Have you ever wondered why polo shirts have that distinctive waffle texture on the outside, but they’re smooth inside? Polo shirts are made with a special double-layered cloth called pique knit fabric. But what exactly is pique knit fabric?
Pique knit fabric is a double knit textured fabric that originated in Lancashire, England. The right side has twice as many threads as the wrong side, which gives the fabric depth. It is a stiff material, usually made with cotton fiber. It is the fabric of choice for most polo shirts.
The texture makes pique knit fabric breathable and durable, which are valuable qualities for sportswear like polo shirts. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about pique knit fabric, from how to manufacture it to how to sew with it and launder it.
- What Is Pique Knit Fabric?
- How Is Pique Knit Fabric Made?
- What Is Piqué Knit Used For?
- Pique Knit Fabric Characteristics
- What Is the Difference Between Piqué Knit and Woven Piqué?
- Piqué Knit vs Jersey Polo
- Is Piqué Fabric Always Cotton?
- Tips for Sewing with Piqué Knit
- Tips for Caring for Piqué Knit
What Is Pique Knit Fabric?
Pique knit fabric is a textured fabric where the right side has a pattern like a waffle or a honeycomb shape and the wrong side is smooth. Cotton mills in the Lancashire region of England developed the fabric in the late 18th century.
The name pique comes from the French word for the quilt: piquer. The textile manufacturers called the fabric pique because the texture was an imitation of the hand-stitched patterns on quilts from Marseille.
Sometimes, manufacturers or retailers will call pique fabric Marcella, polo fabric, or Lacoste fabric. Marcella comes from various mispronunciations of Marseille. It’s a common fabric for polo shirts, so sometimes, that is how people identify it best.
In 1926, a French tennis player named Jean René Lacoste made a short sleeve, wide-collared shirt using white pique knit fabric. He didn’t like the stiffness of traditional tennis uniforms, so he wore this shirt instead. That style of shirt became what we know today as the polo shirt.
Because Lacoste popularized the most recognizable pique fabric, sometimes retailers or manufacturers identify the fabric with his name. He also launched the Lacoste clothing company to manufacture these polo shirts, which helped associate the fabric with both his name and the garment style.
Despite the double layer of threads that give pique its signature texture, it is a breathable, airy fabric. The space between the layers lets air through well, giving the fabric excellent ventilation and comfort.
Generally, it uses cotton threads or cotton blends. Some higher-quality fabrics use silk as well for pique dress shirts or ties. Polyester pique knit fabrics exist, but they are usually mass-produced and lower quality than a cotton pique knit.
How Is Pique Knit Fabric Made?Pique knit fabric is double knit, meaning there are two layers to the fabric, knit at the same time. There are twice as many threads on the top layer as the bottom layer. That contrast creates the waffle texture in the fabric.
Like many commercial textiles, pique knit fabric is machine knit, not hand knit. The technique combines the two primary forms of knitting: warp knitting and weft knitting. Weft knitting loops one thread around itself to create fabric. Warp knitting uses a separate thread for each stitch, more similar to weaving than hand-knitting.
The double knit texture of the fabric combines both warp knitting and weft knitting, which makes two distinct sides of the fabric (the right and the wrong side). The warp side is the right side and the weft side is the wrong side.
The raised edges on the right side are called cords or ribs. No matter what pattern the cords make, the presence of raised cords on one side of the fabric but not the other is a good indication that it is a pique fabric.
Pique fabric isn’t always knit. There is also a woven version of pique fabric. The finished texture is largely the same. However, woven pique can have a different texture than the standard waffle pattern. The more complex patterns, like honeycomb and birdseye, are similar to the original pique fabrics from Lancashire and the quilts they imitate.
What Is Piqué Knit Used For?Pique knit fabric is used for garments and some household textiles. The garments range from casual everyday items like bathrobes or waffle knit pajamas to more sophisticated garments like formal cotton dress shirts or ties. Some pique knit dress shirts are elegant enough for white tie events.
Dishcloths and tea towels are often pique knit. The texture and the absorbancy of the cotton make these items durable and effective for kitchen use. Because of the cotton content, pique fabric is also easy to care for, so pique knit tea towels will hold up to repeated laundering.
The reason pique knit fabric wears so well in polo shirts is also related to the cotton content. The combination of cotton threads and the lofty texture make this fabric exceptionally breathable. This keeps polo shirts comfortable during physical activity while maintaining a polished look.
The double layer also makes pique knit fabric good at hiding sweat. The lower layer absorbs the moisture, and the breathability helps wick the moisture away, letting it evaporate. Particularly in white or light colors, pique knit fabric is a high-quality choice for warm-weather garments or sporting activities.
Pique Knit Fabric Characteristics
Pique knit fabric’s primary characteristic is texture. The fabric name refers to the construction technique rather than the material. So, even though most pique fabrics are cotton, the double knit textured surface is the more important characteristic.
Not all pique fabrics look or feel the same. The size of the threads determines how large or small the texture on the pique fabric appears. The smaller the threads, the smoother the fabric looks and feels.
The most common pattern is the waffle texture, with square cords over square divots. With woven pique fabrics, you can see other shapes like hexagonal honeycombs or the diamond-esque birdseye pattern.
No matter how small the textured pattern is, the raised cords increase the breathability of the fabric. The double layers make it durable, as there are twice as many threads that need to wear out before you see a hole.
One of the downsides of a pique fabric, however, is that pique knit is very wrinkle-prone. Other knit fabrics, such as jersey knit, don’t hold wrinkles as easily. However, with a silk or cotton pique knit fabric, it’s very easy to iron out wrinkles between washes and wears.
What Is the Difference Between Piqué Knit and Woven Piqué?
Pique fabric can be woven or knit. Either way, it still piques fabric because both manufacturing methods have a double layer of fabric with a smooth wrong side and textured right side. The waffle texture is common in both methods, too.
Woven pique is the original technique. The machine knit version is more well known today because that is the method used for most of the pique fabric polo shirts on the market. However, the woven version was the one that came first.
Manufacturers use a dobby loom to make woven pique fabric. A dobby loom has more versatility than other types of looms, so it is usually the tool of choice for textured fabrics. On a dobby loom, the weaver can control more threads at a time than on a treadle loom.
To get more depth in the texture, woven pique fabric incorporates stuffer yarn into the weave. The stuffer yarn acts like the extra threads on the top layer of a pique knit fabric, giving the pique fabric its signature depth.
Woven pique has a greater range of pattern possibilities than a pique knit fabric. The cords in a double knit fabric are limited to vertical and horizontal planes. Woven pique fabric on a dobby loom adds the possibility of more complex shapes.
Waffle texture and ribbed pique are the most common pique knit textures. However, woven pique can incorporate more complicated shapes. That’s how weavers make honeycomb, birdseye, and even jacquard patterns on pique fabric.
Both techniques are machine-operated now, but originally weavers made pique fabric by hand. Computer-operated dobby looms can make tiny and intricate pique fabrics, as can computer-operated knitting machines.
The characteristics of woven pique and knit pique are the same, except the shape of the texture. Both methods produce a durable, soft fabric that is suitable for garments. The ventilation, drape, and performance are the same in both fabrics.
Piqué Knit vs Jersey PoloPique knit and jersey knit fabrics are both commonly used to make polo shirts. The primary difference between them is the texture and density of the fabric.
Both fabrics are usually cotton or cotton blends. Jersey fabric, however, is single knit. This makes it thinner and more flexible than the double knit pique fabric. That difference is also where texture comes in.
Single knit fabrics, such as jersey knit, are much smoother. Jersey knit has a smooth face on both sides of the fabric and a high stretch. The double knit texture of the pique knit makes it stiffer and makes the characteristic waffle pattern.
Jersey fabric is more common in bedsheets and t-shirts than pique knit, which is generally a more expensive. Similarly, while white tie dress shirts are made in pique knit, you wouldn’t see a jersey knit dress shirt.
As for polo shirts, the two fabrics offer different benefits. Jersey will stretch more and is wrinkle-resistant, but pique knit hides sweat better and will hold up well to a lot of movement. For outdoor events or active situations, pique fabric will stay nicer longer.
Is Piqué Fabric Always Cotton?
Pique fabric is almost always cotton. Cheaper pique fabrics might be cotton/polyester blends, but the more upscale garments and fabrics are 100% cotton. The identity and history of the fabric are connected to cotton mills, and the fabric’s sturdiness works best with cotton.
Silk is a less common choice for pique knit fabric, but it is not unheard of for men’s dress shirts or pique knit ties. Silk is also a natural, breathable fiber, so it has many of the same properties as cotton. It adds a touch of elegance, however.
Cotton/silk blends are also possible for pique fabric. You won’t find a cotton/silk pique cotton tea towel, but the blend is possible for elevated but affordable menswear. There are also very cheap 100% polyester pique fabrics. However, polyester fabrics aren’t as breathable or durable as their natural counterparts.
Pique refers to the texture and production method rather than the fiber, so technically pique could be made with any fiber. However, the texture lends itself to cotton and silk fibers well naturally. Most pique fabrics that aren’t cotton or silk are trying to imitate the properties of cotton or silk.
The combination of defined texture and next-to-skin softness is possible with cotton. Adding other fibers isn’t as sustainable as using 100% cotton, either. So while pique knit fabric exists in other fibers, cotton pique knit is the most widely-used type.
Tips for Sewing with Piqué Knit
The layers of pique knit fabric mean you should treat it like a ribbed or similarly textured fabric. It is a medium-weight fabric, which means it is stiffer than other cotton fabrics. You can use a standard sewing machine foot and standard 80/12 sewing machine needles. However, there are some things to look out for when you sew with pique knit.
The same texture that makes the fabric, so wearable and durable also makes it susceptible to puckering and creeping as you sew it. The larger the texture is, the more likely it is to catch on your needle or presser foot.
It is not as stretchy as other knits, but it does stretch enough that it’s possible to accidentally pucker your seams. Be careful not to stretch it when you pin pieces together or feed it through your machine. It’s less likely that you’ll pucker it when you hand-sew, but not impossible.
The texture of pique knit fabric also means that pins might show visible damage. Inserting the pin into the fabric can shift the individual threads in the right side texture, and you may not be able to move them back into place easily. Try not to pin more than necessary.
Pique knit fabric is also weaker than less textured fabrics. Be wary of snags as they could quickly become tears. Cotton pique knit is more durable than silk pique knit fabric. Regardless of fiber content, it’s important to hem pique fabric well or surge the edges so it doesn’t unravel or tear at a weak point.
When you pick thread for your pique knit sewing project, try to match the fabric’s durability. Strong cotton thread is a good choice, especially for 100% cotton pique fabric. Silk thread is worth the splurge if you’re sewing with silk pique fabric to match the fabric’s sheen.
Embroidery is common on pique knit fabric—the Lacoste crocodile is a good example—because the stiffness of the fabric can support the weight of the stitching. Whether you hand-embroider or machine-embroider, keeping the design light will help keep the drape of the garment intact. Too much thread can lead to puckering and dragging.
It’s also important to remember that large amounts of embroidery could make it harder to launder your pique knit garments.
Tips for Caring for Piqué Knit
Pique knit fabric, especially 100% cotton, is easy to care for and launder. Cotton can withstand high heat and doesn’t break down quickly. You can wash and dry pique knit by machine, and iron it with a steam iron.
It is a wrinkle-prone fabric, so it is not as low-maintenance as other cotton knits or weaves. However, the wrinkles iron out just as easily as they go in. Compared to other natural fabrics like linen, pique knit is easier to manage. Many performance polo shirts and everyday pique fabrics get a wrinkle-resistance treatment to help with this problem.
Polo shirts made with pique knit fabric also commonly have a stain-resistant coating or treatment. This makes it easy to wash out sweat, grass, and other stains despite the complicated fabric textures. Cotton is also a stain-resistant fiber naturally, so stains will wash out of 100% cotton or cotton blend pique knits without much effort.
The appeal of pique fabric, whether woven or knit, is its durability and wearability. It combines a sophisticated pattern with unsophisticated care requirements. This duality makes it a classic choice for sports uniforms for tennis, polo, and golf, where there is a strong aesthetic tradition.
Pique knit fabric made a name for itself in sportswear because of how well it holds up to sweat, movement, and frequent washing, all while staying next-to-skin soft. However, it has a rich history of use in formal wear and home textiles as well.
This versatile fabric is a good choice for your next sewing project, whether you’re making bathrobes or dress shirts.
Have you ever used pique knit fabric before? Tell me about it in the comments!