Choosing the fabric is one of the essential aspects when it comes to sewing. However, there are many types of fabrics and it can be slightly overwhelming when you are just starting your creative sewing journey. When trying to get to know fabrics, the first step is understanding how they are constructed. There are two types of fabric structure - knit and fabrics. Both of these types have their own properties and can not only make the garment look different, but also feel different when wearing.
What is knit fabric?
Knit fabric is textile constructed by inter-looping yarn, or inter-meshing loops of yarn. This type of fabric is usually quite stretchy and flexible. Knit fabrics can be made by hand knitting or machine knitting. Most commonly used for sewing are the machine knitted fabrics. The size of the stitch (whether hand-knitted or machine-knitted) usually defines how delicate or how chunky the fabric is. There are two types of knit fabrics - weft-knit fabrics and warp-knit fabrics. Weft-knit fabrics are quite common and easy to produce. Weft knit fabric may be produced from a single string of yarn entirely. However, when cut this type of knit fabric will unravel, thus making it slightly more difficult to deal with. Warp-knit fabrics are made from multiple strings of yarn. They are more resistant to runs, and do not unravel easily when cut.
What is woven fabric?
Woven fabric is made on a loom by interweaving two sets of one or more threads in different directions. Those sets of threads are called warps (lengthwise grain) and wefts (crosswise grain). On a loom warp threads run vertically and weft threads run horizontally. Woven fabric is less stretchy than knit fabric and can only be stretched slightly when pulling diagonally (on bias) between weft and warp directions. There many types of weave but the most popular and commonly used ones are: plain weave, twill weave and satin weave. Alternative weaving techniques can also be found, these create fabric design that is more intricate and decorative.
Difference between knit and woven fabric?
The main difference between knit and woven fabric is the structure and how they are made. That structure gives each type of fabric different properties:
- Stretchiness - kit fabrics are way much more stretchy in all directions. Woven fabrics only give a little bit of stretch on bias.
- Fraying and runs - depending on a type knit fabrics unravel or get runs, when cut. Woven fabrics get frays.
- Color fading - because of the way they are produced, knit fabrics come into more contact with bleaches and detergents. This makes them more likely to lose color than the woven fabrics.
- Shrinkage - because of the fabric construction and the tension on the threads it creates, knit fabrics are more likely to shrink after washing. Woven fabrics are constructed in a more ‘’tight’’ manner, thus leaving less space to shrink after washing.
- Wrinkle resistance - woven fabrics are more likely to get wrinkles and crease marks than the knit fabrics.
- Durability - woven fabrics are more durable than knit fabric, they do not pill and do keep the shape and structure of the garment for a longer time.
- Workability - woven fabric is more ‘’stable’’, therefore making it easier to work with.
How to tell whether the fabric is knit or woven?
Telling which type of fabric it is can be difficult if you are a beginner sewer. If you are not sure whether the fabric is knit or woven, try applying couple of methods to test it:
- Visual - from up close stitches of knitted fabric look more intertwined or ‘’braided’’ than woven fabric. However, if the stitches are very small, only an experienced eye can tell the difference.
- Stretchiness - try stretching the material in every direction, if it stretches easily it is most likely knit fabric. Woven fabric gives very little stretch and only diagonally to the weft and warp direction.
- Wrinkle resistance - try gathering and squishing peace of fabric in your hand for a few seconds. When released woven fabric most likely will end up having crease marks. Knit fabric should end up with very few or almost none crease marks. However, this type of testing can be deceiving when testing decorative fabrics and the results also really depend on the fiber content of the fabric.
- Edges of the fabric - woven fabric edges fray when cut. If woven fabric comes straight from a roll - the lengthwise edges (salvage) will not fray and the crosswise edges will. Knit fabrics do not fray, but they do curl or unravel when cut. If the fabric comes from the factory or a shop, it either comes in a tube - that means it is uncut lengthwise and could only unravel on the widthwise edge. It can also come cut on one edge and then put on a roll with the lengthwise edges stabilized with glue or starch. This is to prevent curling and unraveling (the widthwise edge will still be raw and unfinished).
How to choose the right fabric for your sewing project?
Choosing the right fabric for your garment determines the comfort, visual outcome and durability. If you need the garment to be comfortable, flexible - choose knit fabrics. If you need more structured visual outcome and durability - woven fabric is the way.
What is the difference between knit and woven sewing patterns?
When choosing between knit and woven fabrics you also need to take into account what kind of pattern you are using. If a commercial pattern is used, it will have fabric recommendations in most cases. In a lot of cases sewing patterns can be altered for different fabrics, but it requires experience and skill. There are few differences between patterns for woven and patterns for knit fabrics:
- Size - because knit fabric is stretchy for a very fitted tight garment the pattern itself can be smaller, than it would be for a woven garment.
- Necklines, armholes, waistlines - these are wider or deeper on patterns for woven fabrics. The reason for this is the same as for the size - knit fabrics can stretch and can easily fit the head or the arm through them. Woven necklines, armholes and waistlines do not stretch therefore need to be bigger, wider or deeper.
- Closures - like mentioned before, woven fabrics do not stretch much, therefore if the garment is fitted it will have more closures, like buttons or zippers.
- Structure - because woven fabrics are essentially lighter than knit fabrics, more structured garments can be formed. It is also reflected in the amount of the fabric used for a garment. If a pattern that requires a lot of fabric and drape will be used with knit fabric it will be heavier and less structured, because the weight of the fabric will be dragging the whole garment down. Because knit fabric tends to return to its original shape, it can also be difficult to form certain style elements like sharp defined pleats or crease lines.
What are the most popular knit fabrics?
Popular knit fabrics include: Jersey, Sweatshirt Jersey, Fleece, Rib fabric, Lycra, Spandex, Rayon, Liverpool.
What are the most popular woven fabrics?
Popular woven fabrics include: Linen, Denim, Flannel, Satin, Chiffon, Muslin, Cheesecloth, Coplin, Velvet, Taffeta, Organza, Crepe, Georgette, Cambric.
What are other fabric construction methods?