The Knit Fabric Primer

Knit Fabric Primer at katiemama.com

Introduction

So many people are apparently frightened of sewing with knits.  So much so that many, many fantastic bloggers have posted tons of information and tutorials on the subject.  That said, I never spotted anything that I felt really laid out the relevant specifics of the knit fabrics I see online.  There’s some good information out there, certainly, like this Threads magazine overview, but – and maybe this is because I work mainly with kid’s clothing? – it never quite hit the sweet spot for me.

And one quick thing before we move on to the show: one of the trickiest things about knits is that, yes, the fabric will pucker when you hem it.  There is an easy answer to this problem: a hot iron.  Hit your hems with a hot steamy iron right after you sew them and your puckers will all but disappear.

(Some people advise a walking foot.  I have one and I don’t like it, but that’s just me.)

Jersey

Jersey is the most ubiquitous of the common knits, and you can usually get the broadest range of patterns in jersey.  I like jersey fine, but I find it to be incredibly difficult to gauge how heavy or light the fabric will be when buying online since most shops don’t bother to state.  I’ve gotten jersey so light it was transparent and far too light to be anything even my baby would wear, but I’ve also gotten quite robust, heavier weight jersey that I am happy to make t-shirts and rompers out of.

So: if you don’t know exactly what you’re getting – I’d say either don’t bother or ask the shop owner about the fabric.  Fabric.com is pretty good about stating the weight of their fabrics, but I find their “lightweight” is often not as light as other places.  You can also always request/order samples/swatches, of course, but I’m usually not that patient.

Jersey fabric has a right and wrong side, and it curls – some more, some less, but all of it curls some – at the edge.  The curliest can be quite tricky.

I’ve also found that some jersey with spandex will pill up badly.  These days I try to stick with 100% cotton or, if necessary, a very small amount of polyester or lycra.

Jersey Pros:

  • Ubiquitous: easy to find in most fabric shops in a wide variety of patterns, colors, price ranges, and fiber content
  • Definitely the knit with the most available cute kid patterns in this country
  • Comes in various weights for several purposes

Jersey Cons:

  • Often very curly at the cut edge
  • Difficult to hem nicely
  • Can be hard to pinpoint weight online



Jersey Uses:

  • T-shirts
  • Dresses
  • Skirts (depends on the pattern and the wearer and the weight of the jersey, though)
  • Babywear, especially if lined, particularly pre-mobile babies
  • Linings of knit garments (this is very common in Ottobre magazine, for example.)

Interlock

As far as I can tell – answers vary a little bit – interlock is, essentially, two pieces of rib (I’ve also heard jersey) fabric knitted together such that it is heavier than a standard jersey and has two right sides. This Threads article says:

“Description: Compound fabric made by “inter-knitting,” or interlocking, two simple ribbed fabrics, each made with single yarn. Has fine ribs running lengthwise. Fabric’s face and reverse look same, making it reversible.”

Interlock is, by a fair margin, my favorite fabric to sew with for my boys.  It’s heavy enough for a solid t-shirt or long-sleeve shirt, it can be used to bind sleeves, cuffs, necklines, etc., and it can be used for baby pants, rompers, hats, etc.

There are tons of fantastic prints on interlock…in Europe.  Here in the U.S. we can either pay through the nose for those fabrics or make do with what we’ve got, which is mainly solids, some stripes, and Michael Miller prints.  I do like many of the MM prints but be forewarned: they shrink a lot. Prewashing is a must with Michael Miller fabrics (well, I pre-wash everything now, having been burned one too many times, but I’ve seen MM interlock lose up to 10% or so!)

Interlock Pros:

  • Great hand, strength, and drape
  • Far less stretch than jersey (can be a con too)
  • Many uses
  • Does not curl!
  • One of the easiest knits to sew

Interlock Cons:

  • Difficult to find affordable good prints in the US
  • Shrinks a lot



Interlock Uses:

  • T-shirts – long and short-sleeve, either gender
  • Light use pants or shorts (it’s not really a bottomweight but I’ve done it) – for adult women it probably wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s not the best choice for, say, an active boy’s pants.
  • Dresses & Skirts
  • Babywear of all kinds – rompers, hats, pants, shirts…
  • Light pullovers
  • Binding (I use interlock for binding regularly)
  • As a heavier lining for a warm garment

Rib

Rib knit is another favorite of mine.  It’s great for t-shirts, especially with a slim fit – in my opinion often better than jersey.  It does have a right and wrong side, and it has a lot of stretch horizontally.  It’s lighter than interlock, but it can still be used for a great binding.  I’ve done summer rompers in rib knit successfully, though I think it would be a little light for fall or winter wear. I buy more rib than I buy jersey, because I find its weight to be much more consistent.

One of the trickiest things about rib knit is how many variations it comes in.  1×1, 2×1, poor boy, baby rib, microrib…etc.  1×1 is a very narrow rib, though not as narrow as baby or micro.  2×1 rib you’ll often see on the neckline binding of t-shirts for women and children – I personally prefer 1×1 for binding but I have some 2×1 as well. 2×1 is incredibly stretchy.  Poor boy is too light for anything other than lady t-shirts & dresses, in my opinion. Baby rib and microrib are both great for baby wear and shirts. (It is possible that my mystery fabric described below is actually “baby rib,” but I have no confirmation of that.)  There is also some heavy duty ribbing often referred to specifically as cuff ribbing, or sweatshirt cuffing, or something similar, which is very heavy and not what you’d be sewing garments out of.

You will see hem puckers on a rib knit.  See above about the hot iron.  You can also try the walking foot, as mentioned, or a twin needle, which I use sometimes but usually I’m too lazy.  I have a serger so I serge everything I can, but that doesn’t help on a hemline.  Someday I’ll get that coverhem machine, but until then, the hot iron it is.

Rib Knit Pros:

  • Can be very form-fitting if desired
  • Soft hand, nice drape (in between jersey and interlock, often)
  • Many uses, great for binding
  • Does not curl
  • Fair number of cute prints at good prices on rib

Rib Knit Cons:

  • Very stretchy – can be tricky to sew
  • Several variations of rib knit/ribbing available and can be confusing



Rib Knit Uses:

  • Binding – rib knit is the best and easiest-to-use knit binding
  • Leggings
  • T-shirts
  • Dresses & Skirts
  • Baby tops, light rompers, hats
  • As a (very stretchy) lining for a warm garment

French Terry

French terry is super for bottoms.  I keep only buying one or two yards at a time and then bemoaning myself when I run out.  It makes great shorts and pants for big and little kids, and I’ve made rompers and long-sleeve shirts from it as well.  Not nearly as stretchy as other knits, and fairly heavy, it’s sturdy and an easy knit to start out with if you are nervous.  You could do a great french terry pullover, too.

French terry has a smooth front and a looped back, which is sometimes brushed for softness. I’ve been seeing more prints and stripes in french terry, too.  It’s also usually very reasonable – one can easily find 100% cotton french terry for around $5/yard.

It makes lousy waistbands, though, if you’re doing an attached waistband, since it doesn’t stretch enough.  Found that out the hard way.  Not a good binding choice, either, but it takes interlock or rib binding just fine.

French Terry Pros:

  • Not especially stretchy
  • Very strong/tough
  • Affordable
  • Fairly easy to sew

French Terry Cons:

  • Edge will curl
  • Not a lot of variations out there – mainly solids – though people do seem to be starting to make more of this fabric



French Terry Uses:

  • Pants and Shorts
  • Heavy shirts/pullovers
  • Heavier skirts/winter dresses
  • Baby pants & shorts
  • Hoodies

Stretch Terry

I like stretch terry for cheap shorts, pullovers, and beach coverups.  It’s looped on the front side (as opposed to French terry, which is looped on the back, and is a little like a soft, thin, stretchy towel.

It also makes an enormous mess when you cut it.  Not tons of this fabric around, but every once in a while I find a cute cut and it’s always a cheap fabric.

Stretch Terry Pros:

  • Fairly tough
  • Very affordable
  • Good for beach/pool stuff

Stretch Terry Cons:

  • Makes a huge mess
  • Edge will curl
  • Tends to look “homemade” and not in the good way



Stretch Terry Uses:

  • Pants and Shorts
  • Beach cover-ups
  • Baby pants & shorts

Velour

Velour is growing on me, especially for long-sleeve shirts and baby wear.  It tends to be very soft, so my kids like it.  Definitely on the warm side, and with a fuzzy nap. It has the bonus of looking a little bit like velvet, so you can use it for something more formal without having to use velvet.

Not a ton of stretch and hard to find in 100% cotton, but I like it for winter wear, and it’s fairly reasonable in price ($8/yard or so.)  Easy for a new-to-knits person to sew, for the most part, and Ottobre has many velour-oriented patterns.

Velour Pros:

  • Somewhat tough
  • Fairly affordable
  • Warm and soft

Velour Cons:

  • Edge will curl
  • Not many prints/patterns/variations



Velour Uses:

  • Loungewear/track suits
  • Rompers/coveralls
  • Pullovers & hoodies

Sweatshirt Fleece

Sweatshirt fleece is probably fairly familiar to you already – it’s what sweatshirts are made of (surprise!) It tends to be smooth on one side and have a looped back that is often brushed or fleecy but not always.  Lots of name-brand activewear pants and shorts are made from sweatshirt fleece or French terry.

It’s good stuff for exactly what it’s for!

Sweatshirt Fleece Pros:

  • Super tough
  • Often quite affordable
  • Very warm, often very soft

Sweatshirt Fleece Cons:

  • Edge will curl
  • Not many prints/patterns/variations
  • Very heavy (not really a con per se)



Sweatshirt Fleece Uses:

  • …..Sweatshirts.
  • Pullovers & hoodies
  • Pants and shorts

Mystery Fabric

There is a magical mystery knit fabric that I can’t figure out the name of, but that I adore.  I’ve seen it called interlock and I’ve seen it called rib – especially baby rib – and maybe even other stuff too.  The fabric is…fuzzier, a bit, and the knit seems to be very, very marginally looser than that of a more standard interlock or rib.  It feels much more “knitted” and cozy than what one usually gets.  I sure wish I knew exactly how to call it because I would then be better able to buy it.

Ixat has some, and I’ve gotten it other places as well.  It’s the absolute best for baby pants.  This grey stripe, the blue and oatmeal stripe here,and this navy stripe at Banberry Place are all the kind of fabric I mean, and I have some of each of them.

See Also

Here are some links to other sites with good knits info:

Kitschy Coo: “Know Your Knits. Or My Knits. Either. Both.

Threads Magazine: Samplings of Weft Knit and Warp Knit Fabrics

Made By Rae has a whole Knits category with tons of info