Basic Sewing Concept: Grain in Knit Fabric

Did you read last week’s post with basic information about Fabric Grain in woven fabric?  A new question raised by me back when I was learning to sew was:  Do knits have grain?  Answer: Yes! 

Today, lets explore fabric grain in knit fabric in a basic kind of way. We all know that knits are used for active wear, tee shirts, leggings, close fitting dresses and other garments with stretch – not to be confused with hand knitted garments.

That’s me in 2013, wearing a knit top I wear constantly – and it still looks good (I weigh a little more now).  I still wear it frequently. Do you think I need more staples like this? 

We’ve established that fabric grain is created when the lengthwise and crosswise yarns/threads intersect in the weaving process.  Knit fabrics are NOT woven; they’re created on knitting machines in a textile mill with interconnecting loops.

Source of image 

The grain in knit fabric is determined by “wales” that form vertically in a plain knit. A wale is a vertical directional element formed in the knitting process when yarn loops are connected to each other. There is just one yarn in the basic knitting process.

blue knit

So, the lengthwise grain in knit fabrics is along the wale; yes, knits have a selvage edge parallel to the wales. You’re advised to use the wales to align the pattern, rather than the selvage.  Fold the fabric along one lengthwise wale and align the pattern grain arrow along that.  Your project must be sewn on a grain perfect fabric – have you ever seen a knit garment off grain? It ain’t pretty.

Here are some questions I might have asked in a past life:

Q: What does one do when a knit fabric is off grain from the textile mill – and it’s already been cut and purchased with no chance of returning it?

A:  Align the pattern piece with the lengthwise grain. The rest of the fabric may not align with itself – that’s not good, but there’s not much choice here. I mean, you cannot stretch the fabric to force grain-alignment as one does with cottons.  In short, you’re stuck with it. So make it, use it, and then cut it into cleaning rags.  Moral of this story – purchase from a reputable knit fabric seller, or purchase carefully.

Q: My knit fabric is striped but the stripe is off grain! What the h***! 

A: Align the stripe with the grainline of your pattern and give up on the fabric grain. Or, pitch the fabric since it’s probably from the bargain bin.  I don’t want to “trash” bargain bin fabrics (pun intended), because I have found some real gems there. Moral: look closely before you buy from the bin.

Before beginning your project, pre-wash the knit.   Thing to note:  selvage in knit fabric curls up a little, sometimes it curls up a lot.

novelty knit
The knit I’ve pictured here is perfect – grain-wise.  Yay!

The photo above shows the fabric I’m working with right now. Its a novelty knit wavy pattern, because some other creative process was applied at the textile mill to give it a textural, wormy look. And… it’s grain-perfect! Before cutting, I matched the striped pattern as accurately as possible by matching the stripes at the selvage and pinning them together before laying out the pattern piece.

Work-in-progress alert:  the striped novelty knit is halfway to becoming this Butterick Pattern jacket designed by Katharine Tilton.


And, here’s cutie pie Snoopy on a perfectly grained knit fabric. Thought you’d enjoy looking at it.

snoopy knit
Can you spot the wales?

I hope there is lots of successful sewing with knits in your future. I love knits, period.  Please ask questions in the comment section, or put down your thoughts about this. As for me, the more I explore fabric grain, the more questions are raised in my mind.

Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving! My thoughts right now are with the victims of California’s deadly fires. Stay safe, everyone.


5 thoughts on “Basic Sewing Concept: Grain in Knit Fabric

  1. I just got some relatively expensive knit fabric $16/ yard that was so horribly off grain, it was awful! I tried my best – its a plain black, so at least there wasn’t any pattern matching to do. I made a Cardigan out of it, but it’s too cool to wear it now, but it will be interesting to see how the garment wears. I have to buy fabric online, as we are isolated. I usually put my yardage in the washing machine as soon as I get it, so I couldn’t return it – but I will check from now on. I wonder if it was like that from the factory or it happened while I washed it? Thanks for the information!


  2. Love these grained knit fabric and ofbcourse cutie pie Snoopy too 🙂
    Can’t wait for your upcoming knitting projects.


  3. I drafted a cute cocktail dress to be made with a woven. The client purchased a poly knit fabric… 😩 Luckily the stretch isn’t that bad. But…. Can still use the same pattern or will I need to start from scratch?


    1. Jacquelynn, if the poly knit purchased by your client is a stable knit (without too much stretch), treat it like a woven. You don’t need to redraft the pattern. Besides, I’m sure you will have a fitting session before completing the dress — some issues cropping up due to the woven/knit difference can be sorted out then.
      I’m thrilled that you read my blog! Thank you : )


  4. Samina,
    Thanks for your super helpful and complete definition of finding the grain on knit fabrics.
    Once I complete my simple T-shirt proj, I’ll check back in on your blog.

    Renée G.


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