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What Is Knitted Fabric: In-depth Guide To Knit Fabric Types!

Today, we’re going to go in deep on knit fabrics so that you can feel more confident working with the many and varied knit fabric types.

Here’s an overview of what we’ll be covering:

  • What knit fabrics are and how they’re made
  • The difference between knit and woven fabrics
  • Different knit fabric types
  • How to sew knit fabrics
  • And more!

If you’re not yet ready for just knit fabrics, I have this in-depth guide to different fabric types and their uses!

Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you make a purchase at no further cost to you.

Different types of knits

What Are Knit Fabrics?

Knitted fabric types are made from one or more long interconnecting and looping yarns, much like if we were to knit traditionally with knitting needles and a ball of yarn.

This makes Knit fabrics a stretchy type of fabric, used mostly for casual wear clothing, but with plenty of other uses too.

Knit fabrics are manufactured on large knitting machines which speed up the manufacturing process a significant amount!

What Is The Difference Between Knitted And Woven Fabrics?

Fabric Types - Woven, Knit & No Grain - Working with knit fabrics - Top Tips - The Creative Curator

The difference between knit and woven fabric is that where the knit fabric is made with looping yarn, woven fabrics are created by weaving between warp yarns on a loom, so they have a minimal amount of stretch in the resulting fabric unless a stretch fibre is included.

What Is Knit Fabric Made Of?

Knit fabrics can be made from many fibres:

  • Cotton
  • Silk
  • Viscose
  • Spandex
  • Wool
  • Polyester

Within the fashion industry, knit fabrics are used for many different clothing types:

  1. Tee shirts
  2. Sweaters
  3. Joggers
  4. Dresses
  5. Underwear
  6. Swimwear

And they come in different knit ‘weights’ too!

How To Tell If Your Fabric Is Knitted Or Woven?

When it comes to knowing whether your fabric is a knitted or woven, there are fours methods to check.

The Sight Test

Take a closer look at the fabric in natural light. Does the fabric appear to gave lines crossing over each other (woven) or do they look more like rows upon rows of narrow braids or loops?

The Scrunch Test

Scrunch Test - Knit Fabric - Working with knit fabrics - Top Tips - The Creative Curator

This is a simple way to test your fabric, as typically fabrics that are woven can be scrunched and maintain some sort of ‘shape’ from the scrunch while knit fabrics usually collapse back down.

If you’re still stuck, try the stretch test!

The Stretch Test

Knitted fabrics will always have a lot more stretch across the fabric width than a woven fabric – even a woven with added stretch!

Unless a stretch element (elastane is a good example) has been added to a woven fabric, most stretch will occur on the bias.

The Edge Test

Woven fabrics have a tightly woven edge called a selvedge which runs the length of the fabric.

Edge Test - Knit Fabric - Working with knit fabrics - Top Tips - The Creative Curator

Knit fabrics have small holes and occasionally small blobs of glue to prevent the fabric from curling.

Ok, you’ve now learned how to identify your fabric, let’s learn about the different knit fabric types!

What Are The Different Knit Fabric Types?

Knit Fabric - Woven, Knit & No Grain - Working with knit fabrics - Top Tips - The Creative Curator

Before we dig into the different knit fabric types, let’s first consider the ways knitted fabric are created.

Warp Knits

Machines that create warp knits use just the one warp stitch, but many yarns – and it is standard to have as many needles as there are yarns.

Weft Knits

Machines that are used to knit weft knits, use just the one continuous yarn and the following basic stitches:

  • Plain (K)
  • Purl (P)
  • Rib (2K, 2P)

They can be used alone, or in combination, and how they’re used is how various knit fabrics are created.

Jersey Fabric

Example of jersey - a type of knit fabric

Now that you’ve got an idea of how the warp and weft knits are created, let crack on with the different types of knit fabric!

What Is Jersey Fabric

Fabrics that we call jersey knit fabrics are weft knits, meaning that they have horizontal loops on the back and vertical ribs on the front. A lot like stocking stitch when knitting by hand.

What Is Jersey Knit Fabric Made Of?

While jersey was originally made from wool, it is now made of cotton, wool, or synthetic fibres when manufactured.

What Is Jersey Fabric Like?

To handle, jersey fabric is quite drapey and soft, with a medium amount of stretch – it has more stretch in the width – and the edges curl very easily.
It doesn’t wear well, often sagging when worn, and the looser the knit, the more it will lose its shape.

What Is Jersey Fabric Used For?

Different Types Of Necklines - Asymmetric One Shoulder Neckline

Before deciding what to use jersey fabric for, you should do a stretch recovery test.

Jersey that recovers well will be good for:

  • Dresses
  • Lingerie
  • Skirts
  • Tops
  • Trousers
  • T shirts
  • Underwear

How To Stop Jersey Fabric From Curling?

You have two options to stop jersey fabric from curling.

  1. The first is to pin your selvedges – either together when cutting on the fold or a pair – or pin the selvedges to tissue paper on your worktable and then place your pattern pieces on top. (You’ll need to be careful not to cut the under layer of paper with your fabric scissors though!)
  2. The second option is more popular – use spray starch on pre-washed jersey to keep the curling under control!

How To Cut Jersey Fabric?

As mentioned already, jersey fabric snags easily, so you’ll want to use very sharp fabric scissors or shears!

How To Sew Jersey Fabric?

Let’s move onto how you actually sew jersey fabric!

What Needle Should You Use For Jersey Fabric?

Hand sewing needles - essential sewing tools!

When it comes to sewing jersey fabric, you should use the following machine sewing needles in sizes 60/8-75/11:

  • Stretch needle
  • Universal needle

If using hand sewing needles, aim for sizes 5-9.

Note that you’ll want to use a new needle for your jersey fabric to prevent it from being damaged by a defective or blunt needle, which will snag and create runs in your fabric.

What Is The Best Stitch For Jersey Knit?

You have two options for sewing seams in jersey fabric. First is to use a serger / overlocker.

Second is to use a shorter stitch length (2mm is good) making sure that your tension is properly balanced.

Finally, remember that when sewing jersey fabric, the way jersey is created means it has a nap of sorts. So, you need to make sure that all pattern pieces are placed in the same direction.

Tricot Knit Fabrics

Tricot knit fabrics are used for lingerie

Tricots are a lightweight knit, made from synthetic fibres, and to look at you’ll notice that they have lengthwise rib stitches on the right side, and horizontal rib stitches on the wrong side.

This is because of the way tricot is knitted – it’s a warp knit fabric!

Tricot can be knitted quite sheer and light or as a more opaque and medium weight knit, and is mostly used for lingerie alongside different lace types of lace fabrics!

What Needle Should You Use For Tricot Fabric?

Hand sewing needles 8-10 work best for tricot fabric, and if sewing by machine, go for either universal or stretch needles in sizes 60/8-80/12.

Just like jersey fabric, you’ll want to sew tricot with a shorter stitch length, and sew at a slower speed to prevent skipped stitches.

Rib Knit Fabrics

Rib fabric - Knit Fabric - Working with knit fabrics - Top Tips - The Creative Curator

Ribbed fabric is also known as ribbing, and is the type of knit fabric I used to love knitting by hand!

When you buy rib knit fabrics from a store, you’ll notice that they are often sold as a tube, which you then cut as needed.

Rib fabric is used for:

  • Tops
  • Dresses
  • Finishing garment edges (wrists, necks, waists and ankles)
DA#1 - Jumper to Top - The Creative Curator

You can cut ribbed material, but note that you should cut it slightly smaller than what you need if got, because rib knit fabric has a crosswise stretch factor of up to 100% – that’s a lot of stretch!

What Needle Should You Use For Ribbed Fabric?

As ribbed knits can run quite badly, stick to universal needles only, in size 70/10-80/12 for your sewing machine, or sizes 5-9 for hand sewing needles!

There is no nap to rib fabric, so you can lay pattens in either direction – and both the wrong and right sides look identical.

Double Knit Fabric

Casualwear often uses double knit fabrics

So, what is double knit fabric? These are stable knits which means they have very little – if any! – stretch! They also have ribs on both sides of the fabric.

You can get double knit fabric that is very drapey and soft, or double knit fabric that is super structured. Either way, this knit fabric type is great for sewing beginners as it is so easy to sew!

Interlock is a type of double knit fabric – a weft knit – only much finer, and more stable than jersey fabrics made with the same number of yarns.

What Can You Make From Double Knit Fabrics?

Because double knit has almost zero stretch, its a great fabric to use for:

  • Childrenswear
  • Dresses
  • Jackets
  • Skirts
  • Trousers

What Needle Should You Use For Double Knit Fabric?

Parts of a sewing machine - sewing machine needles

The machine needles you use for this knit fabric type can be either universal or stretch needles, in sizes 70/10-90/14.

When hand sewing, try to stick to needles sized 5-9.

Again, you’ll want to aim for a smaller stitch length – 2.5mm is good to start – and a lightly balanced tension for double knits. Sew steady, keeping the fabric held taught if possible.

2 And 4 Way Stretch Fabrics

These fabrics have a lot of stretch, and are mostly used for active and swimwear garments.

Group of four women wearing swimwear

More often than not, an elastic fibre like elastane or spandex are added to the main fibre content to create the stretch.

2 Way Stretch Fabric

Two way stretch fabric is knitted on a tricot machine and has stretch running in two directions, creating the stretch from the yarn fibre content rather than the knit structure.

4 Way Stretch Fabric

Fabrics that have a four way stretch have more stretch than a two way stretch, and this is down to the stretch being knitted in as well as the stretch fibre content being added.

When using four way stretch fabrics, you’ll quite often find that patterns have negative ease included to account for all the stretch of the fabric.

What Needle Should You Use For 2- and 4- Way Stretch Fabric?

For both knit fabric types, a size 70/10 will work well as either a ballpoint, stretch or universal machine sewing needle.

When sewing these stretch fabrics by hand, use a size 8 or 9 hand sewing needle for best results.

You’ll also want to sew with a 2.5mm stitch length

Using Woven Sewing Patterns With Knit Fabrics

One question I get asked is the use of sewing patterns with different types of fabric.

Is it ok to use a pattern for a woven dress with knit fabrics. Can I use a tee pattern with a lightly woven silk?

The answer to these questions is yes – but with care.

A pattern that has been designed to be used with woven fabric will look very different when used with knit fabrics. This is because knit fabrics behave differently

The photo below (from early 2000’s) shows a very simple dress (the original pattern I created was for a university project based upon knit fabrics)!

On the left is a version in knit fabric, and on the right, the same pattern cut in woven chiffon.

Jersey vs Knit - Knit Fabric - Working with knit fabrics - Top Tips - The Creative Curator

You can see that the knit version on the left has softer folds from the way the knit fabric drapes, while the woven version on the right has a little more structure.

One final consideration when using sewing patterns for opposite fabric types is that knit fabrics will also stretch in different ways, by different amounts.

Sometimes – as mentioned further up! – knit fabric types have so much stretch that the pattern has incorporated ‘negative ease’ so that the garment made from that fabric types fits like a glove when made.

The best way to know whether a fabric will work for a sewing pattern is to do a stretch test.

Stretch Testing Knit Fabrics

Let’s do a stretch test on now – you’ll need to cut a square of fabric.

I usually work with 10cm by 10cm square, but you can opt for a bigger amount if need be.

Cut your test piece out on grain and be sure to cut the piece AWAY from the fabric edge, as the edge is known to roll and stretch lots!

Stretch and Recovery

Stretching Rib - Knit Fabric - Working with knit fabrics - Top Tips - The Creative Curator

If you take your 10cm / 4” piece of fabric and hold one side down to the left of the ruler, you can then ‘stretch’ the fabric by pulling the opposite end and seeing how it behaves.

  • For a stable knit, you should be able to stretch the fabric to 12.5cm / 5″. This is a 25% stretch ratio.
  • Knit fabrics that can stretch to 18cm / 7″ are stretchy knits.
  • If a fabric stretches over 25cm / 10″ then you have a seriously stretchy knit fabric on your hands, and your sewing pattern should be physically smaller than the body it will be covering, because of negative ease!

Another consideration is the stretch direction:

  • Some knit fabrics are 2 way stretch meaning that it can stretch in two directions.
  • Then there are 4 way stretch fabrics which are knits that can be stretched in both directions but also bounces back to it’s original measurements when let go.

If you want to drape your own blocks using knit fabrics, it is advised to use a stable knit as the draping fabric. This will give you the most accurate pattern to work from.

Stretch Memory

The final thing to consider is how the fabric reacts after being stretched out.

This is referred to as stretch memory.

If a knit fabric has a super duper amazing memory it will return to exactly as it was before you stretched it out. If a knit fabric has a crappy memory it will appear slightly stretched and saggy.

This is why some tops appear to become baggier and baggier when worn. They have no stretch memory.

Two Methods For Creating Your Own Stretch Fabric Patterns

  1. Stand modelling
  2. Flat pattern drafting

Stand Modeling

Using the stand as your guide, you drape your chosen knit fabrics on the model. You must be careful not to stretch the fabric too much. I find it easier to flat pattern cut when using knit fabrics.

Flat Pattern Drafting

This is when you use your body’s measurements to draft your own personal block. You will need to be careful to factor in the stretch properties of your chosen fabric.

Tips For Cutting Knit Fabrics

Cutting Knit - Knit Fabric - Working with knit fabrics - Top Tips - The Creative Curator

As always, be sure to wash your fabric first to make sure it won’t shrink after cutting, sewing and washing.

Pin your patterns carefully to the knit fabric and make sure not to stretch the fabric as you do so.

If the knit fabrics you’re using is very slippy, you can pin it to tissue paper first, so that you have more control over the fabric cutting process.

Make sure that the pins you use are sharp. Knit fabrics are made from one long yarn, so you don’t want to get a snag!

Tips For Sewing Knit Fabrics

Overlocking Knit - Knit Fabric - Working with knit fabrics - Top Tips - The Creative Curator

Usually, you’d want to use a serger / overlocker on knit fabrics. This is a machine that encloses the seam edge so that it cannot unravel.

For those sewing beginners who don’t own an overlocker, you could use the zigzag stitch on a regular domestic sewing machine.

When using a serger / overlocker, remember that the seam allowance is 7mm. Anything more than this will either be trimmed off or your garment will be bigger than anticipated.

Always use the appropriate needle type and size when sewing knit fabrics – I have included specifics further up on the needles suitable for different knit fabric types!

It is really important that you use the right sized needle:

  • A too small needle will cut through the fibres
  • A too big needle will leave big holes.

Try to use stretchy thread if you are sewing knit fabrics. As they are knitted, they have more stretch.

This means you need a thread that will work and stretch WITH the fabric rather than restrict and restrain it.

5 Final Sewing With Knit Tips

Phew – that’s an epic guide to working with knit fabrics right? I’ll leave you know with five final tips for sewing with knit fabrics. Let me know your thoughts (and any tips!) in the comments below!

  1. Use knitted interfacings on knit fabrics
  2. Use a woven stay tape cut to size on areas that need restraining
  3. Cut knitted bias strips on the maximum stretch of the fabric
  4. Only use nylon zippers on knitted fabrics
  5. Interline your fabrics when adding button holes

If you’ve loved this and want to learn more, I have a great guide to different fabric types and their uses as well as a guide to the different types of lace and a guide on using interfacing fabrics too!

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Kimberly Joyce

Saturday 29th of June 2019

Thank you for the post! It was very informative. Sometimes I use a polyester stretch thread in the loopers of my serger. To be honest, I don’t know if it makes much of a difference, but the seam is much softer against the body. I have also heard people use stretch thread (same stretch thread used in serger) in the bobbin only of their sewing machine. I have tried that and it did make the seam stretchy, a great option if you don’t have a serger. Thanks again for another great post!

Clare

Saturday 6th of October 2018

A really helpful summary of how to tackle the many tricky aspects of seeing eith knits - thanks Eve. It seems obvious, but remembering that a serger seam is only 7mm is something I had never thought about!

Eve Tokens

Monday 15th of October 2018

Hi Clare! Yes - so many people forget that sergers / overlockers have a fixed, smaller seam amount that many commercial sewing patterns don't allow for! Glad this was helpful!

Laura

Sunday 30th of October 2016

Thanks Eve. It took me ages to understand knit fabrics.... Like you say even knowing the difference between knit & woven is a step! This is such a handy reference.

Eve Tokens

Tuesday 1st of November 2016

I'm so glad it was in some way helpful for you Laura! Thanks for popping by and checking the post out! :)

Eve Tokens

Thursday 27th of October 2016

Thanks for popping by and reading the post Sonja! I'm really glad it was informative and helps with understanding how knit fabrics work! :) Have a great day! Eve

sonja

Thursday 27th of October 2016

Thank you Eve. This is interesting post. I've learned a lot about knitted fabrics now.