Sewing Blog

3 Types of Knit Fabric You Should Know

A lot of beginners are scared by sewing knits, but they shouldn’t be! Knits are easy to fit and to sew — you just need to practice a little bit and play with them.

But knit fabrics 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.

Sewing purple knit fabric on sewing machine

Characteristics of knit fabrics

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

  • They all have some degrees of built-in stretch
  • They don’t unravel
  • They usually don’t get as wrinkly as woven fabrics
  • They tend to shrink, 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

seafoam green jersey fabric with pin

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. Jersey is typically very lightweight and has a lovely drape, so it hangs well on the body.
  2. Jersey will stretch fairy well, but may not recover well from stretching.
  3. Jersey has a right and wrong side. The V shapes of the knit stitches are the right side.
  4. When pulled, its edges tend to curl toward the right side (perpendicular to the grainline) and to the wrong side (along the selvedges).

When to use jersey fabric

Green top sewn with knit fabric

From Sewing Knits Without a Serger with Ann Steeves

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

2. Double knit

double knit fabric

Double knit fabrics are created with multiple needles, resulting in essentially. two layers of fabric. This  means that both sides are identical and the fabric is a bit sturdier. Double knits (which has many other names, including ponte, interlock, heavy knit, etc.) are a great starting point for beginners, since they are a little easier to handle.

Characteristics of double knits

  1. While double knits do stretch, they may not stretch as far as jersey. Be sure to use your pattern’s stretch gauge.
  2. Both sides of the fabric are identical, so either can be the right side.
  3. It’s stiffer than jersey and less smooth, but it also doesn’t roll in as much.
  4. It hugs the body a bit tighter than jersey, highlighting shapes and curves.

When to use double knit fabric

Mustard top

From Sewing Knits Without a Serger with Ann Steeves

Because double knit fabric is fairy sturdy, it works well for garments that need a little more body, like structured dresses, skirts or lightweight jackets. It’s also great for closer-fitting garments like leggings or trousers.

3. Sweater knits

Sweater knit fabric

Yes, these are just what they sound like! Typically, these fabrics have a bit more stitch definition and a little more “fuzziness” to them. And just like a hand-knit sweater, these fabrics can come in many weights, from a heavy fabric you’d use for a winter jacket to a lightweight fabric you’d use for a casual top.

Characteristics of sweater knit fabric

  1. It’s typically made with a thicker yarn, so you may be able to see the individual stitches clearly.
  2. It’s much more stable and thicker than jersey or double knit.
  3. It doesn’t have as much stretch, and doesn’t recover very well after being stretched.
  4. Sweater knits may fray or unravel.

When to use sweater knit fabric

Sweater knit jacket

From Sewing Knits Without a Serger with Ann Steeves

As you probably guessed, sweater knits are fabulous for sweaters! Depending on the weight of the fabric, there are countless possibilities: Lighter-weight sweater knits could be used for summertime cardigans, while heavier-weight sweater knits would work well for a structured winter jacket

4. Novelty knits

blue novelty knit fabric

This last category is sort of a “catch-all” for all the other knits out there. If a fabric doesn’t fall into one of the three categories listed above, it’s likely a novelty knit. These typically have a unique texture, pattern or material.

What about the best fiber content? 

Any of the above types of knit fabric can be made with 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 many people prefer natural fibers for their breathability, sometimes a man-made knit fabric can be the best way to go. 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.

sewing knits class

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2016 and was updated for clarity and depth in December 2017.

24 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
Nel

I’ve got a knit that I did not buy in the US. I was told it’s cotton – I specifically rejected the fabric with synthetic in it. I wanted an interlock, something heavier than a t-shirt would be; I want it for a skirt that needs to drape and also wear well.

It fits your description of a double-knit, apart from one thing: both sides of the fabric are not exactly the same. One side seems darker than the other (the cloth is true black), as though it reflects light a bit more (a slight sheen to it, more than being a different color). I’m sure that if I sewed the two halves of the skirt with different sides ‘out,’ there would be a noticeable difference in how one side seems to absorb light and the other side to reflect it ever-so-slightly. I notice that it stretches more along the grain than across the grain as well.

Is this still probably a double-knit? Is the black color perhaps the reason why it doesn’t seem identical on both sides?

Reply
Rosie

I see this is an old article, but I still must comment. There is no such thing as “unravel.”
Ravel is what a knit will do coming apart. If it UNravels, it should go back to the fabric. People do use unravel incorrectly, but “irregardless” (which is also not a word), the correct word is ravel.

Reply
Alicia Figueroa

un·rav·el

ˌənˈravəl/

verb

1.

undo (twisted, knitted, or woven threads).

synonyms:untangle, disentangle, separate out, unwind, untwist, unsnarl, unthread

“he unraveled the strands”

2.

investigate and solve or explain (something complicated or puzzling).

“they were attempting to unravel the cause of death”

synonyms:solve, resolve, clear up, puzzle out, unscramble, get to the bottom of, explain, clarify, make head(s) or tail(s) of; More

Reply
Alicia Figueroa

Thanks for the great article!

Reply

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