Knit vs. Woven Fabrics

The concept of knit vs. woven fabrics didn’t occur to me until I started knitting. Watching that needle create loops, dipping in and out of each stitch, is fascinating. It’s even more fascinating when you think about it as a fabric that clothes your body.

Knit fabrics

If you’re a knitter, it’s easy to tell when something is handknit. But something knitted on a knitting machine is a bit harder to identify. Those are some tiny stitches! Check out the piece of fabric above. See how it loops kind of like a braid? That’s how you can tell it’s knit fabric.

For sewists, knit fabrics are more difficult to work with because they stretch and the edges curl. Beginner sewists, beware! But the nice thing about knit fabrics is that they are usually softer and a bit more breathable than woven fabrics. Read more about identifying knit fabrics on Threads Magazine’s site.

Woven fabrics

If you sew, you probably know all about woven fabrics. Their fibers create a little criss-cross pattern that you can only see if you have great vision. That crisscross pattern is created when all those tiny fibers are actually woven together.

Did you ever have a weaving loom as a kid? I had the one you wrap nylon loops around to make potholders. Woven fabric works in the same way as those weaving looms, except that the fibers are way thinner.

Woven fabrics are often used in sewing, and they’re treated a bit differently than knit fabrics. They unravel easily, so the edges need to be finished with something as simple as a zigzag stitch or something as professional as a serger. Because woven fabrics don’t stretch as easily and tend to be more crisp than knitted fabrics, they are great for making things like pleats.

How to tell the difference

What if the fibers are so tiny that you can’t tell if they’re crossed or looped? One way to find out if it’s knit or woven is to test how it stretches.

Because knit fabric is made from one continuous thread (much like the one continuous yarn in your handknitting), it stretches all over. Woven fabrics, on the other hand, will only stretch diagonally or as a sewer might say, on the bias.

Grab the fabric in question and pull it gently from side to side, top to bottom, diagonally. Does it stretch easily in all directions? If so, it’s probably a knit fabric. If you can only get a bit of stretch diagonally, it’s probably a woven fabric.

Because of the differences in knit vs. woven fabrics, knitters and sewists need to know a few tricks to work with each fabric.

Knitters can check out Feminine Fit with Joan McGowan-Michael to learn how to get the perfect, body-hugging fit in knitted garments.

If you want to jump to the sewing side of the knit vs. woven fabrics, try Sewing Fashion Knits with Linda Lee to learn how to control those knits or Beginner Serging with Amy Alan to finish your knits professionally.

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