What an amazing variety of fabrics there is! Have you thought about that? However, at times that may feel more negative than positive, since it’s hard to see what the fabrics are suitable for. I want to help build your fabric skills with knowledge about how to evaluate the fabrics to understand them better. We’ll be looking at material, stretch, drape or body, and weight.
Knit or woven
‘Knit’ is the collective name of fabrics that are knitted, as opposed to woven. Through the knitting process, the threads are interlocked and looped which gives the fabric elasticity. If the fabric also has elastane / lycra in it, the fabric has good stretch and recovery. Recovery means that if you stretch the fabric and then release, it will go back to its original width.
Fabrics can be made of for example cotton or linen (natural materials), polyester (synthetic materials), viscose (regenerated manufactured fibre, made from cellulose or wood pulp from trees) or other fibers and various blends.
Woven fabric is produced through weaving two sets of yarn. They are made up of a weft (going across the fabric) and a warp (going down the length of the fabric). Woven fabrics only stretch diagonally on the bias (diagonally), between the warp and weft directions, unless the threads used are elastic. Always check if your pattern calls for a knit or woven fabric.
These are my most commonly used types of knit fabrics:
You can easily evaluate the fabric’s stretch using the stretch guide in our patterns or on my website. How much stretch the fabric has is very useful to know and a stretch percentage is often recommended in the pattern.
If a fabric is bi-elastic, that means it stretches both vertically and horizontally.
Drape vs. body
Does the fabric need drape? That depends on your pattern. Typically you'd need a drapey fabric for a flowy dress, while you'd instead be looking for a fabric with body if you're sewing a tight-fitting top, skirt or leggings.
If you do your fabric shopping online it’s hard to evaluate drape/body but some stores describe the fabrics’ characteristics. If not, contact them and ask. This goes for stretch too.
Often, but not always, light-weight fabrics have more drape than heavy-weight fabrics.
Do you keep a sewing journal? If you do, write a few lines about the fabric you use; its composition, stretch, drape and weight. And any other characteristics. The more you note and evaluate this in the fabrics you use, the more you’ll learn. You’ll build experience and confidence when it comes to choosing fabrics.
Sometimes the pattern specifies which weight category you should be looking for when choosing a fabric. Here's a categorisation I use:
- Very light: up to 135 gr/m2
- Light: 135-200 gr/m2
- Medium: 200-270 gr/m2
- Medium-heavy: 270-340 gr/m2
- Heavy: 340-400 gr/m2
- Very heavy: More than 400 gr/m2
Some knit fabrics I like
Viscose jersey, Tencel jersey, Modal jersey and Bambu jersey
... are examples of fabrics that are often light weight with lovely drape. They can be challenging to sew since they are a bit slippery. These fabrics are perfect for flowy dresses and skirts, but can also be used for other garments such as t-shirts.
(Also called CL or cotton/lycra) is a fabric many are familiar with. Its weight is often light or medium. Cotton jersey rarely has drape. Very common to use with children's clothes and easy to use for beginners.
(Or rib knit) is very popular to use for neckbands and cuffs since it usually has very good stretch and recovery. You can also sew whole garments with ribbing. Ribbing usually consists of cotton and lycra (elastane).
(Or college, sweat fabric or jogging) often has medium weight, seldom drape. French terry fabric can have a looped or a brushed backside. Suitable for example for my Frankie sweatshirt for kids or Tyra & Todd loose fit pants for kids.
(Left picture: Frankie sweatshirt and Tyra & Todd pants in french terry. Right picture: Ester & Ebbe top in ottoman fabric, and Tyra & Todd pants in french terry).
(Ponte di roma, Courtelle jersey, Romanit jersey...) A fabric known by many names. Often times medium-heavy in weight, soft with body. This Sofia skirt and Hanna sweatshirt were both sewn in ponte fabrics.
A fabric that’s similar to ponte is Scuba. The weight varies, but the fabric is often sturdy but with some drape. It has a bit shiny surface and good stretch.
Another fabric with a bit shiny surface and soft drape is Ottoman. It’s a knit fabric with a ribbed surface. Often medium-heavy with good stretch and recovery. Looks great on sweatshirts (for example Linnéa for women or Lilly & Liam for kids), tops, dresses, skirts.
A fabric that’s often heavy to very heavy is knit Jacquard / Jacquard jersey. Some have elastane added, others don’t. Jacquard is the name of a fabric that’s woven or knitted with a certain technique, often with detailed patterns.
Fleece is a knit fabric that is most often made of polyester, but you can also find cotton fleece and different blends. If you’re looking for organic fabrics, there are fleece fabrics made from reused materials, and fleece fabrics made from organic cotton. Read "everything you need to know about sewing fleece" here.
Fleece is often medium or heavy weight, with no drape. It's suitable for sweatshirts, jackets (such as my Wilma & Wide jacket, pictured below), pants etc.
Last but not least, there are many fabrics that are named just Knitted fabric or knits. They can be made from various fibers. Weight, stretch and drape can be very different. Know that if it doesn’t have elastane, the stretch and recovery might be a bit poor, but not necessarily. Evaluate the stretch and drape, or ask the store to do it for you.
This is not an comprehensive list of knit fabrics, just the ones you are most likely to come across when sewing clothes for children and women.