Rae talks about shopping for knit fabrics online

After the tee-making-frenzy settled down around here last week, I found myself with a dwindling, pathetic little knit fabric stash. A problem that is quickly remedied, I say!!! There is little I approach so enthusiastically as fabric shopping. I’ve talked already about my proclivity towards using thrifted knits, and while I am always a fan of the upcycled garment, thrifting has some obvious limitations that purchasing knits can overcome (yardage being the main one). Unfortunately for me, the only fabric shop within an hour’s drive that carries knits is Joann, and my experiences with their knits has been pretty bad — of the maybe 10-15 jersey knits I have ever purchased there, all but two ended up super-pilly. I do want to mention though that I really do like a bunch of their other apparel fabrics, and their lightweight baby wale cord I use for kids’ pants is especially nice…all that to say: I know I make snarky comments about them sometimes but I’m not a TOTAL Joann-hater.

So for me shopping for knits almost always means online, and knits can be a little harder than other fabrics to end up with what you were expecting if you aren’t buying it in person. Though I have been known to rant on occasion about the difficulty of finding good (quality) knits online, I don’t think it’s a total lost cause. You just have to know what to look for. But before I go any further, I want to state my core belief when it comes to fabric shopping:

It is a waste of time and money to make handmade things with cheap fabric. (Repeat after me)

I do not deny that there are plenty of online shops selling cheap (and by “cheap” I mean poor quality, not necessarily inexpensive) jersey with bajillions of novelty prints, and while the prices are enticing, I value my time too much to sew with fabric that will pill up immediately with the first wear. I’d rather spend a little bit more on fabric that I know will last (and if it’s safer for my kids and the earth, even better). If that makes me a “Fabric Snob,” I guess I just have to accept that, but even if, scratch that, ESPECIALLY if you’re on a budget, it seems like you should be even more wary of super-cheap stuff. It’s easy to justify the purchase at the time, but if it doesn’t hold up, it’s a waste of money and your time, and it doesn’t make sense in the long run. If you can find low prices on high quality fabric, great! It’s just harder to tell the difference when you’re shopping from a computer screen.


So here are my rules for knit fabric shopping online:

Pay attention to the TYPE of knit
The first rule is know what you’re getting, so read the item description to make sure you know exactly what type of knit it is. Jersey and interlock are a good place to start if you’re new to knits, but if I had to recommend just one I would say go for the jersey. It’s not quite as easy to sew with as interlock because it’s often a little more stretchy, but I tend to like the fit and finished product more when I make it with jersey. You can also leave rolled or raw edges on jersey unsewn, so the hemming goes much quicker, if you’re into the “raw” look (SORRY Grandma G – I know you hate those raw edges!! :P). Also, is it cotton? wool? silk? Polyester? These things make a difference in where and how it can be worn and washed.

Pay attention to WEIGHT
Make sure you know if you’re getting something heavy, medium, or lightweight. The medium-weight stuff usually works well for tops, and maybe even skirts, but heavy weight knit would be nicer for pants. And you don’t want to buy something that’s tissue thin if you’re trying to make a skirt (or maybe you do?? Not judgin’). Many online shops will even list the weight (usually in the US that’s in oz/linear yard or oz/square yard), which isn’t the most useful on it’s own BUT could be if you just need to compare one knit to another, or to one you’ve already purchased. And if the weight isn’t listed, just ask; the shop owner can easily get that information for you. If you buy a swatch (see below), the weight is often given on the swatch sticker.

Pay attention to WIDTH
Remember that most knits come in widths of 54-60″ so you’re automatically getting roughly 30-50% more fabric per yard than on the more common 42/44″ width which is more typical for quilting cottons and apparel fabrics. If you’d pay $10 a yard for quilting cotton, that’s equivalent to $13-$15/yard for a wider knit fabric. And for that price, you can get some REALLY nice knit. Something to keep in mind. But also be careful; double-layer knits can sometimes be quite a bit narrower, like 30,” so you’ll need to buy more. And then some knits are also sold tubular (which is how they were made on the knitting machine), so when you cut them open they’ll be twice as wide.


Ask for a SWATCH
You would be amazed at how many shops will gladly provide swatches, even if they don’t advertise it. I just got a bunch of cotton knit swatches (shown above) from Near Sea Naturals (UPDATE: Near Sea Naturals is now Organic Cotton Plus) a few months ago (great shop — they have really high quality organic knits, and one of my goals this year is to purchase more earth-friendly fabric), and it really helped me figure out which colors and weights I want to get. Especially when I’m paying more per yard, it’s really nice to know that the quality matches the price before I commit. Aren’t they pretty? These are really amazing to the touch too.

Remember the manufacturers you like
If you like one knit from a particular manufacturer, buying it in another color/pattern is a safe bet. Example: I really liked some of the Patty Young knits from Michael Miller that were available recently; I ordered a 1/2 yard of a striped knit to try it out and it was super soft and held up well over time. So I ordered some solids as well, and they were predictably similar. I feel I can be fairly certain that if I can find knits I like from MM, they’ll be of similar quality. Shops that sell knit fabric are getting smart and including the manufacturer in the listing, which really helps.

Look at other people’s stuff
I always try to pay attention when I see something in a Flickr pool (like the Celebrate the BOY pool, for example) made with a knit I like. Most people who have a blog will share the pattern they used and where they found the fabric. I’ve found so many great places this way that I never knew about!

OK, so those are my rules, I hope they give you a place to start when buying knits. Do you have any other tips for shopping for knits online?


Brenda at Pink Castle (disclaimer: a sponsor of this blog at the time of writing) recently added a small selection of solid knits to her shop, so I thought I’d show you the pile of knit fabrics I recently bought from her. She also happens to live about 10 minutes from me, so swinging by her place to pick up fabric is really super convenient. And also therefore DANGEROUS. Not in the physical-danger sort of way (Brenda is not a ninja. At least that I know of), just dangerous in the if-this-continues-I-might-need-to-add-on-to-the-house sort of way).

I bought two different types, the pile shown above is jerseys, as you can maybe see by the “curl” along the edges, and that one that looks white is actually a very pale cloud blue. The weight is nice and light, perfect for a top or t-shirt or leggings for Clementine. These jerseys are the Laguna Solids from Robert Kaufman.


The second set here is 1×1 rib knit from Free Spirit. Also great for shirts and tees, but also works really nicely for cuffs and neckbands (like on the skinny tees). Since it resembles the weight and stretch of many of my “stretch tees,” I might try making a tee for myself out of that deep emerald/turquoise color. It’s so pretty. Can you see the “ribs” in the photo below?


I can’t wait to cut into these and show you what becomes of them! Especially since I have sewing for ME on the brain, hneh-hneh.


This series of posts is all about empowering you to sew with knits. Now go sew some knits!!! See more right here

42 thoughts on “Rae talks about shopping for knit fabrics online

  1. Thank you SO MUCH for this post! I can’t tell you how many times I put knits in my cart while fabric shopping on-line, but didn’t wind up buying them because I was nervous about what I might be getting. I really appreciate your tips!

  2. Ha! You made me laugh! Now EVERYBODY will know I hate those raw edges. LOL Too bad. I still hate ’em. 😉

    All of your sewing-with-knit posts have been great! (Except for the non-hemming bit, of course. You’re leading women astray.) 😉

    • Hee, yes, you are now Ms Raw Edge Hater to us all…hahaha. No seriously, I understand it, and I’m glad you got that off your chest. 😛

  3. Ooh, thanks for the tip about Near Sea Naturals. Those swatches look lovely… hmm… some browsing to do! I am trying to buy organic & more sustainable where possible, which is one of the reasons I love the Spoonflower organic cotton knit. I know it’s pricey but I totally agree with your mantra about making handmade things with cheap fabric. Also, here in Australia even most rubbish knits are up around $15/m so it’s worth stretching a little further for something great. I have bought some nice bamboo knits too, although that’s another whole eco-friendly-or-not vortex when you look into it…..

    • Yeah, I’m pretty much done with bamboo fabrics. Wood bamboo products are great, but for fabric, the chemical processes necessary to spin it into a fiber are actually really terrible from an environmental standpoint. I was going to post an article I read about this but now I can’t find it!!!

      • i agree about the bamboo knits, they do not hold up well at all. i’ve been using a hemp/bamboo jersey knit and thought it was working out well, however…i just made a jacket with some and switched up my process by making it with the pre-shrunk jersey, then dyed it using Procion earth-friendly dyes…i ended up washing the jacket just THREE times and when i was finished….the were HOLES everywhere!!! i mean not just in the seamed areas but in the fabric by itself! this is unacceptable and i won’t be using the bamboo furthermore.
        i’m glad i am not the only one who is shying away from this fibre for sewing!!!!! and, of course, the process used to make the bamboo fabric is not environmentally sound either.

        Goodbye Bamboo! glad you posted this!

    • I think the eco-fabrics thing is fad that doesn’t stand up to logic. Look for fabrics that are good quality, from traditional mills, and be prepared to pay a fair price for them. That way you are paying for skilled processing by skilled people, and the fabric lasts.
      The worst thing you can do for the environment is buy cheap fabric – it exploits land, people and resources and produces nothing but more waste.

  4. Great post and happy to see you putting a plug in for organic fabric! NearSea Naturals is great and i just bought some knits from them…most from the pre-cut and clearance sections which are still great quality! Soft, quality and clean! no chemical smells when you open the box!

  5. Glad to see I’m not the only one frustrated with JoAnn’s knit selection. It’s never the same type of knit as you’d get when you buy a t-shirt or leggings off the rack! It can really ruin a project when it doesn’t stretch right.

  6. I found a site that sells great knit prints — some by Flap Happy and Fresh Produce — by reading comments on this site during your “Kniterviews” (very informative and helpful, by the way). Check out http://www.banberryplace.com. I have purchased a few yards but have yet to wash or sew any. They look beautiful, though, and Corie the owner was very helpful.

    • Hi Susan!

      Banberry Place just signed up to sponsor this blog yesterday; I was impressed with their selection so I’m excited to give them a try!!!


    • I have been purchasing from Banberry Place for over a year. I love their selections, not only in knits but woven as well. Also for children patterns, they sale the Farbenmix and Ottrobre Patterns which are wonderful. Banberry Place has a flickr group where you can see some of the garments people have made with their purchases.

  7. Thanks for sharing all of this! I rarely feel like I actually learn something from my blog reading. I’ve sewn a night gown from the MM knits from Patty Young and it has held up well but that’s the extent of my knit-sewing experience. I think I’ll try to sew more with knits this year!

  8. Thanks to your recent series, I’ve finally started sewing with knits! My first project used some knit yardage I found an estate sale (and had for a couple of years–afraid to use it) the 2nd was with “jersey” from Joann’s. I quickly realized I need a better source for knits and am sooooo happy you featured some online retailers. Can’t wait to see your new projects, as I have been sewing for me, too (a rarity, but so rewarding!)

  9. Thanks so much for this post!! I actually really like suggestions for new shops to try. One problem I’ve always had is finding the correct knit to match a simple graphic style t-shirts you’d buy in store – not too thin, not too stretchy. Do you know what type of knit that is? I hate not being able to feel things and really don’t like the knits at JoAnns.

    • floreksa:

      see to me the RK solid jerseys from Pink Castle that I bought and talk about in this post feel like the same weight as a graphic style t-shirt. They have SOME stretch, but aren’t super stretchy, and they’re not tissue thin like some knits. Might be worth trying if you like the colors…

  10. I have learned a few things thru your kniterviews series.
    As a lifetime sewer, I know my fabrics but knits come with a steep learning curve (to me). Some are easy to sew, some wash up well, and some make you have serious nightmares.
    I live in the Portland area so I have Fabric Depot and RCT (rose city textiles) to buy knits from. I have bought knits once on-line and I may do it again. When I re-sell knit yardage thru my Etsy shop, I find it useful to note the stretch characteristics; 3″ stretches to ?” and I list it both ways because knits usually have more stretch one way (selvedge to selvedge or lengthwise).
    My other problem with knits is paying attention to that stretch characteristic when cutting into the material. You want most of the stretch to go around your body. The least stretch goes into the length so the garment doesn’t grow longer.
    With that said, because thrifted knits have been worn, you immediately know if it’s gonna pill and keeps it’s shape in another life.

    Still learning.
    Thanks for the tip on asking for swatches. I put that in my fabric listings on my etsy shop and then forget about it myself when I am looking online.
    Thank you,

  11. This was a great addition to the series. I’m still a little freaked about buying knits online since I have no idea what I’ll be getting half the time. When I was in Portland I scored 2 yards on a really wide bolt of some awesome striped bamboo knit. The stuff feels incredible.

    I just bought prints from pink castle to make my noodlehead bag! She has some great stuff in her shop.

  12. Wow, I really appreciated this post. Thanks for keeping it real. Now when I go to purchase knit fabric I’ll think twice before buying it and remember what may become of it in the long run. The swatch tip was awesome also! Thanks a bunch!

  13. I would LOVE if you told me exactly where you purchase your fabric. I am just beginning to sew and I get so confused…so easily. HA!

  14. ever since diving into sewing with knits several years ago, i find it hard going back to wovens…. i LOVE knits! i use mostly hemp and organic cotton knits for my products- but my hands down favorite eco knit is the stretch soy/organic cotton microterry. Oh this stuff is so buttery with a great weight. i’m am admitted eco fabric junkie 🙂

  15. Oh Rae, you’re so perfect! I was just scrounging around the internet looking for knits and was WAY lost at what to buy. I’m so tactile and visual that it’s a complete leap of faith for me to order fabrics online. I got frustrated and thought heck, I’ll go catch up on made by rae. And then there was this post!! Thanks!!

  16. As I google “knits by the yard”, I’m very glad your talk about knits came up before I made a lot of mistakes! Thank you for the comprehensive review and tips. I tend to upcycle materials, but I’m doing a special project for a friend and need a specific color/texture, and am embarrassed at how little I know about knits. It’s swatch shopping time! Thanks again! By the way, fabric shopping over here in the middle of Michigan isn’t great. Other than Joann, it is a 1 hour drive for MAYBE finding what you need. *ugh*

  17. “It is a waste of time and money to make handmade things with cheap fabric. (Repeat after me)”

    Yes! As a creator of artisan sweater knit fabrics, I hope more people begin to realize this. 🙂

  18. Thanks so much for this post. I’m so new @ knits. I’m a beginner just getting back into sewing and a recent pattern I got (beginner one) requires either jersey or (I forget) another type of knit–and I don’t know anything about knits. :-). I always read that beginners should stay away from knits b/c they’re too stretchy. :-). I’m looking to take a class, but researching …not finding alot of options so far. Thanks again! -JC

  19. I have inherited many many large yardage pieces of knit fabric purchased by my mother in law over the last 50 plus years. Some double knit and some single knit. I have tried to use some of it but I am now limited in what I can do and would like to find some way to get these materials out to anyone who can use them. If anyone out there knows a way or a person please email me.

    • I am interested in knit fabric. Where do you live? I live in the DC/Maryland area but I have family who live in different states.

  20. I’m wanting to make some buttonless cardigans with a cotton knit fabric. We have wood heat and sometimes it’s hot in the house and sometimes cool. I like to wear short sleeves and then have something not too heavy to slip on when I’m cool. Sweaters irritate my skin. I’m not sure what medium weight is or heavy weight since I will probably buy online. Which weight would you recommend for a cardigan?


  21. How many ounces equals a medium weight knit? (I am specifically looking at interlocks, because many of the kniterviews recommend it for beginners.) thanks!

  22. I am looking for a quality knit for tee shirts that will hold up when they are printed on. Your site in very informative, hope you can help.

  23. Thanks for this post ! I am a quilter and am slowly wanting to start sewing garments. I am looking for a heavier, warmer knit to make a winter dress to wear with some heavy tights. Do you have a reccomendation on a type of knit that would be good for this ?? I’m finding it really difficult because I feel like there are soooo many types of knits! And help/advise any of you have would be great !!!

  24. Hi,
    I’m not able to find the link to the Free Spirit rib knit you mentioned. Where could I find it please?

  25. Hi,
    thanks for this post! Now, I know, where to buy good fabric 🙂 Do you have some recommendation to buy rib knit for waistband, are there any good brands?

    • Hi Ursula,

      I like Organic Cottons Plus — they have great, high quality Rib Knit. Simplifi is another great source!

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