The large selection of knits in our store encompasses everything from delicate rayon tissue weight to heavy polyester ponte. But different knits require different care. To make things a little easier, let's take a minute or two to learn about different kinds of knits and how to best care for them.
First off, there are a few rules that apply to all knits.
- Spandex and Lycra (which are the same thing, just different brands) do NOT like bleach, heat, or dry cleaning. Seriously though--do not bleach spandex. It turns whites into yellow!
- It's best to hand wash cold. This ensures the best longevity for your garment. But if you want to use your washing machine, use the gentle cycle and line dry. Tumble drying knits can lead to pilling and/or weakening of the elasticity, so you may want to line dry knits or at least use a delicate cycle.
- It's best to take a 6" x 6" sample piece of your fabric (before cutting out your project) and wash/treat it as you will your finished garment. That way you will have no surprises after you have gone to the effort of laying it out, cutting, and sewing your garment. Every piece of fabric will behave differently when washing, so it's always best test a swatch first! If you do not like how it turns out, you can try another method or have it dry clean.
- If you take your fabric and clothes to a laundromat, there could be the added risk of harsher chemicals and bleaches left in the washer or dryer machine, which could damage your yardage, so be careful.
- These are just general guidelines for your garments to last longer and have less pilling (if a fabric or garment comes with specific instructions, you might want to follow those instead).
Lets start about the easiest knit fabric first. Cotton knits win that prize. This is why cotton knits are best for children's wear and other heavily used garments. Most manufacturers recommend to machine wash cold and tumble dry low or lay flat to dry. If it is a cotton/spandex blend, do not use bleach! Cotton will shrink, so it's a good idea to prewash cotton knits before cutting and sewing.
Next up: polyester knits. Since there are a lot of different ways to make polyester and synthetic fabrics, the way you care for your fabric can greatly vary by manufacturer. In general, you don't want polyester to get too hot since it can melt, so we recommend washing cold, whether that be by machine or by hand. If your fabric does not have any guidelines, use your best judgement. If it is a stable, tightly woven knit, you'll probably have more success with machine washing than if it is a delicate, textured, or specialty knit. Many polyester knits can also be dry cleaned.
Rayon knits are best to hand wash. Rayon fibers are weakened when wet, therefore it is best to limit washing if at all possible. Airing rayon garments on a hanger for a few days instead of frequent washing is also an option. Unless the fabric or garment is quite dirty, washing cold should do the trick. A lot of rayon knits are fine to tumble dry low, but they can pill up, so use caution.
Nylon knits are often found in swimwear and activewear. They act pretty similarly to polyester knits since they are another kind of synthetic, so don't get these too hot in the washer or dryer. That being said, most nylon knits will not take kindly to the dryer. They also will act adversely to bleach, since there is almost always spandex mixed in. Some nylon knits--like the kind used in swimwear--would prefer to be hand washed, so refer to the manufacturer's instructions if you have them.
Wool knits are a thing of beauty, but they require some special care. Unless the manufacturer says machine washing is okay, hand washing cold is the way to go. Wool can felt (meaning it will shrink and fluff up) with heat or agitation, so never put wool knits in the dryer unless instructed to. Laying flat to dry is best, since hanging wool knits can leave them misshapen or stretched out. As with other wool garments, take care with storage to avoid moths and other unwanted little creatures.
Silk knits also require special treatment. They should be hand washed cold and either hung dry or laid flat to dry. Be careful not to leave silk soaking in water for more than a few minutes, and don't wring out the silk when drying. We like to roll silk in a towel to remove excess water. Like other silk garments, silk knits can usually be dry cleaned.
Last but not least, linen knits. Linen knits make easy, breathable garments like this vest and are relatively easy to wash. Many linen knits are machine washable, though you may want to use a delicate cycle. Avoid bleach, as this will significantly weaken the fibers. And since most linen knits are so lightweight, it's best to line dry, lest they get eaten up in the dryer! Ironing while slightly damp is the best way to remove wrinkles.
If you've never worked with knits, check out our Knit Garment Class or our Intro to Serger Class. The Intro to Serger is a technique-based class, where you learn the ins and outs of that scary machine called a serger! Take the Knit Garment Class and come out with a brand new t-shirt, camisole, or skirt. Or try our newer class, Serger Project of Your Choice, where you can work on anything you'd like, from yoga pants to a new scarf!
What's your favorite kind of knit to work with? Have you ever had an issue washing or storing knits?