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Knowing kits: learn how to fit knits and knit patterns.

Knit fabrics provide many advantages for those who love garment sewing. Knit fabrics simplify the fitting process, eliminate excess seams, require less tailoring and are compatible with many patterns and styles that can be made in a short amount of time. In this article, we'll discuss different knit fabrics, sewing tips, stretch and fabric weight and fitting basics for working with these dynamic, figure-friendly fabrics.


A textbook description will describe knit fabrics as the product of a process in which needles are used to form a series of interlocking loops from one or more yarns. Woven fabrics have horizontal wefts while knits have "courses." Wovens have warps running vertically and parallel to the selvage, and knits have "wales." The gauge of a knit is the fineness of the stitch or the number of needles used per inch. The higher the gauge, the finer the fabric.

With advancements in technology, new knit fabric textures, patterns and weaves, including neoprene fabric, are developed all the time, many of which are now available for the home sewist. Knit fabrics are created from almost every fiber type, including cotton, wool, polyester, spandex and bamboo, and in various combinations, creating an assortment of textures, sheens and finishes. Popular knits for garment sewing include:

Jersey: These knits have a right and wrong side. The edges curl to the wrong side while the ends curl to the right side, a trait used to your advantage when hemming and edge finishing. Jersey unravels crosswise, runs lengthwise and stretches more on the crosswise grain. It is commonly used for underwear, T-shirts, hosiery and sweaters.

Terry Cloth: This lofty fabric is created by the formation of loops. The closer the loops, the better the quality. Terry is often used for robes, beachwear and baby clothing.

Tricot: This is the most common warp knit, used in many garments, such as lingerie, sleepwear, shirts and blouses. The right side runs vertical and the wrong side is horizontal. Tricots don't usually run and are very durable, making them a popular choice.

Performance: These fabrics are used for things like swimwear, yoga pants and sports uniforms. Unlike in most knit fabrics, the stretch is primarily a result of using spandex yarns in the weaving process. The greatest stretch goes around the body and stretch happens in both directions creating a two- or four-way stretch.


Some knit sources will describe types of knits and their stretch in percentage terms, such as 20%, 35% or 50% stretch, instead of focusing on generic percentages, consider the tactile qualities of the fabric. You'll learn much more about fabrics by observing, feeling, stretching and experimenting with different kinds.

Knit fabrics can be described as light-, medium- and heavyweight, but they're also described by the amounts of stretch. Knit fabrics that have a small amount of stretch include jersey, double knit, dense sweater knits and terry cloth.

Medium stretch knits include open-weave sweater knits, tricot and mesh, and knits with a large amount of stretch include spandex and ribbing.

Lightweight knits work well for very drapey designs, gathering and multiple layers. Heavy knits need simple patterns with clean lines that enhance heavy textures and prints. Performance knits, such as spandex, use as few seams as possible and are great for featuring decorative stitches.

How a knit stretches will indicate how it will perform when sewn. If you need to make a neckband that hugs the body, you want a short piece with a large amount of stretch. In this case, a great option is ribbing or spandex. If you want to make a shirt with minimal stretch for comfort, a sweater knit provides a sufficient amount.

When selecting fabric, observe the 'recovery,' or how well the fabric springs back to the original size after stretching, because this will effect the finished sewn product. If the recovery is poor, the fabric in certain areas, such as the elbows, knees and crotch curve, can stretch out when the garment is worn.


Knits are easy to sew, but there are a few key sewing tips that impact fit.

Some knits are more susceptible to shrinkage. Cotton knits or very open-weave structures can shrink, so pre-shrink yardage before cutting the pattern.

There is 'grain,' so to speak, on knits. One direction will have more stretch and that should go around the body. However, if the weave and grain are skewed, select a different cut of fabric for better results, as the garment might twist on the body. Some knit fabrics also have a nap, especially on knits with sheen, so lay pattern pieces in one direction.

Stabilize areas that may stretch using seam tape or twill tape. These areas include shoulder seams, zipper facings and across the back neckline from shoulder to shoulder.

Knit interfacing is another tool that adds strength and body, controls stretch and prevents seams from showing on the outside. Use knit interfacing on collars, cuffs, necklines, pockets, hems, buttonholes, waistbands, sleeveless armholes and fly-front zipper facings.

Common stitches and seams used in knits are the overlock stitch, chain stitch, narrow rolled edge, wave stitch and coverstitch. Make fabric samples and experiment with different threads and stitches. Keep a sample card and make notes so when you sew that fabric again, it's easy to reference the selected choices. Base seam selection on the bulk of fabric, the fabric's tendency to ravel or run, ability to stretch and tendency to curl. Additionally, some seams need to stretch while others need more stability.


Knit patterns are intentionally created smaller than patterns for woven fabrics to account for various degrees of stretch. When sewing a woven, make a fitting sample; the same applies to knits. Even though it's easier to fit a knit garment, it's still best to create a fit sample using a sample fabric with the same amount of stretch as the finished fashion fabric. With variations of ease and comfort in knit patterns, make sure you have ease in the correct locations and avoid bagging and sagging elsewhere. A simple fit sample ensures an accurate fit when sewing the final garment. Plus, knit garments are best sewn start to finish without taking them apart or seam ripping, which often causes holes in the fabric.

Many stretch fashions and knit patterns don't include waist and bust darts, but while custom fitting it's perfectly acceptable to contour a large curve and add darts, especially with heavier knits. These darts are not so much to make the fabric fit, but to tailor the fabric against the body contour. A fit sample allows you to see how much and where the excess fabric is on the garment in order to make proper fitting adjustments.

For more on Joi's approach to fit, grab a copy of Designer Joi's Fashion Sewing Workshop at

Visit Designer Joi's blog for helpful how-tos, fit information and garment fitting solutions:
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Title Annotation:Joi of FITTING
Author:Mahon, Joi
Publication:Sew News
Date:Dec 1, 2016
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