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Woven vs. Knits

We love all of our 101 classes at the studio and usually like to start them with a primer on choosing the right fabric. While we pride ourselves in rolling with any fabric you bring in, having the right stuff from the beginning can make a big difference to your final project!

Never is that more important than when making garments. It's easy to be overwhelmed with the fabric selections at a store, and as we don't have the benefit of a fabric retail at the studio, we try to arm you with as much detail as possible to fuel your shopping trip. Sometimes we aren't able to show you in person the kind of fabric you should buy before heading out so here's a little more of a primer on knit fabric and woven fabric!


Clothes made from woven fabric differ from those made with knit fabric. We sew with it differently, use different construction techniques and fit the pattern differently. Without additional alterations, a shirt pattern meant for knit fabric, but sewn in a woven fabric won't fit over your head. In the same way, a skirt designed for woven fabric with a back zipper will stretch out and fall right off if sewn in a knit fabric.


I'm generalizing a bit here but woven fabric is not stretchy and knit fabric is stretchy. If you leave with nothing else, let that stick with you. There are different factors that contribute to the stretch or lack of stretch including how it's made and fiber content.


I'm going to use images of hand knit and hand woven projects as well as storebought knit and woven fabric. It is easier to see the thread patterns in the handmade items and a woven scarf and a knit sweater aren't really constructed all that differently than woven fabric and knit fabric!


In short: woven fabric has threads that make right angles.

Handwoven fabric grain Woven fabric vs knit fabric

Quilting Cotton Fabric in woven fabric vs knit fabric

Woven fabric is created on a loom. Warp threads are connected to two points on the loom and wrapped very tightly so there isn't a lot of give. If you pull on a piece of quilting cotton parallel to the selvage you'll find there is very little stretch. This is called the straight grain.

From there weft threads are run back and forth across the warp threads in an over/under pattern. These threads have a little more give to them since they aren't pulled tightly, but you still wouldn't call it stretchy. This is called the crossgrain.

While we're at it, give a pull on the diagonal of a piece of cotton and you'll find it's much more stretchy. This is called the true bias. While this has a stretch it still won't give you a stretchy piece of clothing.

Woven fabrics including denim, shirting, canvas, lawn, voile, quilting cotton, and twill (among many others).


In short: knit fabric is made up of one thread that is continuously looped to make a braided effect or "v" shapes.

Hand knit fabric grain in woven fabric vs knit fabric

Jersery knit fabric grain in woven fabric vs knit fabric

Knit fabric is made very similarly to a knit sweater where you have one thread that's looped around and around for one row. The same thread is then looped through the bottom of the first row of loops and then again through the bottom of the second row of loops and so on until the fabric is finished.

This is much stretchier. At no point was the fabric pulled tightly onto a loom so each stitch has more give. Depending on how the fabric was knit, and from what material, there may be more stretch in one direction or another.

Knit fabrics include jersey, ponte, terry, sweatshirt, and scuba among others.


You may be thinking to yourself "but I've seen stretchy denim-- how else would those jeans fit?". It is true and sometimes the fiber content of the fabric can add to the stretch. Skinny jeans, for example, are made with a stretch denim which includes a small amount of lycra (usually 2-4%). The fabric is woven in the same we discussed above but the threads in the weaving have the lycra so they stretch a little.

The fiber content of knit fabric effects the stretch too, but we discuss that in greater detail in our Sewing with Knits 101 workshop!


First, look at the pattern or the class description. It will specifically say "woven" or "knit" fabric. If you're still not sure what to pick, think about the garment itself. Is it a close fitting shirt that will need to stretch to get over your head and fit your body? Then you want a knit. Is it a skirt or pair of pants that has a closure like a zipper, buttons or elastic to help it fit? Then you likely want a woven material.

If you're out shopping and not sure what kind of fabric you're looking at, check for these things:

-When you look closely is the fabric made up of little "v" shapes or do the threads make a right angle? Vs mean a knit. Right angles mean a woven.

-When you pull at the fabric does it stretch between the selvages? Probably a knit.

-Does it fray? Look at the cut end of the fabric, not the selvage, a woven fabric will most likely have strings coming off the end (or you can pull at it until it does). Knit fabric doesn't fray but will have a loopy looking ends and will most likely stretch out and curl.

Knit fabric selvage in woven fabric vs knit fabric

Woven fabric selvage in woven fabric vs knit fabric

There's so much more to choosing a fabric, but identifying a knit from a woven is a great first step. We have several classes coming up to help you do just that!

We have a Garment 101 class starting in November (evenings will start again in January). Learn how to read a pattern, choose the best woven fabric for a pattern, take accurate measurements, finish seams, hem, use bias to finish a neck opening and more!

Sewing with Knits 101 runs on October 8th. You'll learn all about working with the stretch of a knit including percentage of stretch, fiber content, cutting knit fabric, and tips and tricks for sewing knit fabric while sewing a Darling Dolman top designed by our very own Sarah Bolton!

Garments 201, beginning October 29th, takes your knit sewing to the next level with a knit tee. Using the Lark Tee pattern by Grainline studio, the Concord Tee pattern by Cashmerette or the Boys/Mens Tee by Jalie you'll learn how to read measurement charts for patterns with knit fabric, flat set in sleeves, add neck binding, and more!

When you're ready to take the plunge we also have a Sergers 101 class on October 15th. Master threading and adjusting the tension on your serger and you'll be zipping off garment projects in no time!

Lastly, make the grand finale to your fall garment sewing a pair of jeans! Sarah will be holding a Jeansmaking Intensive on November 10th and 17th with an Optional fitting private lesson on November 3rd.

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