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Knit Knowledge–Ribbed Knits, Ribbing & Pile Knits


Ribbed knits are the stretchiest of the three main types of knits. Ribbed knits are characterized by the vertical ribs that you’ll see when you give the fabric a little stretch.

100% cotton ribbed knits tend to be very soft and are great for the bodies of tees, pajamas, baby clothing and lots more. They aren’t great for necklines or trim that needs good recovery, though, because they tend to stretch out and not bounce back.

I find cotton ribbed knits the most difficult to work with because they stretch so much. You have to take the greatest amount of care with them to not stretch while you’re sewing. With ribbed knits, a walking foot is really a must! It’ll help prevent seams that look like this (more about hemming tomorrow):


Ribbing is actually a type of ribbed knit. It sometimes comes in a tube rather than flat on a bolt. Ribbing usually has a small amount (3%-5%) of lycra or spandex mixed with the cotton fibers. Because of the lycra or spandex, ribbing is perfect for neckbands, trim and waistbands. (The Comfy Sleep Set in Stitch magazine uses cotton/spandex ribbing for the waistband.)


In addition to the three main types of flat knits that we’ve already discussed, there are knits that have a pile or texture to them. French terry is smooth on the front side and has loops on the back. French terry works well for lightweight loungepants and sweatshirts. Sweatshirt fleece is similar to french terry only the loops on the back side are cut and brushed for a softer feel. Sweatshirt fleece is usually a bit heavier than french terry as well. Both french terry and sweatshirt fleece have very little stretch. Sewing either of them is similar to sewing woven fabrics.

Stretch terry is the fabric that you’ll most often find in hooded baby towels. It’s the opposite of french terry with the loops on the front and a smooth back. Stretch terry is usually cotton on the front with a backing of polyester and has a good amount of stretch. Velour is basically stretch terry with the loops sheared off and brushed smooth. Cotton velour is luxuriously soft and squishy. It, too, usually has polyester in the backing and stretches well. It’s a perfect choice for baby clothing and loungewear, and our favorite use for it this time of the year is in cloth tissues. They are so, so soft on sore runny noses.

Oh, the questions! They are awesome. Many of them I can answer. Some of them, though, have sent me off researching. I love it! Keep ’em coming! For an entry into this week’s drawing, add a comment to this post with either a question that you’d like me to answer on Friday–I won’t get to answer them all, but I will answer as many as I can–or comment with an answer to this question from me: Today’s question is, “What is your favorite knit print that is available to purchase today?” If you don’t yet have a favorite, go do a little window shopping and see what you can find. You can start at The Fabric Fairy and dream a little about what you’d spend the $20 gift certificate that Caroline has donated if you win!

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35 Responses to Knit Knowledge–Ribbed Knits, Ribbing & Pile Knits

  • Lisa says:

    My favorite print that I have are the giraffes. I have every one made except for the black on hot pink that is extremely HFT! I plan on making matching shirts for my 6 kids for pics this summer. 🙂

    I do want to get some of the Bacon & Eggs print and I’d love some Michael Miller Dino Dudes when I have money.

  • Colleen says:

    Thanks for doing this Bonnie – I\’m learning little bits every day. Can you tell us how many layers you use to make your cloth tissues? Thanks!

  • Shalini says:

    Thank you for todays entry. It has resolved the french terry/loop terry/velour mystery for me! I have some ooga velour that I’d love to use to make coveralls.

  • Laura says:

    Thanks for doing this! I am actually learning alot about the different knits that I was unsure of! I also just bought my first walking foot for my new machine so much easier to sew with knits! Before I was ironing and spray starching those areas before so! The walking foot makes it much better!

  • LauraB says:

    I haven’t worked with many knits, as they’re htf locally and I can’t afford the crazy shipping usually entailed to Canada. But I love the look of the Ooga Booga print, the Iced Giraffes, the Bacon & Eggs, etc. There are so many cute prints! Keep the tips coming! I’m learning lots!

  • Rebecca says:

    There are a couple cute boy prints that I love ~ Dino Dudes, Iced Giraffe (although I find that one a bit babyish), Ooga Booga, and retro cars. I’m hoping to make a couple things for my little guy this year with knits ~ thanks for the tips!

  • Alison says:

    I love that Michael Miller has printed groovy guitars on interlock! And I love the Patty Young knits. I also am in Canada and find that I can order from the US and still pay a more reasonable rate even with the exchange rate and shipping than I would find regularly priced at Fabricland. I got a great deal on some bamboo jersey from Wazoodle. But, the best deals are the thrift store on bag sale day. I love repurposing old t-shirts. Sewing with knits doesn’t have to break the bank.

  • Kimberly says:

    My favorite print is Later Alligator. Of course, I don’t have any!! Rib knits and their abundance of stretch scare me! I tend to avoid them.

  • Yara says:

    I’ve had a hard time finding knits.
    I have some I’ve purchased on co-ops. which are great, but a kid can only wear so many ooga boogas, you know?
    I’ve found a couple of prints at Joann’s, but they don’t have much.
    What is the best place to get knits?
    I love the prints you’ve shown!

  • April L says:

    I seriously want some of the MM cotton interlock. Can’t wait to get some of that in my stash! Fabric Fairy also had a cute print – the heart argyle. <3 it!

  • Michelle Smith says:

    Right now my favorite print is mm dino dudes. There aren’t many boys knits out that aren’t babyish. One question I have is about topstitching knits. I know a stretch stitch is recommended so I use a slight zig zag. What about using a twin needle? Could a straight stitch be done with that without the stitches breaking during use?

  • Barbara says:

    Fav knit prints currently are the peanuts on pink or blue and the original breakfast food knit. Do you remember those? They are now a HTF, no longer available, pay really BIG bucks for them prints. So I don’t think I will ever own them but will keep the faith that I find a scrap on day to be able applique on something…lol.

  • Alisa says:

    That’s a tough question to answer, Bonnie. My favourite? That’s too hard to narrow down. I do have a question for you though. How do you know if the knit you order online (as I am assuming you do) is going to be a good quality fabric? I once ordered some knit fabrics online and I was so dissappointed with the quality. I have also used Michael Miller’s knits which were great to work with. Are there certain names or manufacturers that have a reputation for quality knit fabrics?

  • Valarie says:

    This answered a lot of questions for me. Now, what is the difference between a ball point needle and a stretch ball point needle?

  • Ann says:

    I can’t believe all the choices there are! I live in a small town in Canada and there are about 5 choices of knit fabric in the Fabricland that is near us and none of them are remotely cute!

    For Michelle – you can use a straight stitch to top-stitch knits if you gently stretch the seam while sewing it. This should imitate the stretch that the garment gets while being put on and worn.

  • Monique says:

    I think right now my favorite is the pink chickadees print. Although I may be biased/influenced because my daughter has a dress that I made for her that she wears all the time and every where we go people always comment on the chickadees and how cute the dress is.

  • Cristy says:

    Oh my! The corduroy bears print is adorable! and the horses and saddles…the cowboys, the choo choo trains… My boys would LOVE all those prints!

  • Trisha says:

    Oh so many good tips! I never knew the difference between stretch terry and french terry, but now I do!

    My FAVORITE print right now is the MM Dino Dudes interlock. It’s so hard to find cute boy prints out there, and I think this is awesome!

  • Jada says:

    I guess I can’t say that I have a favorite at the moment. I am not buying fabric for a while, until we find out when/where we are moving. But, my all-time favorite knit fabric is a blue on blue flying machines print I bought some time ago. I still haven’t used it though, because it is a thin fabric and I’ve trouble sewing those without them getting munched up.

  • Dawn H says:

    I don’t really have a fav, but I just used some white with lizards on it for a charlie hoodie for DS. It turned out so awesome and he wants to wear it every day. It’s my new fav finished object. 🙂

  • Debi Sokol says:

    I usually can find interlock kits at JoAnn’s. For ribbed knit to make neckbands, cuffs , etc I find fabric on Etsy. Just be sure you know the dimensions of the fabric piece as the width of the fabric is often 26″ rather than the standard 43″. I made a BIG mistake when I purchased a pile of ribbing scraps as there was not enough of the color for a project or the cut was wrong. Most of my knit projects are baby clothes that need some stretch to them.

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