The Difference Between Knit & Woven Fabrics And Why it Matters!

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Today on Happiest Camper we are taking all about fabric! Specifically, we are going to talk about The Difference Between Knit & Woven Fabrics And Why it Matters! Fabrics are one of the most important aspects of sewing. They determine how a project will look and feel, as well as how it is constructed. As a result, it’s critical to understand the difference between knit fabric vs woven fabric, why knit fabrics might be better for certain projects than woven (or vice versa), and how to tell knit from woven fabrics so that you can choose the right one for your needs! One of the most important considerations when choosing fabric is selecting knit vs. woven material. Knit fabrics are made up of loops and knit one on top of the other, whereas woven fabrics are created by a loom with threads running parallel to each other.  But if you’re not in the factory making the fabric, how do you tell? And, moreover, how is it important? Let’s break it down so that you know which fabric to select for your next favorite easy sewing project!

I often get asked: What makes something knit? What makes something weave? How do I know whether my project needs a knit or woven fabric? Which type of fabric should I use for a top, skirt, dress, etc.? There’s so much to consider, it’s honestly hard to quantify. But basically, the key characteristic for understanding the difference between knit and woven fabrics comes down to how stretchy they are. As a good rule of thumb, knits are best used in tops while weaves can be more versatile. However there’s more to it than just that, so you can plan your project with the fabric in mind and choose the right pattern accordingly. Let’s dig a little deeper and get into more of the details.

The Difference Between Knit & Woven Fabrics And Why it Matters!

The Difference Between Knit & Woven Fabrics And Why it Matters!

To understand the difference between knit and woven fabrics and why it matters, we must first be familiar with each kind of fabric. Let’s start with Knit Fabric. Knit fabric is made by interlocking loops of yarn, either in a circle or as weft and warp.

What is ‘Warp and Weft’?

Warp: The lengthwise threads on a loom that extend from the top to bottom of your project.

Weft: The crosswise thread running back and forth across the warp.

Why does this matter?

Knit fabrics are typically very flexible because they have give across the width of the material but not much strength or body; this can be an advantage for some projects! Some examples of knit garments include sweaters, baby clothes, t-shirts, etc., while knit bags without seams would also fall under knit fabric types since they lack side seams giving them extra flexibility.

Because knit fabrics are made up of loops, the fabric is stretchy. This makes it ideal for projects such as t-shirts and yoga pants because they can move with you, rather than being restrictive! Knitted fabrics also tend to be thin and lightweight (although knit patterns can create a bulkier overall look), which means that knit clothing tends towards more comfortable wear in both summertime heat or winter sweaters. However knit garments do have some limitations; if something needs to hold its shape despite movement, then this may not be the best choice. If you’re not interested in sewing your own clothes from knit fabric, try using it to make pillows or stuffed animals where softness and flexibility is key!

Knit fabrics tend to be more forgiving than woven patterns. This makes knit a good choice for beginners and those who are new to garment construction or crafts like sewing, embroidery, cross-stitch…

Knit fabrics generally have a much better drape so things like scarves or shawls could work really well. Knit fabrics are perfect for these types of items as well, because their thickness makes them warm while also giving them a thicker look without all the bulk. This means something like a simple scarf can have an extra level of style when made out of knit material!

Some of my favorite projects for using knit fabric are:

  • socks
  • hats
  • knit pillows/toys with soft stuffing (like amigurumi toys)
  • garments like dresses or shirts (which need side seams)
  • dish cloths & washcloths (dish towels would be too thick when knit into shape)
  • scarves and other items meant to drape nicely around your neck/shoulders
  • Sweaters and pullovers

What Is Woven Fabric?

To answer the difference between knit and woven fabrics and why it matters, we need to look at woven fabrics. Woven fabrics, on the other hand, are much more restrictive in their design and uses. Woven fabric is made by interlacing two sets of yarns at right angles to form a cloth that has strength and lengthwise stretchability but very little widthwise flexibility or “give.” Because woven fabric does not have any give across its width, it’s important to keep this property in mind when planning your project!

Why Does it Matter?

Woven fabric is great for pieces with lots of volume (like skirts) because it won’t sag over time like knit can. This means that if you’re making something with lots of volume (like a skirt) knit might not be the best choice because of the weight pulling down on it will cause wrinkles to appear over time, like the “sagging knee” look. On the other hand, woven fabric would allow extra room for movement without putting too much strain on the fabric around your waistline which helps reduce wrinkling! Woven fabrics can also be comfortable, as long as there’s enough give at key points where stress occurs.

Woven fabrics tend to be stiffer than knit, which means that patterns with seams (like bags) might not work as well in this type of fabric because they will add stiffness where you would otherwise need flexibility.

Woven fabrics are stiffer than knit fabrics and can have a variety of different looks depending on the weave; this makes them perfect for certain types of projects – woven dresses will look smoother while knit sweaters will be thicker & warmer!

Some examples of my favorite projects you can make from woven fabric:

  • skirts and pants (formal/business pants look stunning when made from woven fabrics)
  • bags without side seams (which would otherwise be weak points in the knit fabric)
  • garments with seams (since they will be stiffer, this is a good choice for more structured jackets or blazers – especially if you want formality) 

What are Nonwoven Fabrics?

So now that we have broken down the difference between knit and woven fabrics and why it matters, we need to address a third type of fabric that comes up at times, though not as often as knit vs. woven: nonwoven fabrics. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, but I wanted to point out this type, just so you know there is a third option out there.

Nonwoven fabrics are made by bonding and/or trapping randomly arranged fibers. These fibers can be natural (cotton, flax, wool) or synthetic – as with most knit and woven fabrics.

Nonwoven fabrics are generally used in place of knit/weave materials where the physical properties of knit/weave construction cannot meet specific requirements (i.e. strength, barrier protection etc.). The two main characteristics that distinguish non-woven textiles from other weaves is their ability to form three-dimensional fabric structures without weaving or knitting equipment; and secondly they do not have a discernible grain direction like knits & wovens.

There are many different types of nonwoven fabrics including airlaid paper/boards, needle-punched webs, spunbed webs, meltblown web, etc.

So, What Does This All Come Down To?

The reason you want to learn the difference between knit and woven fabrics and why it matters, is because picking the right fabric can make or break at project. Fabric can stretch in both knit (more) and woven fabrics (less) but the type of knit or weave pattern that is used will determine how much.  Knit fabric has less resistance to stretching compared to a woven fabric because it stretches in all directions while weaving restricts movement, especially vertical stretch.  This means knit fabric is very flexible and supple, making garments comfortable to wear. However, knit fabric tends to have more problems with “bagginess” due to its ability for vertical expansion where as woven fabric does not expand vertically which helps prevent this problem from occurring.

How to tell if a fabric is knit or woven:

If you’re not sure whether something is knit or woven check out some of these factors: 

  • Weight
  • Drape vs stiff feeling
  • Stitching pattern 

Another easy way to tell is simply making a small snip in your fabric and looking at what happens! If there’s no fray then you likely have knit fabric on your hands. However, this may not be the best way, because the differences between knit and woven fabrics can really affect which types of patterns will work best for each type. So, let’s get more precise.

Knit fabrics will usually have an obvious “right side” (the smooth side) and a rougher “wrong side.” While woven fabrics can be the same on both sides or have the obvious “right side” and “wrong side”.

But there are more ways to tell which is which:

  • Knit fabric has a ribbed texture
  • Some knit fabrics are obviously stretchy, like tights or socks!
  • Woven fabric will only stretch in one direction
  • Knit fabric is soft and drapey, whereas woven fabrics are stiffer
  • Knit fabrics will be lighter than their equivalent in a woven fabric 
  • Knit fabric is more breathable and can feel very soft

The differences between knit and woven fabrics are important considerations when choosing the best type of pattern for a project.  You can generally tell at a glance whether something is knit or woven just by looking at its texture; knits will always look ribbed while woven will be consistent.

Is Cotton Woven or Knit?

Cotton is a knit fabric, which means it will stretch in both directions.  It also has a soft drapey feel and can be made into many different weights fabrics.  If something seems too stiff for knit but not as “crisp” looking to be woven cotton may very well still be knit!  Other factors like the stitching pattern might help you figure out whether your fabric is knit or woven.

Are T-Shirts Woven or Knit?

T-shirts are generally made as a knit fabric, while dress-shirts are typically made from a woven fabric. A knit shirt can stretch in all directions so it will fit and feel more form-fitting than a woven shirt, which has limited elasticity; which is why t-shirts are generally more comfortable.

Is Fleece Knit or Woven?

Fleece is knit fabric, which means it will stretch in both directions. To get the plush feel, one side is brushed to loosen the fibers and get a nap.  Fleece is typically knit with a jersey knit pattern.

Is Silk Woven or Knit?

Silk is a knit fabric but can vary from lightweight to very heavy depending on the type of silk.  It also has a soft drapey feel and can be made into many different weights of knit fabrics. 

Are Denim Jeans Woven or Knit?

When it comes to jeans, both knit and woven fabric is used but the term “denims” usually refers to a type of denim that has gone through an extra process after being woven into cloth. It will depend on the piece whether or not the starting fabric was knit or woven and generally the best way to tell is the level of stretch.

There are advantages to both knit fabrics & woven fabrics — but knowing what your project needs will help you determine your best choice! Who knew that fabric types were so important when deciding what projects would work best out of each type?! It’s definitely worth considering which project works best out of knit vs woven fabrics! 

Knit vs Woven Fabric For Sewing Projects

If you liked learning the difference between knit and woven fabrics and why it matters, make sure to pin it to your favorite Pinterest board or share it with friends on social media. If you decide to make this simple project on your own, make certain that you take a picture afterward and tag us on social media as we love seeing the fabrics and color choices that people use!

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