Whenever we talk about any of our knit patterns, we get many questions about finding good knit fabrics. I know that it can be challenging to find good knits, even here in New York. But over the last few years we’ve been seeing lots more good options! So let’s talk about the different types of knit fabric, what to look for in a knit, and where to find them, shall we?
First of all, the various types of knits. I wrote a post a while ago that explained some of the different types of knit fabrics. Give it a read-through and I think it will help to clarify. Personally, I like to sew with jersey, which is what most T-shirts are made of. But if you’re new to knits, interlock can be nice, too. Each type of knit fabric will sew and behave differently, and it’s a good idea to experiment with them all so you can get comfortable with them and understand the differences. You’ll probably find a favorite fabric, too. I’ll focus mostly on jersey for this post, but many of the on-line shops I’ll list will also carry other types of knits, so pay attention to the types when you’re ordering.
All our sewing patterns for knits suggest a fabric with at least 25% stretch. If you find a cotton jersey with at least 3% spandex, chances are good that it will have at least 25% stretch. Some all-cotton knits will also have 25% stretch, but I always suggest that you check and confirm before cutting your fabric. The stretch factor is important.
It’s also important to understand that each knit quality will behave differently. And that’s the most challenging part of sewing with knits. I have two of our women’s Metro T-shirts at the studio, and I’m not there today or I’d post a photo to show you. The two T-shirts are sewn from two different dark gray cotton/spandex jerseys. Both have at least 25% stretch. The shirts look almost identical, but one jersey has a drier, stiffer feel than the other jersey, which is softer and stretchier. And although the two T-shirts are the same size, the drier, stiffer jersey is much tighter than the softer, stretchier jersey. So the two shirts look like they’re different sizes! Keep that in mind as you sew. Not all knits are equal, and your results from two different fabric qualities can vary quite a bit. This part of sewing with knits just takes experience and trial. There’s no way around it. Once you’ve made something and can see how that particular knit behaves, you can make changes the next time you use the same quality.
Ok? So now that you know all that, how do you determine whether a fabric has at least 25% stretch? Here’s how I like to do it. Don’t test the stretch right along the cut edge of the fabric, because the cut edge will stretch more than the rest of the fabric. Fold the fabric over so you’re testing the fold. And remember that you’re stretching the fabric from selvedge to selvedge, or side to side, not up and down. The up and down doesn’t need to stretch very much, but you want the side to side to stretch so you can pull it over your head and it will stretch to fit around your body. Make sense?
Once you’ve folded the fabric, hold the folded edge along a ruler (you carry a ruler in your handbag, right?) and mark a 4″ section by pinching your fingers or by placing pins at the ends. Then gently stretch the fabric until it starts to resist. If the fabric stretches to at least 5″, your fabric has 25% stretch. If it stretches to 6″, you have 50% stretch and it may be too stretchy for our purposes. Stick with something that feels like your favorite T-shirt and has about 25-35% stretch and you’ll be safe.
Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: wash and dry your fabric before you cut! Knits shrink a lot. Some people like to wash and dry their fabric several times because it can continue to shrink over time. I generally line dry anything I’ve sewn, so I don’t worry about it beyond the first wash. (The driers in our building’s laundry room could be mistaken for large toasters, they’re so hot. I’m very selective about which fibers are subjected to their mercies.)
Alright, now where do you get good knits?
We made a lot of the samples for the family T-shirt patterns with Robert Kaufman’s Laguna jersey. It’s a four-way stretch jersey that’s 95% cotton and 5% spandex and is perfect for T-shirts and kids’ leggings,. It comes in a wide range of colors, including some beautiful heather grays as well as a whole bunch of new prints. I love the polka dots, especially. And it’s really soft!
When we were testing the School Bus T-shirt pattern we sewed one for S using Kaufman’s gray solid, and she loved the softness of the jersey so much she wouldn’t take it off! She slept in it that night. We’ve also been painting and stamping on the fabric, and I’ll show you that soon.
Art Gallery Fabrics is also doing a line of printed jerseys that look really pretty. While I haven’t touched this fabric yet, I’ve heard good things about it. And it’s nice that each Art Gallery designer seems to have a few prints represented in the line. That means you’ll have lots of styles to choose from, and more prints coming soon. I’ve already chosen a few for the next knit pattern I’m developing.
Riley Blake has quite a few knits in some great basic patterns like dots and stripes, as well as coordinating solids. These look like they’d be great, especially if you’re wanting to do something similar in style to Boden.
Other manufacturers have included designer knits in their collections, and you’ll usually see two or three colorways of two or three prints within a larger collection of quilting cottons, much like our Modern Workshop collection for Moda included several interlock prints. And Heather Ross had some darling strawberry printed interlocks in her Briar Rose collection for Windham. Riley Blake has quite a few knits in some great basic patterns like dots and stripes. So it’s worth keeping your eyes open for the cute printed knits.
But where do you buy these wonderful knits? Well, if your local shop doesn’t them or doesn’t have the selection you want, here is a list of on-line shops that carry a wide variety of knits. Some of these shops carry the lines I’ve mentioned above and some carry other knit fabrics. I’ve ordered “unknown” knits on-line before and have been completely surprised at what actually arrived, so if you aren’t familiar with the manufacturer, read carefully. (I’m still trying to find a use for that super-slinky, semi-sheer jersey that simply won’t work as a T-shirt.) And don’t be afraid to ask questions about the fabrics, too!
On-line sources for knit fabrics: