Know Your Knits
All knits stretch to a greater or lesser degree, and this inherent give makes these fabrics comfortable, helps with fit, and is a big reason for choosing a knit over a woven. While the degree of stretch varies from one type of knit to another, the fabrics in a given category do not always stretch consistently. For example, a double-knit, known for its stability, can sometimes have more crosswise stretch than usual and not be stable enough for a given project. Hence, it's imperative to assess the inherent stretch in a particular knit in order to make a good match between fabric and pattern. Always test-stretch a knit in the store (here's where your fingers get into the act). Here's how I do it:
Since the greatest amount of stretch is usually in the crossgrain, I check this first. To assess the amount of stretch in the crossgrain, I grasp a single layer of the fabric between my left thumb and forefinger, then hold the fabric in the same way with my right hand about 4 in. away on the crossgrain. I put my hands and the fabric down on a ruler with my left hand at zero and start gently pulling the fabric along the ruler with my right hand. I stop pulling just at the point that I have to exert any effort (if I have to grip the fabric in my left hand more tightly, I know I'm over-stretching). By doing the test two or three times with the same knit, I get a feel for the fabric's inherent stretch. Then I can either use a pattern designed for a knit with that amount of stretch or alter my pattern.
Altering patterns for knits
Select your fabric and determine its stretch, as explained above, before trying to alter your pattern, since the alteration will depend on the fabric's stretch. Below are some general rules for altering patterns for knits:
• If the fabric has no stretch, as with a firm jersey or rugby-type knit, pattern alterations are usually unnecessary.
• The following are good starting points for alteration: If the fabric has only a little stretch (1/2 in.), take a total of 1/4 in. out of the pattern at both center front (CF) and center back (CB). If it has moderate stretch (1 in.), take a total of 1/2 in. out at both CF and CB. if it has generous stretch (2 in.), take a total of 1 in. out at both CF and CB. Any additional fitting adjustments can usually be made at the side seams or darts/princess seams.
• Always make a muslin to fine-tune the necessary fitting adjustments, using an inexpensive knit fabric with similar stretch to that of your fashion fabric.
Warp knits vs. weft knits
Warp knits, which generally have a flat, smooth surface (though they can also be made with a pile), have little or no vertical stretch and varying degrees of crosswise stretch. Produced in a large variety of weights in a wide range of fiber types, warp knits are run-resistant and don't ravel.
With a few exceptions, weft knits have moderate to great amounts of crosswise stretch and some lengthwise stretch (some jerseys, however, have little or no crosswise or lengthwise stretch). On many weft knits, the edges may curl. As with warp knits, weft knits are made from many different fibers and come in many weights. If a stitch in a weft knit is broken, the fabric will tend to run, but a weft knit ravels only from the yarn end knitted last.
Lots of knits (as well as wovens) are now being produced with the addition of spandex fiber to add stretch to the fabric. Garments made from fabrics with spandex can be comfortably fitted closer to the body. Although spandex imparts increased stretch and give to knits, it's the ability to "recover" (or bounce back to its original state) that spandex adds that's prized by manufacturers and sewers alike, since the resulting garments retain their shape.
Now that you know some of the basic facts about knit fabrics, take a look at a few of common types of readily available knits in the samplings photos. Look for some of these knits in your fabric store, and try them out. As you gain a solid background of knit fabric facts through direct experimentation, you'll relish sewing with these remarkable fabrics.
Continue to: Samplings of Weft Knit and Warp Knit Fabrics
Photos: Sloan Howard; illustrations: Glee Barre
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