I get asked all the time what types of knit fabric (also called stretch fabric) to buy for my stretch sewing patterns, so I thought I'd put together a bit of information for you. Knits are classified by the amount they stretch and their fabric composition, and these need to be taken into account when sewing knits
Types of Knit Fabric Tutorial
This article will show you the different types of knit fabric and suggest which is best for your sewing projects.
What is Knit Fabric vs Woven Fabric
Knit fabric has its fibers knitted or looped together, causing the fabric to have some elasticity. They can further have Lycra or Spandex fibers added for even more stretch. Knit fabric can vary in thicknesses and the amount of stretch. T-shirts and leggings, of course, are made from knit fabrics.
Woven fabric has horizontal and vertical threads woven up and down. This fabric does not stretch and needs patterns especially suited to it. A cotton dress or a business shirt is made from woven fabric.
Knit Fabric Clothing Examples
Types of Knit Fabric by Fiber Composition
Knit fabrics can be made from a variety of materials and yarns including, cotton, bamboo, rayon, lightweight wool, polyester, and linen. Often these will be blended with Lycra or Spandex to give an extra stretch to your fabric and to stop the garment from going out of shape as it is worn. This is called recovery!
Cotton/Lycra blends are one of the easiest and hardest-wearing knit fabrics for beginners to sew and the one I use most often. Choose this knit for simpler, more fitted patterns with no ruffles or pleats. Cotton/Lycra makes great t-shirts and leggings.
Bamboo and Rayon knit fabric tend to drape beautifully and be flattering for dresses and looser garments. It is great for patterns with pleats, ruffles, and soft gathers.
Types of Knit Fabric by Stretch Factor
It is important to choose not only the correct fabric composition but also the correct stretch factor to get the best results in your stretch garments. The stretch factor refers to the amount the fabric will stretch.
Determining Type of Knit by Amount of Stretch:
- If a 4 inch (10cm) piece of fabric stretches to 6 inches (15cm) then that is considered 50% stretch.
- If a 4 inch (10cm) piece of fabric stretches to 8 inches (20cm) then that is considered 100% stretch.
Further Reading: How to determine stretch factor with printable chart
Sizing of Garments and Knit Fabric
As a general rule, the more stretch a piece of fabric has, the larger the garment will appear on your body. That is why in order to get the sizing correct on your sewing pattern, the stretch factor must match the pattern indication.
Here is I have divided the types of stretch fabric into 4 common categories.
Different Types of Knit Fabric
There are 4 main types of knit fabrics:
1. Stable Knit Fabric
- Generally, stretch between 18-25%.
- This is the best kind of knit for beginners to use for many patterns as they are easiest to sew and don't over-stretch underneath your sewing machine foot.
- Examples of stable knits include polar fleece, scuba knits, and sweatshirt fabrics. Also, look for jersey and t-shirt fabrics with 25% stretch
- Great for the Elke, Sally, Bluebell, Colorblock and Charlotte patterns
2. Moderate Knit Fabric
- Generally, stretch between 26-50%
- Examples of moderate knits include t-shirt fabric, interlocks and jerseys
- Great for the Willow pattern, Elise and leggings sewing patterns
3. Stretchy Knit Fabric
- Generall,y stretch between 51-75%
- Examples include stretch knitted velour, tricot knits, stretch terry, and some t-shirt fabrics
4. Super Stretchy Knits (Also known as 2-way stretch or 4-way stretch)
- Generally, stretch between 76-100%
- These stretches are best used for really tight-fitting clothing such as bodysuits, leotards and swimwear.
- They include spandex and lycra as well as stretch lace.
- Great for my leotard sewing patterns and swimwear sewing patterns.
More About Stretch Fabric
- How to Sew Stretch Fabric without a Serger
- Types of Knit Fabric
- Stretch Factor of Fabrics
- How to Gather Knit Fabric
- Sewing Stretch Fabric Hems
- How to Sew Fold Over Elastic
- How to use a Serger
- How to Sew with a Twin Needle
- Lettuce Hems
Types of Knit Fabric by Weave Types
Another consideration in the types of knit fabric is the weave used in construction. 5 common weaves are rib knit, double knit fabric, jersey, interlock, and sweatshirt knit.
1. Rib Knit Fabric
Rib knit fabric is often used in t-shirt necks and cuffs, it is very soft and stretchy. The front and the back both look the same. Rib knit can be single rib stitch knit, double knit, or more. The ribs form vertical bands down the fabric. You can see it clearly in the green photo below.
My preferred rib knit is made from cotton with a 5% Lycra content to give better recovery when stretched.
While you can use rib knit for kid's clothing and t-shirts, it tends to look unflattering and a bit cheap in women's clothing. Stick to using this for necks and cuffs or cardigans and sweater knits.
2. Double Knit
This type of fabric is a medium-weight to heavy-weight stretch that looks similar on the front and back. It generally has a lower amount of stretch and more body than thinner knits. It makes great skirts and dresses where you want more shape as it is wrinkle resistant.
This is often used for t-shirts, and you will notice that the front is a knit stitch and the back is a purl stitch. It does tend you curl a lot, so you will need extra pins when sewing. Look for a small percentage of Lycra or Spandex combined with cotton to give good recovery to clothing. Jersey is the most common type of knit fabric used for clothing and is often made from cotton.
3. Interlock Knit
Interlock is quite similar to a jersey knit except for both sides of the fabric are the same.
4. Sweatshirt Knit
The sweatshirt knit is knitted on the front and fluffy textures on the wrong side, so make amazing Winter dresses and sweaters. It is normally quite stable and has a low stretch factor, so is one of the easiest knits for beginners to sew. Most sweatshirt fabric is cotton with a small amount of spandex or lycra for added stretch. It has a nice body and falls well at the hems. French terry is a similar durable fabric with a pile on the back.
Online Shops for Buying Types of Knit Fabric
Here is a list of online shops to buy knit fabric. This was put together with the suggestions from the sewers in my Facebook group.
- https://www.joann.com has a good selection of polar fleece.
- www.fabric.com - Assorted brands like Riley Blake and Robert Kaufman knits.
- Riley Blake Designs
- Robert Kaufman - Laguna jersey.
- www.fabric.com - Large US site that ships internationally.
- www.lyddi-grace.co.uk Lydia is a UK-based designer that ships to all of Europe.
Further Reading - Places to buy spandex and lycra for leotards and swimwear.
If you know of any other great places you buy stretch online please let me know, and I'll add them to the list.
Sewing Knit Fabric
Knit fabric has to be treated differently from woven fabric in order not to pucker or have your seams split open.
The important thing to remember for knit fabric is that seams must have the same amount of stretch as the fabric. This means that seams must be sewn with a serger or a narrow zig-zag stitch. While a straight stitch can be used, it is not normally recommended.
Stretch or ballpoint needles help prevent snags in your knit fabric, as the rounded tip can move between the fibers. Without a stretch needle, you will often get skipped stitches.
Knit fabric hems can be done with a wider zig-zag stitch sewn on the inside. This will catch in the raw edge. Alternatively, a twin or double-needle gives a professional look producing two parallel rows. Further Reading: How to Sew Knits
Types of Knit Fabric - In Conclusion
Now you know the types of knit fabric, you can go out and find a suitable sewing pattern. Don't be scared! Sewing knits is amazing and really quick since you don't need to finish edges that don't fray, and there is minimal ironing.