Knits and wovens are the OGs of the fabric world. They differ from each other in almost every way, from how much they stretch and wrinkle to whether they'll fray or shrink.
Whether you’re picking out clothes off the rack, buying fabric for a sewing project, or just trying to figure out what you've got in your stash, it’s important to know one weave from the other. You can't always tell just by looking — those machine-made stitches can be SO tiny — but I've got a trick or two that'll help.
Let me walk you through the basics of each fabric and tell you how to pick out a knit fabric from a pile of wovens. (Or vice versa!)
Knit fabrics are just that — knit, similar to the way you’d knit a sweater . But a fabric made on a knitting machine looks very different than something hand-knit, because it’s produced with much smaller needles and much thinner yarn or thread. If you look closely at the knit above you can see those interlocking loops (like tiny braids).
Knits are made with one continuous piece of thread, so a raw edge won’t unravel the way it would on a woven. All those interlocking loops make this fabric soft, somewhat stretchy, wrinkle-resistant, warm, yet also breathable. On the not-so-special side, knits can shrink quite a bit in the wash and the edges of this fabric have a tendency to curl.
Wovens, on the other hand, are made by weaving multiple pieces of thread or yarn into a crisscross pattern. If you ever made pot holders on a loom as a kid, you get the idea. The fibers cross each other at right angels to form a basket-like grain, which you may be able to discern if you look reeeeaaally closely (as above).
Woven fabrics are a great choice for sewing because they have little to no stretch and tend to be more crisp than knits. But because woven fabrics unravel easily, the edges always need to be finished with a zigzag stitch or serger. Wovens also have the irksome tendency to wrinkle.
How to Tell the Difference
If the fibers are too tiny to figure out if they’re crossed or looped, give your mystery fabric the stretch test: Pull it gently from side to side, top to bottom, and then diagonally. Does it stretch easily in all directions? If so, it’s probably a knit (since knits are made from one continuous thread, they stretch all over). If you can only get a bit of stretch diagonally, it’s most likely a woven fabric.
If you’re still not sure, do the wrinkle test: Wad up the fabric in your hands and then release. If it smooths out right away, it’s most likely a knit. If the creases stick around, you’re probably looking at a woven.
Now, start sorting and labeling all those treasures in your stash!