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 taking into account when sewing knits
Types of Knit Fabric
This article will show you the different types of knit fabric and suggest which is best for your sewing projects.
Knit Fabric vs Woven Fabric
Woven fabric has the 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 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 its thicknesses and the amount of stretch. T-shirts and leggings of course are made from knit fabrics.
Knit Fabric Clothing Examples
Types of Knit Fabric - Composition
Knit fabrics can be made from a variety of materials including cotton, bamboo, rayon, 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 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 tends 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 - Stretch Factor
It is important to not only choose the correct fabric composition but also the correct stretch factor to get the best results in your stretch garments. Stretch factor refers to the amount the fabric will 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
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.
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 and sweatshirt fabrics. Also, look for jersey and t-shirt fabrics with 25% stretch
- Great for the Elke, Sally, Bluebell, Colorblock and Charlotte patterns
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
Stretchy Knit Fabric
- Generall,y stretch between 51-75%
- Examples include stretch velour, stretch terry and some t-shirt fabrics
Super Stretchy Knits (Also known as 2-way 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.
- 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 - Weave Types
Another consideration in the types of knit fabric is the weave used in construction.
5 common weaves are rib knit, double knit, jersey, interlock and sweatshirt knit.
Rib knit 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 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.
This is a medium 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.
This is often used for t-shirts and you will notice that the front is a knit and the back is a purl knit. 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 used for clothing is most commonly made from cotton.
Interlock is quite similar to a jersey knit except the back and front of the fabric are both the same.
Sweatshirt knit is knitted on the front and fluffy on the back so makes 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.
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. My favorites are 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 to 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.
When sewing knits, I like to use a Teflon foot as it glides over the knits and helps keep the stitches nice and even. A walking foot will also do a great job.
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.
Thank you so much for this information!!! I have been looking for something quick to go to and comprehensive!!! I will be using this!!!
Thank you for the great information! It really is helpful. Especially the links for fabric suppliers! I live between Portland and Seattle and my absolute favorite fabric store (Fabric Depot in Portland) closed. It’s a huge loss as it was almost the size of HomeDepot. And driving in Seattle - no thanks! Being that I’m a visual learner, pictures of the fabric weave would have even more helpful. Keep sharing your wonderful knowledge! I will be following 👍🏼
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