Friday, May 14, 2010

Field Notes on Sewing with Double Knits

Readers, I have a new fabric crush: double knits. I finished my Background Dress in a deep purple double knit, and promptly sewed the Christina Hendricks-inspired cutout sheath dress in a lovely black double knit. (I'm wearing it to an event tonight - pictures to come soon!) And then, to top it all off, I spent yesterday's lunch break shopping for a red double knit for some summer basics. I'm obsessed! There's just something so perfect about this fabric: it has the flattering drape and comfort of a knit but the stability to act like a woven. I've definitely found double knits to be a very good choice for vintage looks. Plus they're easy to sew and they don't require any seam finishing. What could be better? Come along and join me in my fabric crush!

The Basics

First off, what is a double knit? According to Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide, double knits were an innovation of Italian knit makers. They're stable, knits with little to no crosswise stretch. They're double-faced so they can be used for reversible garments. They're made of wool or synthetics. I personally like the synthetic blends of rayon and polyester, especially for the warmer months.

When can you use a doubleknit? Here's Claire Scaeffer's excellent advice:

For medium and heavy-weight double knits, choose a pattern that suggests a crisp fabric, and if the fabric suggestions do not include double knit, look for suggested wovens, such as linen, wool flannel, and corduroy.

For lightweight double knits, choose a pattern that suggests a soft fabric, stable jerseys, or crepe.

It is frequently better to avoid designs with hard, sharp creases and obvious gathers. Also, double knits cannot be used for patterns labeled "knits only."

Double Knits for Vintage Patterns

Have you ever noticed that vintage patterns often list jersey as a fabric option alongside wovens like chambray and shantung? This is because jerseys of the past - typically wool - were fairly stable, allowing them to be sewn just like wovens. Double knits are similar in body and drape to these vintage fabrics, making them a good fit for a vintage pattern that lists jersey as an option. A single knit or slinky jersey generally won't work well for these patterns because they lack body.


  • You don't need a serger to sew with double knits. Sew them just as you would a woven - with a medium length straight stitch.
  • However, it's important to use a ball point (stretch) needle to avoid skipped stitches.
  • Double knits don't fray so no need to finish the seams - hurrah!
  • Be sure to use a silk organza press cloth when pressing because pressing often leaves unsightly shiny spots.
  • It's recommended to use a twill stay tape to stabilize shoulder and waistline seams. (I didn't do this on my Background Dress, hopefully it will be okay without.)
  • I have used sew-in interfacings with good results. Another good choice is a fusible tricot knit interfacing.
  • Cutting double knits is a dream with a rotary cutter.
  • You don't need to line double knits.
  • Bound buttonholes work very nicely.

One of the best things about double knits is that they skim the body in such a flattering way yet can still have the curve-hugging sexiness of a knit. I found it very difficult to try to fit a garment in muslin that was meant to be made in double knit - the properties of the fabric are just too different. On my current double knit project, I opted instead to cut the pattern with extra-wide seam allowances and then do a basted fitting. This worked well since double knits are a bit more forgiving than a very firm woven.

Buying Double Knits
Gorgeous Fabrics has a nice online selection of double knits (check out this fab hot pink!) I have bought all of my double knits at Rosen and Chadick here in New York. Paron's has a nice selection of wool doubleknits. You can contact any of these sellers for swatches and buying tips.
Hope this info helps you delve into the wonderful world of double knits. As always, let me know if you have any questions!


  1. Gorgeous as always, great info on double knits, must give it a go. Cant wait to see your CH inspired dress!

  2. My only experence with knits so far was a double stretch single knit (seemed like a good idea at the time!) oh what a nightmare it turned out to both cut out and sew up. I swore I would never touch knits again. You have definitey peeked my interest though. I need some basic summer tops and the double knit would certainly do the job. Can you only use patterns that list knits in the fabrics though? I ask because you mention it is stable like woven fabric.
    Your background dress looks so good. beautifully made, fits you perfectly and versatile too.

  3. I'm still looking for wool double knit to make a suit. I remember my mom wearing Butte Knit suits when I was young - they always looked fantastic.

  4. jennywren, I just updated the post with an excerpt that tells you how to choose a pattern for double knits. Hope this helps!

  5. Thanks, this is a really useful post. I have been interested in sewing double knits. Maybe I'll buy some. (No, Rachel! Resist the urge! Sew the fabric you already have! Noooo......)

  6. This is so helpful to have someone explain DKs! Great post, I'll have to give this fabric a try.

    Also the dress looks fantastic on you, can't wait to see the sheath dress!

  7. Thanks for sharing this! I'm still trying to get the hang of drape and hand of fabric, plus how to use it and when to use what types of fabric, so this was super helpful and means I might actually try out the double knit! Love the garments you make but sometimes all the crepe and shantung and wha-? leaves me intimidated, but this type of post would give me confidence to branch out to double knits. Thanks!

  8. Wow, now I have to find a double knit. Thanks for the info, Gertie. I can't wait to see your Christina Hendricks ensemble.

  9. Any links to New York shops carrying double knit that do an internet business?

  10. Any tips on where to buy double knits? I've been looking online but I have a hard time telling if the fabric will have that nice drape, or will be too thin.

  11. Okay, now updated with a "Buying Double Knits" section. You guys sure keep me detail-oriented! Whew.

  12. Gertie, this is quite timely as I'd just received some of this in a "grab bag" of fabric and I was literally reaching to put it on the Salvation Army donate pile... but you're enthusiasm is giving me pause.

    Mine is not a luxurious wool but the more common and inexpensive poly. I am going to go peer at it some more and try to see the inherent not-suck that it may have.

    Speaking of fibers, what are the more common double-knits made of?

    Thank you for this post!

  13. oOO... I love double knits as well... but I feel like good quality ones are difficult to come by.

  14. Thankyou for adding the piece about choosing patterns for double knits. Answers my question exactly. Much appreciated.

  15. Can you explain the difference between interlock and double knit fabric? Structurally, they seem to be the same to me, although interlock usually implies cotton...? And interlock stretches or grows like crazy, whereas double knit does not?

  16. Your dress is beautiful. I love the deep purple. It is one of my best colors.

  17. I meant to add that the deep purple looks like it's probably one of your most flattering colors, too.

  18. I am with you, Gertie, on the double-knit love. I first sought out some when I acquired a 70's separates pattern that suggested it. Of course, all I could think of was the tacky double-knit polyester pants people wore then. However, I was able to find wool double-knit and rayon double-knit (can't tell you how fabulous that is) at Stone Mountain and Daughter in Berkeley, CA. My favorite part of sewing with double-knit is deciding which side I want to face out. It's great stuff to have some body, but drape like a knit.

  19. Oooh, this is very very useful, as my researches into 1940s British RTW tell me that a lot of women's suits were made up in "jersey", which didn't really make sense. This post is making me wonder why I'm not already sewing with double knits all the frickin' time -- must be the hangover of bad associations from the 70s.

  20. Ah, a knit that behaves like a woven! Now that's my kind of knit.
    Thanks for sharing - no wonder you're into double knits, your background dress looks wonderful!

  21. hey Gertie! Wonderful blog, I am new to dressmaking and have learned so much and gained great inspiration just from browsing through your posts! thank you! :)

    I'm about to start sewing an early 60s dress in heavy jersey double knit and have a couple of questions... it has reasonable stretch one way but more like 'give' the other- how should I cut it out? Should I make sure that the stretch is going a particular way and is the same for all my pieces? (sorry really hard to explain!)

    also, would I still need to use stay tape on the seams?

    any help appreciated! thanks :)

  22. thankyou for this information. I've just started sewing a gorgeous double knit dress and the stitches are skipping. I came to your blog to find info and voila here it is. I'm now off to the store to get a ball point needle. Thx

  23. Is this fabric an interlock or a Ponte/Pont/Ponte/Pontu di Roma Knits?

    There are several knits that are made on a double knitting system. I think the most common is a standard ribbed - which are very elastic and stretchable and therefore doesn't fit this description at all.

    Interlock is made on a two needle system that has the needes facing each other (instead of the standard variant where they are going past each other). The yarn is well... interlocked together. An interlock cotton is less elastic than other materials as it doesn't sprung back as well. An interlock is a really stable knit.

    The Pontu di roma is a variant, where half of the rows are regular interlock and the second half connects to a sort of flat tube inside the fabric instead. Which makes the fabric even more stable than an regular interlock.

    Or is it a milano knit? (made on a double knit machine with one row both systems, one row only one system and the last one the other system.)


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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