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