At first glance, the fabric seems like a simple topic. The truth is that there’s a lot more than what meets the eye. Knitted fabrics are one of the two main types of textiles – the other being wovens. Combine these with all the fiber choices out there, and hundreds of fabric compositions are available. So, what are the different types of knitted fabric?
Two main categories of knit fabrics are weft knit and warp knit. Within these two categories fall many subcategories of slightly different knits. Single – such as jersey knit, and double – such as rib knit – are examples of weft knitting. Tricot and raschel are the main types of warp knits.
In this article, we will go over what a knit fabric is, followed by detailed explanations of 16 different types of knit fabrics. Finally, we will discuss some of these fabrics’ best and most common uses.
What is Knit Fabric?
Knit fabric is a textile created by knitting – the process of interloping yarn together in repeating rows. The knitting process produces a stretchy and pliable fabric, as opposed to its counterpart – wovens. Woven fabrics are created by weaving threads over and under each other and produce materials that are, for the most part, much less stretchy.
Often, knitting is thought of as the traditional method of using knitting needles by hand to create sweaters, socks and hats. Knit fabrics are not too far from this, technically, though most knit fabrics on the market today are created similarly but by machine.
Knitting by hand can be a slow process – even for the most experienced knitters. Knitting machines – on the other hand, are built for speed and mass production.
Categories of Knit Fabrics
There are two categories of knit fabrics – weft knits and warp knits. All of the subcategories of knit fabrics will fall under the umbrella of one of these two types. Both types of knitting can be done with just about any sort of fiber you can imagine – though each type may favor certain fibers over others. Weft and warp knit fabrics are covered below.
Weft knitting refers to knitting that is done across the grain – horizontally, side-to-side. Weft knitting can also be done in a loop. Weft knitting fabrics include two main types – single and double knits – both types are commonly found.
Some examples of a single knit include jersey – the most popular of all knit fabrics – pointelle and sweater knits – of which there are a wide variety. A couple of the most common double-knit fabrics are interlock and rib knits. Weft knit fabrics are generally very elastic and stretchy. These are versatile materials that can produce a wide variety of end products that are comfortable to wear.
Weft knitting also includes all knitting that is done by hand. Hand knitting generally requires a much thicker yarn than that which is required by a machine. It’s impossible to create those fine gauge or delicate fabrics that a machine can put out.
The speed factor is also unbeatable. A machine can produce a bolt of knit fabric in far less time than any knitter’s hands. That being said, machine–made fabric is no comparison to a one-of-a-kind hand-knitted item. So, it’s safe to say that each has its place.
Warp knitting – on the other hand, is done with threads or yarns that run vertically, up and down. This type of knitting can only be produced by machine and can produce very fine-scale fabrics using super thin threads. The two main types of warp knit fabrics are tricot and raschel.
To put it simply – tricot fabric is a plain warp knit, generally smooth on one side – with fine ribs running lengthwise – with a slight texture on the other, where the threads run horizontally.
Raschel fabric is an open-construction knit that produces a lace-like pattern. Generally, textured areas will be outlined with heavier yarns held in place by finer threads and more open areas of simpler mesh.
16 Different Types of Knit Fabrics
Although there are only two categories of knit fabrics – weft and warp knits – the variety of subtly different fabrics they can produce is innumerous. Beyond these differing types of knits, each can be done in many different fibers, creating totally different looks and feels. Below we will go over 16 different types of knit fabrics, what characterizes their differences, and what the best or most common uses are for each type.
1. Jersey KnitJersey is the most common type of knit fabric – and you better believe there are multiple subtypes under this category.
Jersey knit is created by a single needle and may be referred to as plain or single-knit fabric. Jersey knit is created by knit and purl stitches, creating a distinct front and backside. The front side will be characterized by vertical rows of stitches that look like small ‘Vs,’ while the purl stitches on the back will look more like loops or waves.
Jersey knit is the fabric used for making most of t-shirts in the world. It is a soft, comfortable, classic material. Jersey tends to drape well, so it is a popular choice for casual dresses and other comfortable loungewear.
Jersey is considered to be a lightweight fabric. It is most commonly found in cotton – though it can be found in just about any other fiber – natural and synthetic alike. Jersey has a moderate amount of stretch – unless combined with another super stretchy material – such as spandex – which would make it super stretchy. One downside to working with jersey knit is that its edges curl easily and extremely when cut – another distinct characteristic of the fabric.
2. Purl Knit
Purl knit is created through alternating purl and knit stitches. It has alternating courses and can only be knit with a double-ended latch needle. The looping pattern characteristic of a purl stitch is visible identically on both sides of the fabric.
Purl knits are stretchier lengthwise than vertically. They can be produced from many different types of fibers but are often found in cotton, wool and acrylic. This type of knit fabric is widely used for sweaters and cardigans, as well as for children’s clothes.
3. Double KnitDouble knits are fabrics with two layers of fabric that are knit together. They are heavier than their single-knit counterparts – such as jersey – and they hold their shape well. Double-knit fabric tends to be less stretchy – which contributes to its overall stability and makes them a suitable substitution for woven fabrics in some cases.
Double knits can be stitched or knitted together; sometimes, the two layers of knit fabric can also be fused. These fabrics do not unravel easily and are also resistant to wrinkling. Their thick, sturdy construction makes them a great material for outerwear, dresses and skirts – anything that could use a little structure to hold it up.
4. Rib Stitch KnitRib knit is another widely used type of fabric that is characterized by its raised vertical wales. Rib knits can be created by hand as well as by machine. When done by machine, two needles are used to produce the material. Rib knits are created by knitting alternating rows of knit and purl stitches.
Ribs can appear in different widths – depending on how many repeating rows of each, knit or purl, stitch there are. A 1×1 rib is a pattern created by alternating one row of each knit and purl stitch. A 2×2 rib is created by knitting two rows, followed by purling two rows, and so on – creating increasingly larger ribs.
Rib knit fabrics are extremely stretchy crosswise but are at the same time close fitting. They are the perfect material for collars, cuffs, waists for coats and outerwear, turtlenecks, bottom edges, cuffs and necklines for sweaters.
Rib knits can be done in any sort of fiber. Due to being double knit, they tend to be heavier in weight – and because of their pattern, they are very similar on both sides when finished. Rib knits have more texture and a less smooth surface.
5. Interlock Stitch KnitInterlock is generally categorized as a variation on the rib knit stitch. It is similar visually to jersey knit – though as a double knit fabric, it is thicker and of a heavier weight.
Another differentiating factor is that it is identical on both sides. Interlock stitch knit is less stretchy lengthwise than crosswise – overall, it is less stretchy than jersey. The thicker double construction also creates a stable, more firm fabric that holds seams well. Interlock knit is the classic fabric choice for polo-type shirts.
6. Tricot KnitTricot knit is one of the two types of warp knit fabrics. It is a plain knit – meaning there is no real pattern or heavy texture produced in its making – that is smooth to the touch. Often tricot can be found as a slightly sheer material – though opaque tricot fabric is also widely available.
Tricot is often produced from natural fibers such as cotton, wool or silk. However, it is not uncommon for it to be knit from blends or synthetics – such as rayon and nylon – as well. The characteristics of tricot fabric have fine wales running vertically on its front-facing side and fine wales that run horizontally on the back, creating a smooth surface and a slightly textured backside.
Tricot knit fabric is very sturdy – which is why it is often used as a lining for items such as luggage and jewelry boxes. It is durable and tends to hold its shape well. For these reasons, it is also widely used for undergarments – especially women’s underwear and lingerie – swimwear, pantyhose, and athletic wear. Tricot is supportive, form-fitting and breathable – creating garments and undergarments that are comfortable and that will hold their shape for long periods of use.
7. Raschel KnitRaschel knit is the other type of warp knit fabric, an openwork knit that can be created only by machine. Raschel knits have mesh, net and lace-like characteristics – some quite simple and others intricate and ornate. Raschel fabrics are soft and drape relatively well.
The simple net and mesh types of raschel knit are used mainly for athletic and sportswear. Garments that require a soft structural element – such as veils and the tulle underlayers of dresses and gowns – also utilize raschel knits. Also, more intricate lace-patterned raschel fabrics are often used for lingerie.
8. Cable KnitCable knit is another type of double-knit fabric that can be done by hand or machine. It has a pattern of decorative twists, braids, and cord-like columns running along the vertical wales.
There are a variety of different patterns that can be done – using just one type of cable throughout or alternating different varieties on the same fabric. Cable knits are thicker in general, though the size of the cables themselves can vary and depend on the weight of the yarn. Cable knits are most often found on sweaters and cardigans of all sorts and can be knit from any type of fiber.
9. Birdseye KnitBirdseye is another knit where a textural pattern is knitted into the fabric. The pattern is of small, repetitive diamonds with an indentation in each center – thought to resemble a bird’s eye.
Originally, birdseye knit was constructed of cotton or linen, though it is possible to find different blends today.
This subtle all-over patterned fabric is typically found on men’s suits – especially those made for summer, as this knit tends to be breathable and lightweight.
10. Pointelle KnitPointelle is a lightweight knit fabric that contains subtle openwork patterns throughout – usually in simple geometric patterns. Pointelle is most often knit from cotton fibers, though wool is used regularly.
Pointelle boasts a delicate looking fabric with a good amount of stretch and drapes nicely. This versatile knit is popular for making tops but can be used for all types of apparel – especially if you want to add a subtle yet eye-catching element to the garment.
11. Intarsia Knit
Intarsia knit fabric is a single knit that uses a technique that manipulates multiple colored yarns to create patterns of different colors throughout the material. The patterns and number of colors used can vary widely – the patterning will be the same on both the front and back sides. This is one of the differentiating factors when compared to other types of multi-colored knitting – such as fair isle and other stranded color work.
The patterns found in intarsia knitting can be simple or complicated but often include large features such as stripes, bold geometric designs, solid-colored fruits, and many different types of florals. This type of knit is most often used for sweaters and tops.
12. Jacquard KnitJacquard knit is similar to woven jacquard fabric in its textural designs knit into the surface. It is a common product of industrial knitting – though jacquard knits can also be produced by hand.
The designs are often complicated and can be large or fine, as well as done in single or multiple colors. The patterns found on jacquard knit fabric can vary quite a bit, especially when considering the possible combinations of pattern and thread color.
Jacquard knit fabric is quite sturdy and can be a great choice for sweaters, skirts, dresses, jackets, and leggings.
13. Sweater KnitsWhen people talk about sweater knits, they are referring to a category of knit material that is manufactured for the purpose of sewing sweaters.
Sweater knits can vary widely in appearance – from solid colors and simple knitting styles to cables, ribs and exuberant colors and patterns. Sweater knits, for the most part, are meant to resemble the look produced by hand knitting but are themselves produced on a large scale by machine.
Sweater knits can be a fine gauge, medium, or heavyweight and can be found in all varieties of natural and synthetic fibers. Sweater knits are designed to create just what their name implies – sweaters – without having to hand-knit each one.
14. Mesh KnitMesh knits include various materials that are knit with evenly spaced openwork to create a very lightweight, breathable material.
Many commercially produced mesh knits are constructed of man-made materials such as nylon – which provides more stretch – and polyester. These synthetic mesh knits are utilized for products of different professional industries – healthcare, aeronautical, recreational, and automotive.
15. Piled KnitsPiled knits are a category of textile that include some types of fabric that all include cut or looped pile surfaces which stick up from the base of a knit fabric.
The piles can be cut in all different lengths – longer piles creating a deeper nap in the fabric – those cut shorter creating a fuzzier, soft texture.
Terry knit is characterized by its thick, soft texture – from the looped piles all over its surface. Terry knit can come in wide different varieties – including single or double-sided.
The repetitive loops create a super absorbent textile and retains heat well – this is why terry is the main material used for all towels. Most often, terry knit is found in 100% cotton – though less commonly, other materials can also be used to produce terry.
French terry knits are characterized by looping piles on one side of the fabric, whereas the other side will be smooth, soft, and flat. In most cases, French terry will have the flat surface of the fabric on the outside of a garment. Terry fabrics are absorbent – thanks to those extra pile threads and moisture wicking – great for creating lightweight, comfortable tops and bottoms.
Knitted velour is constructed much like terry knits – the difference being that the pile loops are sheared and then brushed instead of left intact. Knit velour can have a surface texture similar to woven velour or velvet, though it will be stretchy, whereas the woven types will be stiff.
Knitted velour can be made from 100% cotton, cotton blends, or 100% synthetic fibers. This type of fabric can be found in the apparel and home industries.
Silver knit is high-pile knitting that adheres long, dense amounts of fibers onto a lightweight knit backing. Silver knits aim is to imitate the look of fur and is always produced by machine.
Silver knitting uses the longest and most dense piles of thin, fine individual fibers. The result can be solid in color or printed to look like any sort of animal fur. This material is most widely used for fake fur coats, jackets, and soft, lush blankets.
Fleece knits are thick, warm and comfortable. This fabric is durable and stretchy, with deep, soft, fuzzy piles. Fleece knits tend to dry pretty quickly, which is another reason they are popular for active and outerwear. Being so soft and warm makes fleece a welcome material for the coziest winter pajamas.
16. Handmade Knits
Handmade knits include any variety of knit made using knitting needles – just like grandma does. Hand knitting can be done in countless styles and produce many sorts of the end product – from chunky sweaters and vests to beanies, gloves and scarves, thick or fine gauge socks, and blankets.
Hand knitting can be done flat with two needles, in circles with specialized needles, or using multiple double-ended needles. There is no end to the variety that hand knitting can produce.
What Are Knit Fabrics Used For?
Knit fabrics come in a wide variety of types – as you can see from the list above – and can be used for just as wide a variety of products. Knit fabrics are used most commonly for every apparel product imaginable; however, they are also widely used in many other industries – commercial and recreational.
Best Knit Fabric For a Dress
The first characteristic of a material that is best for making a dress has a good – or at least decent – the amount of drape. Single-knit fabrics – thinner and tend to have better drape overall – are a good choice for dress-making.
Any jersey knit would be a great choice for a classic and comfortable t-shirt dress. Pointelle – which is delicate and also drapes well – would be another good choice, especially if you want to add a subtle, pretty design.
What is the Softest Knit Fabric?
Knit fabrics can be found in various types and can be made from any type of fiber you can imagine. The softest knit fabric you can find will be produced from the softest fiber – which is widely agreed upon as cashmere.
Cashmere is produced from the soft downy hair of the undercoat of the Kashmir goat. These goats are specific to the region and the process of obtaining and producing them is quite involved – no other type of fiber will compare in softness.
It is easy to see that knit fabrics take up much more space in our lives than we may have originally thought. Knitting is far more than just the sweaters grandma makes. The variety of materials that can be produced from knitting is quite astounding.
Knits can be found in obvious places and more obscure ones – such as the healthcare and aeronautical industries. The fun part about knits is that they can be used in any and every season – my favorite, which just happens to be sweater season.