Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pretty Fabrics Part 1: Wovens vs. Knits

Sorry for the delay with this post! It looks like my calendar of events in this series will be a little messed up, but no worries. Let's keep at it. 

It's time to talk about one of my favorite topics in life: pretty fabric! 

Choosing the right fabric for your project is an important step to the sewing process. There are so many options, and while it is fun to play around with different choices, you should know some basics when you make your fabric selection.

The two big categories in the fabric world are woven or knit. There are a few fabrics that do not fit in either of these two categories (felt and fur for example), but not many.  

Woven Fabric:
  • Like the name implies, the threads are woven together to create the fabric, think of a wicker basket on a much tighter scale.
  • Will typically fray when cut. You will need to finish the seams (we will discuss this later) to avoid further unraveling after sewing.
  • Typically do not stretch or have very little stretch vertically or horizontally. There are a few exceptions, such as stretch twill or denim, but not many. (Side note: in all wovens there will be some stretch diagonally, which is called the bias, we will discuss this when you talk about fabric grain. We are talking about the lack of stretch vertically or horizontally.)
  • Tend to be easier to sew on a sewing machine due to stability (for most fabrics, but there are some slippery wovens that are difficult to work with) and lack of stretch.
  • Examples include: quilting cottons, denim, linen, silk, chambray, seersucker, flannel... and many more!
  • Examples of clothing items sewn with woven fabric: button up shirt, jeans, shorts/pants (although these can be also made with knit depending on the pattern) just to name a few.

Knit Fabric:
  • Like the name implies is created by a knitted process with interlaced loops. 
  • Does not fray when cut. (Although some, such as sweater knits will shed. Most knits, however, do not fray or shed.)
  • Will stretch, although the stretch percentage will vary vastly between different fabric. Some will stretch horizontally only (called two way stretch) and some will stretch both horizontally and vertically (called four way stretch).
  • A little bit trickier to sew, as the fabric can stretch out when you sew, the edges curl on some fabrics which is annoying, and a stretch stitch is usually needed to avoid popping stitches if the item is stretched when worn. It doesn't have to be scary though, we will talk about sewing with knit fabrics during part 2 of our sewing series.
  • Examples include: jersey, interlock, ponte de roma, rib knit, french terry... and many more!
  • Examples of clothing items sewn with knit fabric: t-shirts, sweaters, leggings, actually it is used very frequently in apparel. It's comfy and it stretches, so it's a natural here!

Woven and knit fabric cannot be distinguished from each other based on fiber content alone. For example, both cotton and knit fabric can be 100% cotton. They can both be polyester or contain spandex, or many other possibilities. However, a 100% cotton woven and 100% cotton knit will look and behave differently. 

When using a sewing pattern, it should list fabric recommendations. Using the wrong fabric just will not work in many circumstances without making changes to the pattern. For example, leggings are drafted with negative ease, meaning they will hug your body tightly. If you use a fabric with not enough stretch, you might not be able to even get them up past your thighs. Same with a tee pattern, if you don't have enough stretch, it might not fit over your head or over your curves. Likewise if you use a stretchy knit when the pattern calls for a woven, it might drape strangely and not fit as the pattern intended. Until you have a good feel for how patterns are drafted and how different fabrics behave, it's best to stick with the recommendations in the patterns.

There will be some patterns that list both wovens and knits as recommended fabrics. Certain pants or shorts are an example. Still, they might list different types of wovens or knits based on drape or some other characteristic. So pay attention to those lists before you sew.

Lastly, and this is something you will want to remember: PREWASH YOUR FABRIC BEFORE YOU CUT INTO IT! A lot of fabrics will shrink (or if they don't, you will still want to wash all the dirt they have been collecting in the factory and in the store) and the last thing you want is for your new perfectly fitting t-shirt to shrink after you sew it. And even if you can still fit into it, it might pucker in spots or hang strangely as the thread you used will not shrink but the fabric will. I wash and dry all my fabric as soon as I bring them home and before I put it with the rest of my stash. I use color catchers and wash it all together, those might be something you want to keep in your laundry room if you start growing a fabric obsession.

I will leave you with a few pictures of items I have sewn and the type of fabric I used. Hopefully this helps a little, but please feel free to ask any questions you might have.

All of the following three dresses were made with quilting cotton (a woven.) Although as the name implies it is used in quilts, it is also popular in apparel sewing as it is easy to work with, usually fairly inexpensive (although there are pricey designer options) and has a very large selection of prints and colors. Quilting cotton is a great fabric to use for your first sewing projects. 

This next dress was made with a yellow sheet (a woven), which I'm assuming is 100% cotton, and with grey seersucker (also a woven.) The pink fabric in the flower in a quilting cotton.

These skinny jeans were made with a stretch bottomweight (a woven), but I can't remember the exact fabric type. 

This peplum shirt was made with interlock (a knit.)

This blue and grey striped shirt was also made with interlock and the cargo pants were made in a linen blend (a woven.) Interlock is a great knit to sew with, as the edges do not curl and it is very stable, but it doesn't have as much stretch as some other knits and it might pill with washing and drying.

This maxi dress was made with a jersey (knit), fiber contents unknown but it has decent stretch, and the binding around the neck and sleeves is a cotton spandex (a knit.) You might see the term Lycra used instead of spandex, as it is a common brand name. Besides the branding, they are the same thing. 

This next shirt was made with a jersey fabric which was 50% cotton and 50% polyester. It had very little stretch for a knit (20% stretch.)

Both of the fabrics used in this hoodie dress are cotton Lycra. Both fabric have excellent stretch and would also have been a good choice for leggings. 

This black dress was made with ponte de roma fabric. It is a heavy and stable knit fabric with little stretch. 

Finally, the shirt in this outfit was made with a rayon spandex fabric (knit) and the shorts were made with a stretch sateen (a woven.) 

Tomorrow, we will go over how to figure out stretch percentages and fabric grain. 

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