It’s tempting to pick fabric for your next sewing project based on how the material looks or feels. Appearance and texture can help you select a fabric for sure, but you also need to consider how each type of fabric is made. For example, when you compare knit vs woven fabric, what is the difference?
The main difference between knit and woven fabric is that knit fabric uses a single looped yarn construction, while woven fabric contains a structure of crossed yarns. Knit fabric has a braided, sweater-like look on close examination. Woven fabric displays the over-under pattern of warp and weft yarns.
In this article, you will find out how a knit and a woven fabric gets made. You will learn the key differences between these types of material. Finally, you will discover examples of each type of fabric, as well!
Knit vs Woven Fabric: Key Points
Though all fabric has either a knit or woven construction, these two types of material can have very different characteristics. Check out this chart to get a quick overview of the nine key characteristics of knit and woven materials.
|Knit Fabric||Woven Fabric|
|Stretch||Very stretchy because of the open, interlocked thread structure.||Does not stretch except on the bias.|
|Strength||Can stretch out easily and does not have a lot of strength.||Quite tough because of the over-under weave of crisscrossing thread structure.|
|Durability||Does not fray easily but can pill and stretch out, making it less durable.||Many types of woven fabric have a lot of durability and can withstand many washes without pilling or stretching out.|
|Breathability||Typically much more breathable due to open looped thread structure.||Less breathable than knitted material.|
|Softness||Knit fabric almost always feels soft and flexible.||Depends on the type of material. Some woven fabric feels soft to the touch, but most has a coarse texture than knit mateiral.|
|Comfort||Very comfortable, soft, and form-fitting Often used for clothing that drapes or hugs the body.||Less comfortable and often used in more structured garments.|
|Wrinkle Resistance||Excellent wrinkle resistance and does not easily hold a crease.||Crease easily and not wrinkle-resistant.|
|Ease of Care||Usually washable but can wear out quickly.||Sometimes requires special care but typically lasts a long time without pilling.|
|Common Uses||T-shirts, sweatshirts, sportswear, leggings, socks, underwear, swimsuits.||Shirts, jackets, pants, dresses, skirts.|
What is Knit Fabric?
Knit fabrics use interlocking loops made out of one long yarn to form a smooth, slightly stretchy kind of material. Knit fabric factories use giant knitting machines that employ the same process as hand-held knitting needles, just on a larger scale.
If you look closely at any knit fabric, you will see tiny links of thread that look like many small braids. Under a microscope, these tiny links would look just like the knitted loops of yarn in your favorite sweater!
Technically, knit fabrics can have two slightly different types of construction. Warp-knit fabric has vertical loops, meaning that those tiny braid-like chains run up and down the fabric. Weft-knit fabric has horizontal loops and looks more like the tiny braids that go across the fabric.
Knitting has existed for thousands of years. No one knows its exact origins, but historians have proved that many ancient cultures used a knitting process to make warm clothing!
But the kind of knit fabric you see in t-shirts today has quite recent origins. In 1916, Coco Chanel famously wore a jersey knit pullover. At the time, the knit fabric still had some similarities to more traditional hand-knitted sweaters and was typically made out of wool.
However, due to Coco’s massive influence, women all over the world soon wanted a jersey knit garment of their own. Machine-made jersey knit dresses, pullovers, shirts, and jackets quickly became all the rage.
Then the 1950s saw the emergence of double-knit synthetics like polyester. These aided the vibrant fashion trends of the 1960s and 70s. The cheaper cost of synthetic materials also made knit fabric much more popular in this era.
Today, knit material like jersey knit is used in a lot of athletic and leisurewear. Probably every t-shirt and sweatshirt you own features knit fabric! Leggings, tank tops, sports bras, and many other stretchy garments also use knit fabric.
What is Woven Fabric?
Woven fabric features two sets of threads that cross over and under each other to form a pattern. Factories use large looms set with vertical threads called warp threads and horizontal threads called weft threads to create the structure of this material.
If you look at a piece of woven fabric up close, its structure looks kind of like the over-under pattern in a straw basket.
Woven textiles have existed for thousands and thousands of years. Ancient civilizations wove plant-based fibers like flax almost all the way back at the beginning of human history!
Today, you can find woven fabric made out of pretty much any type of fiber. This ranges from things you might expect, like cotton and wool, to modern textiles such as polyester and rayon. You can even find specialized woven fabric like vinyl, which is made out of stone filaments!
But not all woven fabric uses the same weaving pattern. While the type of material used does make a difference, it is often the weaving pattern that truly characterizes a type of fabric.
Different kinds of fabric like tulle, satin, and poplin are all defined by the kind of weaving pattern used. For example, polyester woven in a satin weave pattern will have a shimmery, silky surface. Polyester woven in a plain weave will have a dull, more textured surface.
Three main weaving patterns shape all woven textiles, though these do have several variations as well.
Plain weave uses that basic over-under structure and looks like many tiny squares up close. Your cotton bedsheets may use this weaving pattern, as do fabrics such as chiffon and organza.
A satin weave uses a special technique that places clumps of weft threads passing over one warp thread at a time. Putting more threads on the surface of the fabric creates that classic, shimmery, smooth texture.
Twill weave has a distinctive V-shaped pattern of threads. Wool woven in a herringbone twill pattern shows up prominently in wool suits and jackets.
What is The Difference Between Knit and Woven Fabric?
The difference between knit and woven fabrics is that knit fabric uses looped thread construction and woven fabric is made out of two sets of threads crossed over each other.
Fabric can contain any type of fiber, from synthetics like polyester to ancient textiles like silk and linen. But no matter what kind of material goes into the fabric, all cloth goes through one or the other of these two types of cloth construction.
Aside from the distinctive thread structure, you can use several other easy tests to tell the difference between a knit or woven piece of material. First, knit fabric stretches far more than woven fabric. Second, knit material also does not hold a wrinkle easily if you pinch it between your fingers, and woven fabric will crease.
Of course, each method of fabric construction has distinctive characteristics.
Knit fabric stretches much more than woven fabric. The loops of thread in knit fabric make it flexible and perfect for form-fitting attire. It can stretch horizontally and vertically, though it can also stretch out and become skewed when not cared for properly.
Woven fabric does not have a lot of elasticity in it. It does not stretch much vertically or horizontally, though it can stretch a little on the diagonal. For this reason, fashion designers will sometimes cut woven material “on the bias” or at a diagonal to give this type of fabric more of a form-fitting drape.
Woven material typically has more of a structure to it than knit material. Clothes made out of woven material typically require closures like zippers or buttons, as they will not easily expand to go over your head or up your legs otherwise!
The strength of any fabric depends largely on the type of fiber it contains, but the woven fabric does have greater strength than a knit fabric made out of the same kind of material.
Woven fabric has the tensile strength of all those crossed threads to give it shape and strengthen it. Knit fabric can pretty easily stretch out.
On the other hand, a knit fabric does not fray as easily as woven fabric.
Woven fabrics typically have much greater durability than knit fabric. You may find this surprising; after all, t-shirts and many of your toughest clothes are made out of knit material! But woven fabric can hold its shape and resist pilling after heavy use and lots of washing, whereas knit material will eventually stretch out, pill, and lose its nice appearance.
Generally speaking it’s a lot easier to damage a knit material than to damage a woven material. Of course, this does depend somewhat on the type of material used–a woven silk fabric requires special dry cleaning, for example, while your average cotton knit can go straight in the washer!
But overall, woven material will hold up better over time than knit fabric.
Knit material offers more breathability than woven material. The looped thread construction offers lots of pathways for air to flow through. Woven material does have some microscopic spaces between the crossed threads, but it tends to form more of a barrier between you and the air.
Many other factors determine breathability as well. Finer threads usually offer more breathability in both knit and woven materials. The tightness of the knit or weave also impacts the breathability of the material in question.
On top of that, the material itself impacts breathability as well. For example, cotton will feel very breathable in either a knit or a woven structure. Polyester, on the other hand, will feel less breathable because it does not have porous fibers.
Knit fabric almost always feels soft due to its giving and stretch structure. Woven materials often have more of a firm or even coarse texture.
Now, that does not mean woven material never feels soft! Ringspun cotton woven in a tight satin weave will have a soft, almost lustrous surface. But Ringspun cotton knitted into jersey knit for at-shirt will feel cushiony and gentle to the touch.
Again, the softness largely depends on the type of material used. But it’s safe to say that knit material pretty much always feels soft, and woven material does not always feel soft!
Generally, a knit fabric will feel more comfortable than woven fabric. Knit fabric has a forgiving, form-fitting, drapey quality that wins it a lot of points for comfort! Woven fabric can also feel quite comfortable depending on the type of material used and the style of the garment.
The softness of knit fabric also makes them super comfortable. Most of your comfy at-home attire, like t-shirts, baggy hoodies, and cozy sweats, are made out of knit materials.
Knit material wins the wrinkle-resistant contest, hands down! The looped structure and flexibility of this kind of material prevent it from creasing easily. On the other hand, woven fabric can catch and hold a crease quite stubbornly in many cases.
As a fun fact for you, fabric wrinkles because heat and moisture impact the hydrogen bonds inside the material. This allows the fibers to change shape a bit, creating creases in the material.
Ease of Care
The ease of care for both knit and woven fabrics depends on what kind of material they contain. That said, both types of fabric construction offer some pros and cons in terms of care.
Knits will not wrinkle easily and don’t require ironing. Woven material, on the other hand, will not pill or stretch out as easily in the wash. It does often need ironing, though, because it creases so easily.
Both woven and knit materials have many popular uses in clothing.
Though knit fabric has only existed for about a century, it has rapidly become a staple of many modern wardrobes. T-shirts use knit material, as do bathing suits, socks, underwear, and pretty much all stretchy sportswear like leggings or tank tops.
Of course, you can also find pretty much any kind of clothing made out of woven fabric. Dresses, shirts, skirts, pants, suits, ad much more feature woven fabric. People have worn woven textiles for thousands and thousands of years!
Garments made out of woven material typically have more of a structure and include several different pieces of material sewed together to fit the body’s shape.
Also, it usually costs more to make woven material than knit material. The lower cost of knit fabric no doubt adds to the popularity of leisurewear today!
Examples of Knit FabricYou can find several types of knit fabric in popular use today. Including jersey knit, French terry knit, and double knit. Take a look at a few examples to get an idea of how prevalent knit fabric truly is today!
- Jersey knit remains the most popular type of knit fabric in the world, largely because everyone loves t-shirts. Jersey knit originated on the Isle of Jersey, a place famous for knitting sweaters out of wool, but today you will more often find it made out of cotton or polyester. It has a smooth front with a single rib looped pattern and a slighter rougher back.
- Double knit fabric has kind of gone out of fashion these days, but it has two smooth sides with ribs on each side of the material. It came to prominence with the advent of synthetic materials, and you still see it in form-fitting pencil dresses and a few other garments today.
- Velour knit uses a special technique called pile knit to create its velvety, stretchy feel. You can find this soft fabric in sweats and sleepwear, among other things.
- French Terry knit has loops of fabric on one side, making it amazingly soft but still flexible like all knits! You see it a lot in robes and other cozy at-home wear.
- Knit fleece, also sometimes called sweatshirt fleece, has at least one brushed side to give it a fuzzy texture on that side. A lot of sweatshirts use this material.
Examples of Woven FabricYou no doubt know the names of many popular types of woven fabric, such as satin, twill, poplin, tulle, and many more! While by no means a comprehensive list, you can take a glance at this list to refresh your memory on how many different kinds of woven fabric you can find!
- Muslin features cotton threads in a loose plain weave. This basic, lightweight material costs very little and often gets sued as a practice run for fashion designers making new clothes!
- Velvet uses a much more complex weaving process to create its rich, lush pile. It uses a double loom that weaves two pieces of fabric together. Manufacturers then slice down the middle, leaving all that fuzzy softness on the surface of each piece of material!
- Georgette has a unique weaving pattern because its yarns undergo a special twisting process before weaving. This gives the surface of the finished fabric a shimmery, crinkled look!
- Chiffon uses a regular old plain weave like muslin, but it has a transparent, fine weave that gives it an airy appearance! You see this material a lot in formal wear and wedding veils.
- Flannel can contain cotton or synthetic materials like polyester. It can use twill or plain weave but always has at least one side brushed with stiff metal bristles to create the soft nap that makes it perfect for cold weather shirts and pajamas.
Are Jeans Woven or Knit?
Traditional jeans are made from denim, which is a woven fabric. That said, jeggings often use a polyester knit blended with spandex instead, so it depends!
Denim fabric uses blue and white threads woven in a twill pattern to create its unique, iconic texture and color.
If you have thick, classic jeans in the traditional blue, you probably have authentic denim jeans made from woven material.
If you have super-stretchy jeans that feel more like leggings, you might have “faux jeans,” as it were, actually made out of knit material that is dyed to look like denim.
Pros and Cons of Woven Vs Knit Fabric
Knit and woven fabrics each have their own pros and cons.
The pros and cons of knit fabric include:
- Knit materials make great casual wear. Every t-shirt you have ever owned was made out of knit material!
- The stretchiness of knit material lends itself to clothes you can pull on and off without annoying zippers or buttons.
- It costs a bit less to make knit material than woven material, generally speaking. This means that clothes made out of knit material often cost less!
- On the downside, knit material will stretch out over time. This means your form-fitting clothes will eventually get baggy and loose.
- Plus, knit material is prone to pilling and will get tiny thread bobbles on its surface over time as well.
The pros and cons of woven fabric include:
- Woven fabric has thousands of different textures and appearances.
- Woven fabric can use every different kind of textile fiber imaginable, from silk to synthetics.
- Woven material has greater strength and durability and often allows for easier care.
- The downside to woven fabrics is that they do not stretch well and require many piecing together to make garments.
- Woven fabrics also usually are not as breathable as knit fabrics.
Knit Vs Woven ClothingAll clothing uses either knit or woven fabric, but some clothes tend to use one type more than others! For example, t-shirts always use knit material.
Shorts most often use various woven fabrics, including denim and khaki. Your classic board shorts for the beach usually contain nylon in a reddish twill weave, for example.
That said, you can also find many popular women’s shorts made out of a looser, stretchier knit fabric. This type of informal shorts usually has an elastic waist.
Opinion seems mixed on whether or not soft knits will supplant woven material in boxers. Right now, popular brands commonly sell both types.
You can find men’s brands that sell boxer shorts made of every type of fabric, from jersey knit to satin! You can take your pick in this category.
T-shirts always use knit material, typically jersey knit made of classic cotton or a cheaper synthetic blend.
T-shirts played a big role in making knit material so popular globally! Pretty much everyone in the world wears t-shirts at least once in a while today.
The biggest difference between knit and woven fabric lies in the thread construction of each type of material. Woven fabrics use a perpendicular over-under of two separate threads, while knit materials use a series of interlocking loops in one long, continuous thread to make a looser structure.
Knit material stretches easily and has a lot of breathability. You can find this material in t-shirts and sportswear. Woven material has a less flexible construction but features many types of clothing ranging from formal wear to jeans.
Did you learn anything new about one of your favorite fabrics? Leave a comment below to let us know!