Thursday, August 21, 2014

Shopping for knits online, part 2: Cotton Jersey Knits

I suspect that this is the post that many of you have been waiting for: a post on how to decipher the listings for the various cotton jersey fabrics that are available from Girl Charlee. Cotton jerseys can be surprisingly difficult to find online, and Girl Charlee carries a ton of them in their store, nearly all with cute prints and current colors. However, the weight, stretch factor, and general quality can vary a lot from Girl Charlee, which is kind of the elephant in the room when talking about shopping for cotton knits online. While you can certainly find cotton knits from other sources, I don't know of any other online sources who carry nearly the number of cute prints and variety of colors that Girl Charlee does.

This post is absolutely not intended to be a slam at them; I'm a regular customer there and have generally been happy with my purchases. I have learned, though, not to always be tempted by a really cute print; with their listings, you absolutely need to pay attention to the details so that you're not surprised when your order arrives on your doorstep.

Unlike the FabricMart and listings that I dissected in Shopping for knits online, part 1: ITY Jersey Knits, I have actually purchased the fabrics that we'll be looking at in the rest of this post, so I'll be able to tell you how these listings translate to "real life".

A note about pilling, fade, and pre-washing

I've seen numerous online reports about fabrics from Girl Charlee and other sources pilling, fading, or having dye run after numerous washes. Jenny from Cashmerette even ran into an issue where dye was rubbing off onto her hands and lining fabric as she worked with it. Unfortunately, I don't know how to protect yourself against these issues when shopping for fabric anywhere--whether it be online or in a brick and mortar store. I've run into these issues (except for the dye rub off) with fabrics from a number of sources, myself. I do have one Girl Charlee print that I suspect will probably fade after a number of washes, but most of my purchases from there have held up pretty well. I do know that knits printed onto cotton knits and cotton knit blends will be more susceptible to fade, in general than say, an ITY knit. I think that many of us have read stories of pricey fabrics from Spoonflower fading after a few washes, so it's a problem that runs across all price points. I know that increased poly content in rayon blends can contribute to pilling in rayon knits, so that's something else to consider.

I've also found many of Girl Charlee's prints to feel a bit "stiff" upon first touch. I have found, however, that most of them soften up very nicely after a wash or two. If you're disappointed by the hand/feel of a fabric that you've just ordered, try pre-washing it and drying it before making your final judgment.

Making sense of knit weights

Some web sites (including Girl Charlee) list a weight by oz for each fabric. Unfortunately, these numbers are meaningless if you're new to ordering knits online. Through trial-and-error and many online purchases, I've developed my own categorization of knits by weight. Your mileage may vary, but this is what I go by when I see weights listed in oz on a fabric listing:
  • Less than 7 oz: Anything under 7 oz is a lightweight knit.  I would avoid anything in this range unless you wanted to layer or line the garment that you planned to make.
  • 7-8 oz: light to medium weight, good for a top that needs a lot of drape or a flowy skirt (either lined or unlined, if the fabric is opaque). For example, a cowl top made from this weight of fabric will drape nicely. I would not personally use this weight for a wrap dress or for a simple knit top--a weight this light will be prone to showing lumps and bumps. Girl Charlee knits of this weight on a white background will be a bit sheer, as well.
  • 8-10 oz: A true medium weight. I find this weight range to be the most "multi-use". This weight works well for a variety of knit tops and dresses. I made both of my Monetas from knits in this weight range.
  • 10 oz and up: Anything over 10 oz is a "beefy" knit to me. I like this weight for plain t-shirts and other tops without gathering or ruching.  This weight will not cling to lumps and bumps (unless your top/dress/skirt is tight). Beefy knits also work well for the bodices of knit dresses, but if you made an entire dress out of a knit this beefy, the dress might feel a bit "heavy".
Most of the cotton jerseys (not counting things like French Terry) will fall into one of three categories. Note that the weights can vary slightly within these categories.
  • Cotton Jersey Blend
  • Cotton Spandex Knit
  • Cotton Spandex Blend (usually printed fabrics)
Without further rambling, let's take a look at a few listings, shall we?

Cotton Jersey Blend Fabric

Most of the fabrics in Girl Charlee's Exclusive line are listed as "cotton jersey blends". But what does that mean? This bird print is a good example of this type of fabric:

Cotton Jersey Blend fabric
"Blend" in this case means a cotton-poly blend. If you look at the listed fabric content, this fabric is nearly half poly. This fabric contains no lycra. What that means is that any stretch in this fabric is mechanical, so this fabric probably wouldn't be a good choice for a pattern with negative ease. 30% stretch isn't very much stretch for a knit, anyway. A high poly content in rayon blends also can contribute to pilling in the wash; however, I've made a few things from GC's cotton jersey blends and haven't noticed any major pilling yet.

Take a look at the scale. 2" by 2" is not a small bird. It's easy to overlook the rulers on fabric listings, but you need to pay attention to them if scale-of-print is a concern. Many of the cute animal prints (and by that, I mean birds, foxes, and deer) on Girl Charlee are of a similar large-ish scale. This scale doesn't make the fabric unusable by any means, but it will make you think twice about what pattern to use with it.

If I was looking for a pattern for this fabric, I'd look at something like a loose-fitting batwing top. You won't need much stretch for that type of pattern, and it won't have a lot of seamlines to break up the print. Personally, I actually really like this line for kids' clothes for Eva. A cute dress with animals on it for under $7? You can't beat that.

One final thing to point out for this listing is that they have over 250 yards available. This print isn't selling out any time soon. If in doubt, order a swatch, then wash the swatch and see what you think before you order.

Solid Cotton Spandex Knit

Girl Charlee's "solid cotton spandex knit" fabric is dyed, rather than printed, so it has a different feel from their printed cotton spandex knits.

Solid Cotton Spandex jersey knit

The biggest two differences between this fabric and the one above it is that this fabric is beefier and contains spandex and no poly.

I like this fabric a lot for inexpensive t-shirts and knit dresses. I used this exact fabric for one of my Monetas, and while I've seen some slight fading in the wash (I wash my handmade clothes on cold/delicate), it hasn't been too bad. 10oz is a nice weight for a lot of different types of garments.

With 60% stretch horizontally (around your body) and 30% stretch vertically, if you use this fabric in a dress, note that the bodice will likely stretch and be pulled down by the weight of your skirt. This isn't a bad thing, but it's something to be aware of when figuring out where your waist seam will hit you and how long your skirt hem will be.

Cotton Spandex Blend Knit Fabric

If the first two fabrics weren't named crypically enough, this one is even a bit more of a head-scratcher. Girl Charlee will often have a small amount of rayon blended in with the cotton-spandex jerseys that they use for their print fabrics. This fabric is a good example of that:

As is often the case with knits with rayon, this fabric is a bit on the lighter weight side--7.5 oz. The weight for GC's cotton spandex prints can vary a bit, so definitely take a look at that number before getting your heart set on a certain pattern for a given fabric.

Being a cotton rayon spandex blend, you can expect this fabric to be very soft. (I can confirm that it is, indeed, very soft.) Think "secret pajamas" when you think of the softness/comfort level for this fabric.

Since this fabric has 50% stretch horizontally and 15% stretch vertically, you could use this fabric for a pattern with negative ease. Like the other cotton spandex fabric, if you used this for a dress, it will stretch in the vertical direction, as well.

I bought a yard of this fabric in a different colorway to make a dress for my daughter, and while it'll be fine for a girls' dress, if I were using it for a woman's dress, I'd look at patterns like Colette's Myrtle, or a flowy maxi-dress.

This post doesn't cover every single variation on the cotton jerseys at Girl Charlee, but it should give you an idea of what to look for and give you a better idea of what you'll be getting if you order fabric from this site.


  1. This is really helpful, especially your helpful guide to the weights. I have just about got my head around gsm for viscose knits, but am completely in the dark about oz/yd even after quite a bit of research. I also like Natures Fabrics for cotton knits. It would be great if sellers would use tags like light, medium, beefy for their knits - often I know what weight I'm after and would like to look just at those ones. Great tips, anyway!

    1. Thanks! I'll have to check out Natures Fabrics.

  2. This post is brilliant! I've been disappointed with Girl Charlee in the past (like here: I feel like their descriptions are less accurate than other stores... but you describe it all so well!

    1. Thank you! With GC, I think it would be really helpful to their customers if they listed suggested patterns or even general garments with their listings. (A lot of online stores do this.) They also don't do themselves any favors with customer impressions with how stiff many of their print fabrics are before washing.

  3. Great post. Particularly the weight of the knits. I have never understood - especially for this person from metric land.

  4. I am a new reader (and new seamstress), this is great - thank you! I am really enjoying your blog as well.

  5. The printed cotton jersey I got from GC to make my last moneta faded in the first wash. Jenny suggested telling them about it and I did and received a credit which I used in turn to buy another cotton jersey (a modal) which is a little light (as expected) but will be nice with a lining for another Moneta. I did pay attention to the weight that time and the fabric is a "designer" one, which I've been told is a better fabric. GC is doing better at customer service, but I don't think I will order from them again. I got some nicer knits from fabric mart and I don't buy synthetic fabrics, so I have to be a bit more vigilant with the content.

    1. I'm glad to hear that you got a credit for the fabric that faded, although it's a bummer that you spent your time on the garment. I've got one of their modal jerseys, too, and my impression is the same as yours. It feels really nice, but it is a bit thin and will need a lining. Mine is pegged for a Myrtle--I figure that the self-lined bodice will take care of half of the lining, and then I'll just need to line the skirt.

  6. This is great info...I'm making notes to take on a field trip to the fabric store. I want to make the Vogue 8379 wrap dress in a solid colour, so I expect I will be getting a cotton jersey, correct?

    1. You can find ITY knits in solid colors, but I've had bad luck with solid ITY's fading/bleeding, so I'd recommend against that. For a solid colored Vogue 8379, I'd recommend either a cotton jersey or a beefy rayon jersey. Make sure that if you use a cotton jersey, that there's a decent drape and some lycra content to help with recovery. If you go for a rayon jersey, choose one that isn't too thin for your comfort zone unless you plan to layer the dress over a slip or cami.

  7. Thank you so much for this post! I think I broke Google doing searches trying to find this exact information. Most people just make general statements about the fabric they get from Girl Charlee (both good and bad) so it's hard to wrap my head around what people are actually getting and the corresponding quality!

  8. If you use these cotton knits for inexpensive garments, what do you use for your nicer garments?

  9. This stretch amount is tested and determined to be based on the most you would actually want the material to stretch on your body, knit fabrics