What’s a Stable Knit Fabric?

Thanks for all of the suggestions on Monday’s post, asking what kind of things you’d like to see as I sew more Renfrew Tops. So many good ideas! So many things to note as I sew, recommendations to explain why certain things are done, and votes to find out more about fabric selection. While I may not be able to cover everything you’ve asked for, I will do my best to provide useful, helpful and thorough sewing posts to guide you in making the Renfrew Top. Sewing posts are going to be rolled out at a fairly slow pace as I’m working on a couple different things at once here, but once it’s all posted there will be plenty of good information to reference any time you want to sew a Renfrew. And I will definitely explain many of the ‘whys’ with this pattern to help you make the best choices for your own project.

So on that note, let’s talk about fabric!

On the back of the Renfrew Top pattern, the recommended fabric is a Stable Knit Fabric. As opposed to any old knit fabric, a stable knit fabric will work better with the self-fabric bands at the cuff and hem, and create a nicer looking neckline band.

So, what’s a stable knit fabric?

This is one of those concepts that has me waving my hands in the air, trying to gesture and explain how this fabric feels. It’s hard to put into words exactly, but I’m going to try. Here are some of the factors to consider when it comes to choosing a good fabric for the Renfrew Top.

Stretch

Stretch is important and necessary when it comes to sewing a pattern designed for knit fabrics! You’ll need to have some stretch to your fabric in order to make the Renfrew Top. However, a fabric with a lot of stretch and not a lot of recovery (which we’ll talk about in a minute) may end up growing, getting larger as you wear the garment, or stretching out permanently. You want a fabric with a little bit of stretch, but it doesn’t have to be super stretchy. Think of it this way – double knits are hardly stretchy at all but they’ll work great for this pattern. Bathing suit fabric is very, very stretchy and because it has good recovery, you could use it for this pattern. (But you probably don’t want to wear a tee shirt made of swimsuit material.) Something like a bamboo-rayon knit, very light and drapey with a lot of stretch, isn’t going to be the easiest to work with. Which brings me to the next point..

Weight

A fabric with a little more weight to it is going to work better for the Renfrew Top. Something like a cotton-spandex knit usually has a bit more thickness to it and feels sort of spongy and stretchy. (I hope that makes sense!) A double knit fabric is slightly thick and works well. A super light tissue-weight knit is going to be so light that the bands weigh it down, and you’ll notice the double layer of fabric as it will look very different from the main body fabric where it’s only a single layer. Medium weight knits are best, and light weight knits are all right as long as they don’t stretch out of shape, which leads right into the next point.

Recovery

Recovery is what happens when you stretch your fabric. Does it return to its original dimensions, or does it stay stretched out slightly? Is it now just a little bit wider than it was before? Has the fabric stayed permanently as wide as when you first stretched it? If it ‘recovers’ to the original size, or very close to the original size, then it has good recovery. Personally, I like all of my knit fabrics to have good recovery. I want them to return back to their original dimensions if I move or stretch. (Who’s ever had a knit top with saggy elbows, that get saggier as the day goes on? I know I have!) So if your fabric is very stretchy, it’s important for it to have good recovery for this top.

The more fabrics you touch, handle and sew, the more you’ll be comfortable choosing fabrics for patterns based on your own preferences. I tend to prefer substantial knit fabrics personally, so I’ll be looking for cotton/spandex knits, double-knits and anything else that feels thick enough for my liking. I like how thin knits look on models and mannequins but I dislike knit fabrics that pill quickly, so I avoid very light and very soft knits.

Look for keywords

What if you’re buying online, and can’t touch the fabric? What if my notes above are still confusing? Look for keywords that will help you find this type of fabric. Double knit, “hefty knit,” “beefy” and interlock are good words to note. Choose ‘midweight’ as opposed to ‘featherweight.’ Gorgeous Fabrics (link goes direct to the knits section) has great fabric descriptions and even links to patterns that might work well with the fabric, giving you an idea of what this fabric feels like in real life. Many places will let you order a swatch to feel the fabric first. This one from Hart’s Fabric looks exactly like the fabric I used on my striped Renfrew samples. (Hart’s has a great selection of knit fabrics as well.)

What if we use a different kind of knit fabric?

Well, then you’d end up with a slightly different result. That might not be a bad thing! Maybe you really like thin, tissue-like tee shirts and prefer a drapier, softer look. Maybe you have the softest bamboo-rayon knit that you’re dying to make into a cosy long sleeve tee. Fabric recommendations are there to guide you, but they’re not hard and fast rules. With a pattern that’s this easy to sew up, it’s a good time to try out different fabrics and find out what works for you!

Here are more blog posts about the Renfrew Top. (Get the pattern here.)

What do you think? Have you made the Renfrew Top and what fabric did you use? What words would you use to describe a stable, not-too-stretchy, not-too-slinky knit fabric?

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34 Responses to What’s a Stable Knit Fabric?

  1. LLBB September 19, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    Fantastic post, Tasia; thank you!

    • Tasia September 19, 2012 at 9:40 am #

      You’re welcome, I’m so glad it was useful!

  2. Seraphinalina September 19, 2012 at 8:29 am #

    I’ve made 3 for myself and one as a gift, all with the cowl view. I am probably most happy with my black double knit version. The recovery is good, the black has stayed true through multiple washings and the fabric breathes so I wear it all year (short sleeves). However I cut the arm bands on the wrong angle and they feel a little snug at times, not uncomfortable but snug.

    The other two are three quarter sleeves, I like the way they look on me best. They are both stretchier than the double knit with good recovery and they cling to me without showing every lump. I think that’s another factor of looking for something hefty, a clingy thin fabric is not going to skim the same way. One looks like blue/white/brown bricks and there is some tromp l’oiel going on there that make me look really curvy. My purple/grey/black is my favourite because of the colours. My problems with the last two is the fabric is polyester and doesn’t breathe. Let’s just say they are not for warmer days.

    • Tasia September 19, 2012 at 9:40 am #

      I totally agree, the hefty knit fabrics are going to cling less and create a more flattering silhouette. That’s what I prefer in knit tops, ones where you can’t see my bra outline through the back and can’t tell if I just ate a big lunch :) A black double-knit version sounds like the perfect wardrobe basic! Thanks for the feedback!

  3. auzzi September 19, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    Thanks for this post! It helped to demystify knits, which I have been curious about but too scared to sew with. A couple of questions: will doubleknit fabric at the fabric store actually say “doubleknit”? Also, what exactly is PONTE knit? Does it count as a real knit? Also, because I know you live in Vancouver, at Dressew this summer I saw a ton of paper thin bamboo (I think) knit fabric in a million colours from Télio…. they were gorgeous and soft and luxurious…. what would you use these fabrics for? At $16 a metre, is it worth it?

    • Tasia September 19, 2012 at 9:37 am #

      Sometimes it will actually say doubleknit, sometimes not. Ponte knit is the same thing I believe! It’s a real knit, it will be less stretchy and very stable. You’ll see ready-to-wear clothing in ponte knits where it’s been treated like a woven fabric, with zippers and whatnot and princess seams. You can work with it either way.

      Paper-thin bamboo knit.. it’s so not my type of fabric. It would be lovely in thin, loose tee shirts, or drapey tanks, or tunic-style dresses or draped tops. (None of these are the sort of items I enjoy wearing, I like a little more substance in my garments. Personal preference of course!) With a super-light knit you want to handle it carefully, watch for snags and don’t sew with rings or jewelry on, and choose looser-fitting styles to reduce pilling. (Fitted = arms rubbing against the body more often = more pilling.)

      Hope this all makes sense! :)

    • Alice September 19, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      I know just the fabrics you’re thinking of auzzi… the modal knits. I made a t-shirt out of one of them, and it is quite clingy. I love fine knits, but this was uniquely clingy, in a not-entirely-flattering way. I’d personally save the modal knits for looser fitting knit garments (Dixie DIY’s concert tee?), or one probably with ruching and folds, where you want a lot of drape. Unless you have the body of a supermodel. (Which I don’t!)

      Another thing about those particular modal knits – they scorch like mad. They’re beautiful fabrics, but a bit tempermental.

  4. Norma September 19, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    Hi Tasia,

    One idea to make the concept of “stable knit” clear is to specifically define the percentage of stretch (or give) and the fabric weight for which the pattern was written. Just an idea!

    Of course this comes from the perspective of a bra maker where each pattern is created for a specific fabric.

    Regards,
    Norma

    P.S. I am on the quest for the perfect T Shirt and I think these look great!

    • Tasia September 19, 2012 at 10:31 am #

      Thanks for the suggestion! I know, I didn’t want to be too limiting as everyone likes their tees to fit and feel different. Not everyone is going to like the beefy, thick knits that I prefer. Plus a lot of people say they have a hard time finding knit fabrics they like, and I didn’t want them to not be able to use the pattern! There’s a stretch guide on the back of the pattern to show the stretch it needs to have, but I felt like adding ‘stable’ was a good word. (Turns out it was somewhat of a confusing word and perhaps I might have been better to leave it open to all knit fabric, plus the stretch guide.)

      ps. I checked out your website, your work is beautiful!

      • Norma September 20, 2012 at 7:47 am #

        I understand your approach and I think it makes sense. Everyone has different preferences and there is some definitely some fabric latitude when it comes to fabrics for T-Shirts.

        Thanks for checking out my site :)

  5. Funnygrrl September 19, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    Ugh. I just bought some soft bamboo knit for a Renfrew!
    I will rethink as I don’t want to hate my first Renfrew.
    Thanks for the post.

    • Tasia September 19, 2012 at 11:00 am #

      Oh no! You might like it, don’t let me totally turn you off from using it. If you like softer, clingier tees, it might be just the thing. Perhaps the best thing to do is to pick an easier fabric for your first one and save the soft knit for a second try?

      Anyone out there used soft bamboo knit for the Renfrew and loved the result? Let us know! :)

  6. kata September 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    This is really helpful. I was wondering how to describe knits that one can embroider by hand, or that “support” hand-embroidery – and this is pretty much it.

    • Tasia September 19, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

      Ah, that makes sense! You’d have an easy time embroidering on doubleknit or ponte, but a challenging time embroidering on featherweight, sheer tissue knits. Glad it was helpful!

  7. Leuinda September 19, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    Is there such a thing as an unstable knit? What would fall into this category?
    Thanks!
    Leu

    • Tasia September 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

      I would say one that does the opposite of the things listed above – stretches out and doesn’t return to its original shape, is extremely drapey or slinky, like a slinky polyester jersey or a thin tissue knit. Basically, anything that can be distorted easily and changes shape as you work with the fabric. Stable to me means – will it stay where I cut it? Will it remain fairly close to the original shape & dimensions as I construct the garment?

      I hope this helps! I feel that stable describes well-behaved fabrics, unstable means unpredictable and fussy.

  8. Corinne September 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    Great information Tasia. As a side note, I have used the very thin and fragile knits as a double layer. You get the drape of the finer knit but the second layer adds some weight and limits that dreaded cling that such knits tend to produce. I just cut two layers, secure the layers with a basting stitch and treat as one. Unfortunately, this does double the cost. I have tried to mix a less expensive with the good stuff, but not the best result.

    • Tasia September 19, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

      That’s a good idea! Double the cost, you’re right, but then you get the softness without the sheerness. It would look pretty too if the layers separate and drape as you wear the top, you get the layered look in a single garment.

  9. Catholic Bibliophagist September 19, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Thanks for a very helpful post — especially the tips for those of us who have to shop online.

    –C.B.

  10. Inna September 19, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

    Thanks for posting about knits! Lately, I’ve been sewing more and more with knits which open endless possibilities in front of me.

  11. Bridget D September 19, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

    This is very informative for someone who has no idea about fabrics and is learning (i.e. me)! Thanks I now have a much better idea of sewing with knits!

  12. Maire September 19, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

    I think I know what you mean. I have a pair of leggings that are great out of the wash, but end up with that baggy knee thing after a few paces! Ugh. I need to head down to the fabric store (even though I’m a little intimidated as a new sewer/seamstress, in awe of the pretty fabric but still intimidated) and start checking out fabric….perhaps in a knitted top I already own to compare, contrast and decide. Have had the pattern a wee while and need to just take the plunge and make!

  13. Agneta Olofsson September 20, 2012 at 12:39 am #

    I’ve made 4 Renfrew tops already and I’ll probably make one or two more when winter starts coming along. They’re really great and comfortable. Last one I made of a “knitted” fabric (how can I describe it, a bit thicker with a knitted structure but not knit as in knit fabric for example 95% cotton and 5% lycra, the one I used had 100% cotton but still stretchy as it was knitted that way). Hope you understand what I mean. haha.

    /Agneta

  14. Keren September 20, 2012 at 5:39 am #

    I’ve been looking for medium/heavy knit fabrics for a while now, but the stores mostly sell the tissue-like “weak” fabric, which I ended up buying due to lack of choice and regretting using!

    I think you described it very well. I would also say that a fabric that is too flimsy can be recognized by being so thin and stretchy, that it will stretch downwards even on the “grain” just due to gravity. It reminds me of bubble gum.

    Also, putting my hand underneath the fabric, I can tell how thick it is by how much “detail” (shape) of my hand I can make out…

    Good thing it’s winter – hopefully there will be more readily available suitable knits at the shops.

  15. Jill September 20, 2012 at 5:54 am #

    Can anyone offer insight into the types of stitches to use with different knits? I think I’ve read that most knits require a zig zag stitch, with the exception of double knits, which require a straight stitch. Unfortunately I can’t remember where I read this to go back and confirm it.

  16. DanaC September 22, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    Also when selecting a knit stretch the edge by pulling it put you fingers about two inches apart and stretch -pull the fabric and if it just bounces back normally it a good knit. If it stays stretched I stay clear of that knit. DanaC

  17. Stephanie September 24, 2012 at 4:12 am #

    This was a great post! Thanks you!

  18. Camilla November 1, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    I made then Renfrew top in a sewing class today. I made it with a very delicate and slick rayon fabric on a serger. As a beginner I made mistake after mistake and your advice to stay away from thin knits has a lot of merit. However, after finishing the top it fit like a glove. I couldn’t believe how well it draped and it got a very flattering look. Amazing pattern Tasia! Up next is the halter top dress.

  19. Virginia March 7, 2013 at 4:42 am #

    You said people probably wouldn’t want a T-shirt made of bathing suit fabric but that seems like the perfect project for a body conscious swimmer. Most pools won’t let you wear a cotton top and bathing suits can feel very revealing if you’re worried about your weight or have scars.

    I might have a go at making one and make a point to start going swimming again. It would do me some good. :-)

  20. Sarah December 2, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    If you are buying in person or already have the fabric in stash, you can drape it on yourself (that sounds fancy – I mean just wrap it round you in the direction and tightness that approximates your sewing intentions) to get an idea of how it will look.

    If you are at home you can put on whatever you plan to wear under it (bra, cami, nothing!). In a shop you’ll just have to do it over your top :-)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Minimum Blogable Unit | Tanit-Isis Sews - September 26, 2012

    […] sale I went to, and while it curls rather annoyingly, it’s otherwise a nice sturdy, stable knit. Syo is currently in rebellion against real pants, so I think these will be a really useful […]

  2. renfrewaholic | moonthirty - October 21, 2012

    […] weight with 4% lycra, falling decidedly into the stable knit category that Tasia describes so well here. I like this top a lot and have worn it a few times already, but of course, after sewing it, I made […]

  3. instability | moonthirty - May 3, 2013

    […] I recently finished a project that I’ll be sharing soon, and as I was doing a debrief of it in my mind, one of the things I decided was that it was in that category of “better suited for stable knits.” I find myself declaring that often — this or that pattern is best for stable knits. Even if a pattern wasn’t necessarily designed for stables, if it’s fairly fitted, personally I’d want something a bit less clingy.  And in light of my penchant for using knits on patterns designed for wovens, fuhgeddaboudit — definitely stable knit territory. For more on what defines a stable knit, Tasia has a great post here. […]

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