty well after being stretched.
- 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.
- It's stiffer than jersey and less smooth
- When pulled, its edges don't curl like a jersey.
- It perfectly hugs the body, highlighting shapes and curves.
When to use rib knit fabric
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.
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:
- It's more stable and thicker than jersey.
- It doesn't recover very well after being stretched (unless it has spandex in it).
- Its edges don't curl, so it's easier to work with (perfect if you've never sewn with knit fabrics).
- 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.
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!
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!