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.
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.
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
- Jersey is typically very lightweight and has a lovely drape, so it hangs well on the body.
- Jersey will stretch fairy well, but may not recover well from stretching.
- Jersey has a right and wrong side. The V shapes of the knit stitches are the right side.
- 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
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 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
- While double knits do stretch, they may not stretch as far as jersey. Be sure to use your pattern’s stretch gauge.
- Both sides of the fabric are identical, so either can be the right side.
- It’s stiffer than jersey and less smooth, but it also doesn’t roll in as much.
- It hugs the body a bit tighter than jersey, highlighting shapes and curves.
When to use double knit fabric
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
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
- It’s typically made with a thicker yarn, so you may be able to see the individual stitches clearly.
- It’s much more stable and thicker than jersey or double knit.
- It doesn’t have as much stretch, and doesn’t recover very well after being stretched.
- Sweater knits may fray or unravel.
When to use sweater knit fabric
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
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!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2016 and was updated for clarity and depth in December 2017.