Thursday, August 14, 2014

Shopping for knits online, part 1: ITY Jersey Knits

Let's talk about [knits], baby
Let's talk about you and me
Let's talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be

Mutilated Salt N Pepa lyrics aside, I've been seeing a lot of talk lately online about shopping for knits online. More specifically, I've seen a lot of talk about being disappointed with online knit purchases once they arrive at your house and you actually get to feel the fabric.

If you follow my blog, you know that I sew with knits a LOT. I also buy most of my knits online. While we have some wonder fabric stores for sewing woven garments here in Seattle, the selection for knits isn't all that great. Of course, there are exceptions, but by and large, I buy my wovens from local shops and knits online. Like everyone else, I do occasionally end up with a lemon that gets relegated to Future Muslin status, but for the most part, I'm usually pretty happy with my purchases. Granted, it took me a number of years and a lot of trial-and-error to get to this point, but I think that I've learned enough about online knit fabric listings to get a feel for what to look for and what to avoid.

In this series of posts, we'll compare online listings for similar fabrics, and I'll point out the characteristics that I zero in on to decide whether or not a particular knit is appropriate for the project that I have in mind. For now, I'll focus on ITY jersey knits, which are the knits most commonly used in knit tops and dresses. (I'll save other types of knits, like cotton jerseys, rayon jerseys, ponte knits, for future posts in this series.) I know how easy it is to get suckered by a cute print, but you won't be happy with your purchase if the fabric isn't right for your project.

To start off, I always focus on four things in a knit listing:
  • Fabric content (rayon, cotton, silk, poly/ITY?)
  • Amount of spandex and/or stretch?
  • Weight (can be listed in general terms like "light to medium weight" or actually give a weight in oz)
  • Scale of the print, if it's a print (and not solid) fabric
  • Price (of course--and keeping in mind that you usually get what you pay for).
When in doubt, order a swatch. (Most online fabric stores will send you swatches for free or for a very nominal price.) If you're just getting your feet wet with knits, ordering a bunch of swatches, cataloging them in a notebook, and keeping them as a reference can be extremely helpful when deciphering online knit fabric listings.

Disclaimer: I do not own and have not felt any of the fabrics discussed in this post. I'm simply giving my impressions and analysis from reading the listings.

Let's start, shall we?

Poly ITY jersey Basics

Many of the fun, vibrant prints that we see in other people's blog posts and pattern reviews are ITY (Interlock Twist Yarn) jerseys, which is a term that has to do with the way that the fabic is knitted. I've found that ITY jerseys typically (but not always) have the following characteristics:
  • Poly-lycra blend
  • Have a decent amount of stretch (but not too much)
  • Typically have vibrant or geometric prints
  • Don't usually fade in the wash
  • Usually mid-range on the knit stability scale (where a Ponte knit would be very stable and a lightweight rayon-lycra would be very slippery)
  • Skim over lumps and bumps
ITY jerseys are great for patterns like wrap dresses, where you want a fabric with some body and some drape, and the pattern doesn't have a ton of seam lines to break up the print. They're also great for knit skirts because of the way they skim lumps and bumps, and the mostly-poly content doesn't bug me when it's on my lower half in skirt form. I don't usually use ITY jerseys for knit tops because the scales of the prints are more typically suited for dresses and skirts. Because of its body, I probably also wouldn't use an ITY jersey for a garment that had a lot of ruching or pleating where I wouldn't want the bulk.

Example 1: ITY jersey from Gorgeous Fabrics

To start, let's look at a fairly typical ITY jersey listed on Gorgeous Fabrics:

ITY jersey on Gorgeous Fabrics
  • This listing is a poly-lycra blend with 6% lycra--that's a pretty decent amount of lycra, and this fabric has 60% cross-wise stretch. You could certainly use this fabric with a pattern that called for negative ease; the print would also help camouflage any lumps and bumps revealed by said negative ease.
  • Now, Ann doesn't usually list fabric weight or give an indication of fabric weight in her listings. However, she does recommend example patterns that would be a good match for her fabrics. Pay attention to these; Ann is great at matching fabrics with patterns. In this case, the two recommended fabrics are for a semi-fitted dress with a fitted waist (New Look 6001) and a sarong. There are darts in this pattern and a little bit of ruching--you wouldn't want a really lightweight, floaty jersey for this dress. It should work well for a border print like this fabric. So, even assuming that you're planning to make something other than New Look 6001 with this fabric, the example should give some hints as to what patterns will work well with it.

    New Look 6001
  • For this fabric, Ann included a ruler in the main listing feature. You can see pretty easily that this print has quite a large scale. If you want to produce a RTW-looking garment, you wouldn't use a print of this scale for a dress or skirt and not for a top.
  • The last thing to consider here is the price: $12/yard, which is a bit pricey for many of us, but the price also gives you a clue that this probably isn't going to be a flimsy, lightweight fabric.
Example 2: ITY jersey from FabricMart

Now, let's look at an ITY jersey from FabricMart. FabricMart generally has lower prices than Gorgeous Fabrics, but their quality is a bit more of a crapshoot. You can score a fantastic deal from FabricMart, but you also occasionally receive fabric that has you scratching your head, wondering if you can use it for anything other than a muslin. In any case, here's a pretty typical ITY jersey from this FabricMart:

ITY jersey from FabricMart
  • Right off the bat, you can see that the price for this fabric is just over half the cost of the Gorgeous Fabrics listing. 
  • The poly-lycra content is nearly the same as the Gorgeous Fabric listing. This listing doesn't mention stretch percentage, but at 5% lycra, this fabric will still have pretty good stretch and recovery. You could theoretically use for a pattern with negative ease.
  • The "weight" guidelines would sway me, personally, from using this fabric for something with negative ease, however. In two different fields for this fabric, we see the words "Light" and "Lightweight". Recommended uses include scarves, among other lightweight and often floaty garments. 
  • For scale, if you click one of the supplemental pictures for this listing, you can see the scale of the print relative to a US penny. Like the Gorgeous Fabrics listing, this fabric also has a fairly large scale print.
    US penny for scale reference
  • Taking all of these clues together, I'd look at ordering this fabric as an educated gamble, if I had the right project picked out for it. This fabric would probably be fine for a dress that calls for a lightweight knit, like a Myrtle or for a flowing maxi-dress or maxi-skirt. I'd also be mentally prepared to possibly need to line a skirt/skirt portion with a tricot or bathing suit lining.
In the interest of full disclosure, I did have a solid-colored ITY knit from Fabric Mart bleed terribly, even after numerous washes. I'm a little hesitant to order solid ITY's from here at the moment.

Example 3: ITY jersey from

Here's another lightweight ITY jersey, this time from

Lightweight ITY jersey from
  •  At $5.98/yard, this is another inexpensive knit.
  • Scale-wise, it look like the stripes on this fabric are about 2-3" wide, which you can estimate from the ruler in the picture. Those wide stripes would probably have a pretty large impact on what projects you'd find this fabric suitable for. On the other hand, with the dot and mini-stripe patterns, this will probably have a more flattering effect for most of us than if we draped solid-colored stripes of the same size across our bodies.
  • The real deal-breaker for me, though, if I was looking at this fabric is that lists this as "lightweight" in several places. When describes something as "lightweight", they really mean it. (I've learned this from experience.) Be prepared to layer or line this fabric in whatever you use it for.
Example 4: ITY jersey from

Now, here's another example from, but this ITY jersey costs twice as much as the previous example and is listed as "medium weight", instead of lightweight. I would suspect that this fabric is close to being comparable to the Gorgeous Fabrics listing.

Medium weight ITY jersey from
  • Like the Gorgeous Fabric listing, this fabric has a 6% lycra content. The Description mentions 40% stretch on grain. That's not a huge amount of stretch for an ITY.
  • Another clue that this fabric is a little higher quality than the other example is that this fabric has a name-brand manufacturer--"Brazil". Even if you're not familiar with the brand itself, I've found that typically lists brand names for higher quality fabrics.
  • If your eyes have stopped hurting from looking at the photo, you can see that a ruler indicates the scale in this photo. This print is smaller scale than some of the others that we've looked at.
  • The listing uses the word "medium" in several places. This fabric is going to have more body than the other, less-expensive listings.
  • I'd look at using a fabric like this in a dress like the New Look dress in the first example, or a wrap dress. A skirt would be a very good option for this print, unless you want an optical illusion right next to your face. (Who knows, maybe you do?)
Hopefully, you found this post helpful. I'm thinking about doing a post on cotton jersey knits next (like the ones on Girl Charlee), and then follow with one on rayon jerseys (which can very a LOT in quality and weight). My goal is to de-mystify the online shopping process and give you a little bit better idea of what type of fabric you're going to find when you open that box that arrives on your doorstep.


  1. Ooh, this is a great service. I have seen SO many comments to the effect of not getting what one expected from G.C. that I have been completely scared off from ordering from there. So I'll definitely be looking for that post. Oh gosh and don't get me started on the rayon jersey SPECTRUM...can't wait for that one too.

    "When describes something as "lightweight", they really mean it. "

    Truer words...

    1. Only thing I'll say is that there's no way to know if dye will run or the fabric will badly pill, which are the main issues with GC!

    2. Jenny is correct. And unfortunately, the dye running and pilling problems aren't limited to GC. I've seen people complain about very expensive rayon blends from Emma One Sock that have pilled, so that issue cuts across all price points.

      What I'm going to try to do is to shed some light on fabric weights and stretchiness and figuring out if those are appropriate for your project.

    3. I call the rayon jerseys that pill after 2 washes pajama knits. Having bought pajamas in similar fabrics from Kohls etc...They pill up after a couple washings. I have a couple tops made from these type knits and I am very disappointed. Marcy Tilton has some very nice fabric. She is $$ but I have only been disappointed one time, and it was one of these pajama knits. Her prices do reflect the quality. If it is a 16.00 yard knit versus a 24.00 a yard knit. The 16.00 is not as good quality, but it is not bad either.

  2. Thank you. This was most helpful. Like you, I am sometimes mystified by descriptions like "light weight", etc. Some sites have the ounces per yard listed, but I really don't have clue what that really means. If you know, could you discuss numerical weights ("7.5 oz") and what that translates into in terms of what type of garment it would be appropriate for?

    1. That's exactly what my plan is. I feel like I've got a pretty good feel for numerical weights at this point, and I think I can help out with that.

  3. I really appreciate this post and your honesty. This is so helpful.

  4. Nice post. My own ordering experiences from those sources parallel yours. If the only information someone takes away from this is "when describes something as "lightweight", they really mean it" you will have provided a great service! :) Karen

  5. Fantastic advice... I like your idea to make a catalog from swatches... Also, I just wanted to respond to one of your previous posts about being a plus-sized blogger. I think you look really beautiful in all of your posts. I also really appreciate your posts even more because I look a lot like you, and seeing how your beautiful, handmade clothes make such stylish outfits gives me a lot of confidence with my own clothes. So, thanks for returning to blogging, and I really look forward to seeing more from you!!

  6. This is awesome! Thank you for this series.

    I only sew with ponte knits and the occasional french terry because I know what to expect when I order them. ITY, jersey knits, rayon, silk, etc...these all weird me out and I avoid them. Perhaps with the help of your series, I may step out of my ponte knit bubble and try sewing different kinds of knits.

  7. What a great post!! As a knit newbie, I am sure am glad to see some help in navigating online knit shopping. I've been learning slowly but surely. Too bad that there is no way to tell if a fabric will fade -- like a jersey I got from Girl Charlee. I have several knits on the way to me (some arriving today!), so I'm hoping that they are all wonderful!!

  8. Thank you thank you thank you! Lately I have thought that if I had a blog, one post would be "I suck at on-line fabric shopping". This info will definitely aid me in understanding knits- in the meantime I have $100 of fabric from GC, none of which is what I expected it to be :(. It's partly my ignorance, but some I think is just crappy fabric. Live and learn! And order swatches!

  9. Thank you so very much for this information. I am new to buying fabrics online and trying to get the right ITY jersey fabric for the right design/outfit I want. I do have a question though....can you use the lightweight ITY jersey knit to make some women panties? Thanks.

  10. Thank you so very much for this information. I am new to buying fabrics online and trying to get the right ITY jersey fabric for the right design/outfit I want. I do have a question though....can you use the lightweight ITY jersey knit to make some women panties? Thanks.