If you want to polarize a room full of sewists in 30 seconds or less, just ask them one question:
Do you prefer sewing with knit fabrics or woven fabrics?
In fairly short order you will end up in the midst of an impassioned debate. As with most debates, there are pros and cons on both sides. A little information can help both parties find the middle ground. So let's see what there is to see...
Note: For the purposes of this particular debate, we are going to leave spandex out of the discussion. It can muddy the waters between woven and knit, which we'll debate another day.
If you are someone who started sewing in school or was taught by a relative, you probably started your sewing career using woven fabrics. At their most basic, they look like this:
This is a drawing of a plain weave fabric. It's made in just the same way that you used to weave those basket cards for Easter in grade school. The edges, where the fabric was attached to the loom, are called the selvages. The threads that run parallel to the selvages are called the warp, and the ones that run from selvage to selvage are called the weft. An easy way to remember which is which is "the weft runs from right to left".
There are a few advantages to woven fabrics. They don't stretch much. Because the thread runs from selvage to selvage, the amount of stretch in the fabric is limited to the amount of stretch in the thread (aside from the bias, which we will also talk about another time). This makes them relatively easy to sew with for beginners. If you are using cotton or wool, they usually press well and aren't too slippery or shifty. It's easy to focus on construction techniques because the fabrics are easy.
There are also some disadvantages to them--they don't stretch much. This means that the garments that you make need to have some ease (that's the technical term for room to move). It also means that they need to have some shape to them, or they can end up looking like sacks. It takes some time to learn how to shape garments made from woven fabrics, and sometimes that can be frustrating.
Enter the knits...
After getting a little frustrated with the fitting business of woven fabrics, people often turn to knits. They have become a staple in most people's wardrobes in the last 50 years. Knits are, well, knitted.
One piece of thread follows the highlighted path, interlocking with its neighbours. If you were to pull that thread out until it was straight, you would end up with a much longer thread than the one that covers the same width in a plain weave fabric. That's where the stretch comes from.
It's that stretch that gives knits the look and feel that we all love. It's much easier to get a garment that fits using a knit. If something is a little smaller than you like, the stretch inherent to the fabric will help you out.
There are some issues with knits too (because none of this is straightforward). When you are sewing knits together, you have to build some stretch into the seam or it will pop when the fabric is stretched and the seam doesn't want to. As with woven fabrics, there is a learning curve when you start out.
That's really what all this comes down to - there are things that you have to learn about handling any fabric. It's interesting that this particular topic is so polarizing. When I mentioned to my daughter that I was writing about this, she announced that she was firmly on Team Woven. She just finds them easier to handle and the results are more predictable. Personally, it depends on the day for me. There is something very satisfying about constructing something out of woven cotton that presses well. But it's also satisfying to whip up a couple of t-shirts in an afternoon. So I guess I am firmly on the fence.
What about you? Which side of the fence are you on? Team woven or Team knit?
Next week: Burn Baby Burn - What About Those Unknown Fibres?