How To Choose The Right Fabric: Knit Or Woven?
It's one of the most important questions to ask (and answer!) when it comes to a new sewing project: Should I use a knit or a woven fabric? Knowing how to choose the right fabric for a project is a learned skill, and its value cannot be understated.
Because there is nothing worse than putting a ton of effort into a project.. Only to learn that it turned out not-so-great due to fabric choice. The sewing could be impeccable, the trims so delicate and perfect, the fit flawless.
But if the wrong fabric is used for a project, then it's game over. #endgame
And I hate to say it, but the best way to learn how to choose the right fabric for a project.. Is by sewing up all different kinds of projects. You learn what types of fabrics work best for your design aesthetic, and what you are more likely to wear.
Because, yes, they are ALL different. Sewing with a knit is a completely different experience than sewing with a canvas. Or a chiffon. Or a heavy melton. The fabrics will fall on the body differently, hold their shapes differently.
(Btw--Last month we put together a comprehensive fabric guide. If you are a complete fabric newbie, that post is going to be your new BFFL. Check it out!)
Now, after 10+ years of sewing, I have gotten pretty good at knowing how to choose the right fabric for a project. (For the most part.) I am able to see whether I want the fabric to flow off of the body, or stand up on its own. Whether the fabric needs a print to spice up the design, or if a solid color will say it all.
And most importantly: Whether I want to use a knit or a woven fabric.
The all important question: Knit or woven?
Now, I believe asking the question "knit or woven?" should be the VERY first one when choosing the fabric for a project. As I said above, I can normally answer this question pretty easily when it comes to a new project.
But it is a question I have been struggling with quite a bit these last few months--Which is also the reason why I wanted to write this post. Recently, I have been working nonstop on getting the Dany DIY sewing project kits up for sale.
And the biggest struggle with that process has been finding the right fabric.
Now, when I sewed up the original Dany Sheath, the fabric I used was a mid weight striped knit. And I was planning on using a knit for the DIY kits, but when I attended the LA Textile Show last month, I saw sooo many beautiful woven fabrics. So I thought: Why not?
My thought was that I would have to tweak the pattern a little bit to account for the nonexistent stretch in woven fabrics.. But that's definitely doable. And since I will be selling these DIY kits to actual customers (you guys!) I wanted to make sure I had tested out ALL of my options, and got the fabric RIGHT.
And so now at this point, I am still asking myself that same question: Knit or woven?
I KNOW I can't be the only girl out there struggling with the dilemma of how to choose the right fabric. So with this post, I wanted to go into the benefits (and drawbacks) of knits versus wovens. A sort of pro vs. con list, if you will.
How to choose the right fabric: The pros of knits
Oooh my, do I love me some knits. Literally everything I am wearing right now is a knit--From my tee to my yoga pants to the DIY scrunchie in my hair.
But first.. What IS a knit fabric?
The easiest, most basic way to tell if a fabric is a knit is if it stretches. If it has a high elasticity content, then more than likely, it's a knit. Of course, there ARE woven fabrics out there that have some stretch to them. But if a fabric can stretch A LOT, then I think it's safe to assume it's a knit.
Think: Exercise pants, shirts, dresses, swimsuits. Quite literally everything. Some benefits of knit fabrics include:
- Stretch: Knits can be perfectly form fitting, and can be also stretched to pull on/off. (Say goodbye to zippers & buttons!)
- Comfort: More often than not, knits are soft to the touch and just so. damn. comfy. (Think: Yoga pants, sweatshirts, etc.)
- Long Life: For the most part, knits can last a LONG time. (Case in point: I have had the tee I am currently wearing for 5+ years, and I still wear it weekly.)
- Fluid Drape: Knits have a beautiful drape to them, and flow off of the body. (For more info on the fluidity of fabrics, check out our comprehensive fabric guide.)
How to choose the right fabric: The cons of knits
Convinced of working with a knit fabric for your next project? Keep in mind, there can also be some drawbacks to working with knits. Including:
- Stretch: If not stored properly, knits can stretch out. Stretching can also happen from regular washing, depending on the particular fabric blend.
- Holes: Very thin knits can sometimes get holes in them that are a bit difficult to repair. (But girl, we got you. We cover how to fix holes in our step-by-step repair guide.)
- Pilling: Knit fabrics are highly prone to pilling. (i.e. The tiny little balls that are all over the sides & sleeves of your sweatshirts.) Not super cute, I know.
- Difficulty Sewing: While I don't really think knits are difficult to sew with, a lot of people do. (It's just a different type of sewing though! I honestly wouldn't be too concerned about it.)
Overall, I actually really enjoy working with knits. As I mentioned above, some people find them more difficult to sew with.. But I think that as long as they are pinned properly, the difficulty level is about the same when compared to lightweight woven fabrics.
How to choose the right fabric: The pros of wovens
Oh girl, I love my knit fabrics. But I also love my woven fabrics! Woven fabrics are often used for more structured designs. Think: Bags, collared shirts, dresses, pants. So what IS a woven fabric?
Like how it's pretty easy to define a knit based on its stretch factor.. Woven fabrics are easily definable by the fact that they have ZERO stretch. Grab a piece of fabric, and try to pull it in opposite directions. No stretch? It's most likely a woven.
I think it's just an easy, real world way to tell the difference between the two main fabric types. A perfect example of this rule not applying would be with stretch denim. Denim is a woven fabric, but it is infused with elastic fibers to give it that stretch.
Some benefits to working with woven fabrics include:
- Durability: Woven fabrics are WAY more durable than knit fabrics are. They are much less prone to holes and stretching, and really only rip when severe strain is applied.
- Structure: For a design that needs some structure, a woven fabric is going to be your best bet. Think: A collared shirt, or a coat. (Again, check out our comprehensive fabric guide if interested in structure versus fluidity.)
- Easy To Sew: Although I find knits easy to sew with (for the most part) there is no denying that woven fabrics are even easier to sew with. Of course there are exceptions (i.e. Chiffon, etc.) but for the most part, they are pretty easy to work with.
- Widespread Availability: Although knits are certainly becoming more popular, there are WAY more woven fabrics out there. Wovens can vary in pretty much any and every shape, size, and color.
How to choose the right fabric: The cons of wovens
But of course, there is always a downside to working with wovens as well. And some of those include:
- No Stretch: This is a big one. While knits can be stretched and forced on, woven fabrics cannot. If the garment doesn't fit, it is NOT going on. Knits are definitely more forgiving in this way, so if working with a woven, the fit needs to be SPOT ON.
- Rougher Hand: While knits are usually dreamy & soft, that isn't always the case with wovens. Unless washed a certain way, woven fabrics can be incredibly stiff and uncomfortable when worn.
- Rips: If part of a woven garment is ripped (not along a seam line) then it can be incredibly difficult to repair well. Patches are often a common repair for rips, but that may not always be a desirable repair option.
- Bulk: Woven fabrics can also get a bit bulky, in ways that knits do not. Again, this isn't a project defining issue--But if working with a delicate design, then a knit might be a better option to help avoid bulk.
More often than not, you will most likely be working with a woven fabric. Although knits are definitely becoming more and more popular in modern fashion (including the DIY market!) wovens still pretty much dominate the scene.
Which will you choose: knit or woven?
Still facing the ultimate question, am I right? Both knits & wovens have their benefits, but they also have their downsides. If you are REALLY stuck, sit down and literally do a pro vs. con list. (With the little "T" and everything--Yah.)
Also--Fabrics By The Yard has an excellent post that dives pretty deep into fiber content, which may help you make that ultimate decision. Make sure to check it out!
If having stretch in your particular project is important (i.e. Otherwise your head won't fit through the neckline) then that's a pretty big pro for knits. But if your design has a collar, then you might want to go for the structure that a woven fabric provides.
Will you be wearing that sweater every day while camping & hiking in New Zealand? Then I'd probably go for the comfort of a knit. But if making a coat for your next cold as NYC winter, I would probably go with the durability only a woven fabric can provide.
I might have to take my own advice and draw up my own pro vs. con list for the Dany DIY kits.. I LOVE how both the woven & knit Dany Two Piece turned out. Which do you guys prefer? Will be ordering the fabric for the kits in the next few weeks!