I love sewing with knit fabric – the stretch makes it comfortable to wear and forgiving to sew. Since my local fabric store has a very limited knit fabric section, I buy most of my knits online. The only problem is that when you can’t feel a knit fabric before you buy it, it can be hard to know what you’re getting, and it’s super disappointing to order fabric for a project and realize when it arrives that it just won’t work. To help ensure you get what you want when buying knit fabric, I’m going to explain the main types of knit and tell you what you can expect from each of them, as well as what clothing items I think they’re best suited to. And there’s a knit fabric giveaway at the end of the post!
Girl Charlee is where I order most of my knits – they have a great selection and prices I haven’t seen anywhere else. They provided some fabric for me to review as well as providing the giveaway you can enter at the end of the post.
If you fall in love with any of the fabrics you see in this post, click on over to Girl Charlee to order!
Cotton jersey knit
Cotton jersey is probably the most common type of knit – it’s very soft and fluid and works well for a variety of garments, although I like it best for t-shirts. The most important thing to pay attention to with jersey is the weight. Most online stores will list the weight, and it can vary from extremely lightweight (5 oz) to heavy (12 oz). Many jerseys are on the lighter end of the spectrum and I find that anything lighter than 7.5-8oz is generally see-through and too lightweight for me to be comfortable with (I do have a muffin top, though, so keep that in mind). Very lightweight knit is also quite a bit harder to sew on because it’s gets stretched out pretty easily.
Girl Charlee has a HUGE selection of jersey solids and prints and I find that while the solids are always very soft, some of the prints, especially those with darker colors, can be a little stiff from the dye used to print the design. They soften a bit with washing and I use them regularly, but that’s something I wanted to make you guys aware of. You can see this striped cotton jersey in the raglan easy tee.
Cotton ribbed knit
Cotton ribbed knit is easy to identify because it has lines (or “ribs”) going up and down the fabric. It’s most often used for cuffs and necklines because it’s super stretchy, but I find it also works very well for tees for kids. I don’t like using it for tees or skirts for myself, however, because it doesn’t give a super smooth silhouette – the extreme stretchiness doesn’t hide much, if you know what I mean.
Cotton lycra and cotton spandex knit
These fabrics are very smooth and flattering for women’s wear. Many of the layering tees or tanks you find in stores are made from this type of fabric. The small percentage of spandex or lycra gives these fabrics excellent stretch and great recovery (with means it holds it’s shape well and won’t get stretched out). Many lycra or spandex knit blends are a bit heavier in weight than jersey – Girl Charlee carries lots of different colors and prints in a 10oz weight, which is my favorite for making shirts for myself. Most of these fabrics do curl along the cut edges, which means you can often leave the edge raw as opposed to hemming (although if you do want to hem the edge the curl can make it a little more difficult). I love these fabrics for t-shirts; many people also use these knits for maxi skirts.
Cotton interlock knit
Cotton interlock knit is another common knit type, and this is one you’ll be able to find at your local fabric store (Joann, etc.) in a variety of solids and occasionally some prints. Interlock is a great beginner’s knit to sew on – it’s generally a little thicker and more stable than other knits, which means it sews up a lot like a woven. I like to use interlock for skirts or dresses (I used this chevron interlock for my easy tee maxi dress) because the heavier weight makes me feel less self conscious about my booty. It’s also perfect for blankets – it’s usually incredibly soft with a high quality feel.
French terry knit
French terry knit is one I’ve just started using – I’d never order it before because I imagined it would be like terry cloth – like towels – but it’s not like that at all. It’s very soft and drapey, and has a casual, comfy feel. You can see my french terry version of the easy tee here, using this awesome ethnic diamond knit. French terry is also called stretch or jersey terry, and is flat on one side (the patterned side) and has tiny loops on the underside, which are very soft and don’t bother my skin at all. I did notice that french terry shrunk more in the wash than the other types of knits I’ve used, so keep that in mind when ordering. I made a tee, but it would work well for lounge pants or shorts as well.
Hacci sweater knit
Hacci sweater knit feels very soft, like sweater material, but it’s generally a little lighter in weight than most sweaters you’d buy at the store (and it’s not like a cable knit, or a sweater someone would actually knit for you). It’s soft and stretchy and sews up just like normal knits. I think it’s best suited to sweaters that are a little slouchy or oversized. Be sure to check the weight and remember that if it says 10 or 12oz it’s going to feel quite lightweight for a sweater.
I just ordered my very first sweatshirt fleece (in that awesome coral color above) and I’m excited to sew with it. It’s smooth on the outside with super soft fleece on the inside. As with the hacci sweater knits, it’s lighter weight than what you see in sweatshirts at the store. I think that’s a good thing, though – it means it will drape well instead of just being bulky. There’s not much stretch to it – really just a little, so it will be very easy to sew. I’m planning to make a dress for my daughter with it, although it would also be perfect for a lightweight sweatshirt or lounge pants or shorts.
Jersey rayon spandex
Jersey rayon spandex feels to me like a cross between a jersey and a cotton spandex knit, and it’s one type I haven’t actually sewn with yet. Girl Charlee carries quite a few solids in pretty colors. The rayon spandex blends are lighter in weight than most of the cotton spandex blends, so I would use them for kid’s tees, nightgowns, etc., but not for tees for myself unless I planned to layer something under them. They might work great for a gathered skirt or dress, however – the fabric seems soft enough to gather nicely without pouffing out too much, and would probably be very cool in hot weather. The edges do curl, and the lighter weight means it will be a little trickier to sew on.
Lycra spandex knit
Lycra spandex knit is often known as dance wear or swimwear knit. It’s super stretchy and generally a pretty good weight, perfect for making leotards, leggings, or swimwear (with a lining). It has a smooth, almost shiny feel, like what you’re used to seeing on swimsuits. I don’t think it would work well for a t-shirt – it just doesn’t have the right feel – but I just ordered some of the pretty aqua floral above to try making a wrap dress with – I’ll let you know how it goes!
Ponte de roma
Ponte de roma is a slightly thicker, sturdier knit that usually has a slight side-to-side texture (look closely at the blue and white strip above and you’ll see what I mean). Pontes can vary quite a bit in how stretchy they are and cheap ponte de roma can feel almost like old school polyester. The ponte I’ve ordered from Girl Charlee has been quite soft and still had a pretty good amount of stretch, but since it’s sturdier it’s very good at hiding body imperfections. I like pontes for dresses (see it on my retro easy tee dress here) and skirts, but find it a little too heavy for tee shirts. It doesn’t breathe quite as well as a jersey, so keep that in mind if you plan to make a maxi skirt with it – it can feel a little hot in very warm weather. Girl Charlee has some awesome new ponte de roma prints right now!
Cotton thermal knit is just what it sounds like – the material thermals or long underwear are made from. I think it makes great long sleeve shirts for kids. It’s a little clingy, so I probably wouldn’t use it for a shirt for myself.
You may also run into modal knits, hemp knits, bamboo knits, and silk knits. All of these fabrics use different types of natural fibers in place of cotton or polyester, and they are generally more expensive. Due to their cost I haven’t sewn much with these, although I did get a good deal on a bamboo knit (which I know lots of sewists LOVE) from Girl Charlee. It’s very smooth and almost luxurious in feel.
Another type of knit is tricot, which is often used as a lining. Lightweight tricot is what most slips are made from these days, and heavier weight tricot is good for lining swimwear, sheer dresses, etc.
Finally, you’ll also see stretch lace. Stretch lace is just what it sounds like – lace that stretches! It’s perfect for using as an overlay on tees, like you see on this shirt. Since it is lace, I’ve found it’s not as durable as other knits – repeated washing and wear can result in snags or frays, so treat it with care.
I’m sure there are a few types I’ve missed, but that should cover the basics.
Now, who wants to win some fabric? Girl Charlee is offering a $40 coupon code to one lucky reader so you can get some knit fabric of your own. Did I mention they also carry specialty wovens now? They’re selling some beautiful lightweight fabrics in gorgeous prints perfect for breezy dresses – and a new dress tutorial just might be coming soon! To enter to win the $40 gift code, just use the raffle coper widget below – thanks, and good luck!