The Pros and Cons of Rayon Knits

If you’ve ever seen my fabric haul videos, you know I’m crazy about rayon knits. All rayon, all the time! There are a few downsides to rayon knits though, so I thought I’d do a post about the pros and cons.

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Pros: 

Amazing drape. Rayon drapes like a dream. It has a natural weight that cotton knits don’t have, so you can have volume without bulkiness. It can make casual patterns look elegant and chic.

Great 4-way stretch. For whatever reason, rayon kits always seem to include a healthy dose of lycra/spandex/whateveryoucallit. Most rayon jerseys (except perhaps tissue weight or slub knits) have 4 way stretch, which makes it perfect for leggings of any close-fitting sleeve, skirt or dress that you want to move with you and not ride up or bind. Because of all the stretch, it’s also great for doing folded bands to finish necklines/sleeves. Just be sure to really stretch the band tight!

Super soft. Like butter. I always catch myself stroking the fabric on my rayon clothes! It also feels cool to the touch and breathes well, so it’s perfect in summer. Also great in winter, spring and fall.😉

Holds up well over time. Any jersey pills over time, but I find my rayon knit clothes hold up much better than cotton knits (which get the white halo) or polyester knits (which pill immediately.) It will pill on the inner thigh for leggings or pants.

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Cons: 

Gravity wins. Rayon gets tired of holding itself up all day. The neckline on my maxis stretch lower through the day, and the princess seams on my leopard Jalie Bella dress stretch and lose all shaping.To overcome the weight of rayon, I fold my rayon clothes over the hanger so that the shoulders don’t stretch out over time. I often reinforce the waistband on dresses with elastic, or use slightly wider folded bands to finish a neckline. The fabric bounces right back when gravity isn’t pulling on it, so the clothes don’t lose more and more shape over time.

Light weight. Who knows why, but a lot of the rayon for sale online is really thin. If you don’t want something slightly sheer, make sure you check for medium weight!

Solids show everything. This is why I love prints so much! Rayon prints are super-flattering, in my humble opinion… but oh boy, solid rayon will show every lump and bump. I’ve got a project that I’ll blog soon which is an example of when even a lovely fabric can be unflattering. Oh, and they get creased easily in the wash!

Hemming can be a b****. My coverstitch goes squirrely when faced with a light rayon. It’s hard to keep it going straight, and the tension needs to be fiddled so it won’t tunnel. Be warned! Plenty of my rayon projects in the pictures have raw hems though, and that works just fine.

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Types of Rayon Knits: 

Jersey. Includes slub knits, tissue knits, “regular” weight, medium weight, and super lush beefy knits. When rayon is blended with another fibre (cotton or poly, usually), the rayon adds some drapiness to the mix.

Bamboo jersey. Drool. So lush. It always seems to be medium weight, spongy, opaque, and doesn’t stretch out through the day. Worth the money. Kristin tells me that modal knit is equally lovely. Brits seem to talk about modal knits more than we do in North America – is it a linguistic difference or a matter of what is available?

French terry. Not all french terries are rayon – more often they are pure cotton, or cotton spandex. Rayon french terry though is soft, drapey, with 4 way stretch and amazing stretch recovery. If you want to make a cosy “wine cardigan” or fancy track pants, this is the fabric for you.

Rayon-poly-blend double knits. As with jerseys, adding even a bit of rayon to a double knit or ponte gives with weight, drape, and makes it slightly less likely to pill.

If you aren’t convinced yet, here are a few of my favourite projects I’ve sewn in rayon knits! 

(Uh, did I say “a few”? It was hard to narrow it down even this much!)

I love rayon knits – How about you? Have you used them much before?  Have you had any different experiences than I have? Feel free to add your 2 cents!


50 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Rayon Knits

  1. ALL RAYON ALL THE TIME! Unless it’s for the munchkin, than I prefer cotton, I like her clothes to be a little sturdier than mine, even if the difference is just in my head😉

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  2. Except for the fact that my sewing machine hated the rayon knit, I loved sewing with it. My serger loved it, too, and zipped through it like butter. I definitely want more rayon knits!😀😀 You’ve made me a total convert. It’s so soft and wonderful.❤

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    1. I admit, it’s been a while since I used a sewing machine on rayon knit, except maybe to zigzag elastic onto leggings… I’m so glad you are coming over to the dark ways of rayon!!!! All hail rayon!😉

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  3. I love rayon! So cool in summer.

    A little tip on doing hems…try reinforcing them by using Steam a Steam Light or Wonder Tape before stitching.

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    1. I’ll try that! I need to find the kind that washes out, because I don’t like the look of a flow fabric with an artifically stiff and unstretchy hem!

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  4. For hemming rayon, I do stabilize the edge with interfacing (the stretch kind) and then use my twin needles for knits. This works fine. Love rayon knits especially for t-shirts and tops.

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    1. Do you find it’s obvious that your hem is less stretchy than the rest of the garment? That’s my fear, and my I don’t use knit stay tape for rayon hems…

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  5. I have trouble with the weight exacerbating the stretch problem. Had a cute dress, but the sleeveless armholes pulled down half way to my waist. Ripped that apart and am trying a wrap dress with same fabric. We’ll see…..

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  6. I bought a sheath dress at Jacob in Rayon-Nylon-Spandex (no Poly) Ponte and it is really amazing! I now try to find some in fabrics shops, but it is hard to find… No pilling at all, great soft feel and bouncy recovery. No stretching over time at all… I suspect the nylon for its durability too.

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  7. I made a shingle-style dress in rayon for a wedding and it was SO COMFORTABLE all night. You’re definitely right about solids showing lumps, though! Nevertheless, I love the stuff and will probably make some rayon knit leggings in the near future.

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    1. That sounds like a great dress!!! I really like how rayon can be dresses up or down – unlike cotton knits, which I think are always casual. You should definitely give rayon leggings a go – it’s the perfect fabric!

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    1. What an interesting read!!! For some reason, my logic with fabric has always been that unless I’m going to go whole hog and only buy ethically-sourced local fabric or refashion clothes, then i’m not going to get in a fuss about the production process. That said, I’ve been to fabric factories in India, and the pollution was appalling…

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  8. I love rayon- both in a knit and it is BY FAR my favorite woven. Probably because its the woven that is closest to a knit. I’m glad the world is catching on because its been much easier to find rayons in the last 6 months or so. I’m curious as to where you have found medium weight rayon knits? Though I love the feel of the rayon knits I have used so far, other than ponte, I can only find ones that are so lightweight they are practically sheer and don’t work well for dresses. Maybe I should be looking for bamboo? I do have one modal knit that is just lovely. I think my favorite thing about rayon is how it stands away from the body a bit, I don’t know how it does that, but it is just magical!

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    1. You are so right about rayon standing away from the body! I’ve always thought of it as a clingy sort of knit, but maybe the magic is that it does both.

      For medium weight rayon knits, I’ve had good luck at Cali Fabrics, and I’ve liked all the bamboo I’ve ordered from fabric.com. I think a print helps disguise a slightly thin rayon, like my recent Jalie leopard dress, which is thin-ish but works well as a dress anyway. Other than that, I think it’s just a lot of groping fabrics while shopping, and hoping to hit the medium-weight jackpot!😉

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  9. Rayon, Modal (beech fiber), bamboo, and Tencel (eucalyptus fiber) are all cellulose based so share a lot of the same characteristics. Have seen some Modal knits online but have only ever seen Tencel in a woven.

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    1. OOh yes, good point! Anytime I see a really chic black jersey dress I always know it’s going to be rayon, and you are right, the colour stays saturated much better!

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  10. What a great reference! I have a few pieces of rayon jersey in my stash, but don’t really like them. I don’t like the slippery, drapey feeling–but they are soft. I’m more of a rayon challis girl, if I do rayon at all.

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    1. Rayon challis IS lovely – I just find it so slithery and annoying to sew! I find rayon knits very well behaved while sewing. Maybe you should try your rayon knits with a simple drapy tee pattern – and you’ll either not have them filling up your stash any more, or you’ll be in love!😉

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  11. “Hemming can be a b****”

    The best trick/”notion” for hemming knits in general is a washable glue stick. Just a plain ol’ Elmer’s is perfect. Let it dry so you don’t gum up your needles and then stitch away. It’s stiff when dry so it doesn’t fight the machines, and then washes right out with nary a trace. Plus, it’s CHEAP.

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    1. OOOOH!!!!!! I use gluesticks for bra sewing (and I’ve lost mine right now, and it’s driving me crazy.) I never thought of hemming with them though! I will try this for sure. Further proof of why you have the best coverstitching resources on the internet!!!

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  12. I love rayon knits, too. I’ve learned to go for quality over quantity, though, and usually just buy them as the occasional splurge from Emma One Sock.

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    1. Strangely, I’ve had great luck with really cheap (local) rayon… not so much with online orders, where it’s cheap quality for cheap prices. The pricey rayons I’ve felt have all be gorgeous though, so I think your logic is right!

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  13. I’ve been sewing knits with my sewing machine, and it’s been fine but the seam finish isn’t very nice looking. I like the glue-hem tip. But I understood that using a serger would work so much better for sewing knits. I finally acquired (loaned) a serger, paid for it to be repaired, bought several cones of thread, bought and watched (most of, not all) the Craftsy serger class, and I still don’t understand how to use the serger on knits!! The 4-thread overlock is not stretchy at all. Am I supposed to use the 3-thread overlock, or another stitch? I read somewhere to use wooly nylon in the loopers? How do I make a stretchy seam? I think there’s something really basic I’m not getting.

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    1. Something sounds wrong there – is it an option to take your machine back to the repair shop and show them? A 3 or 4 thread stitch on medium/normal settings should be just as stretch as the knit. (I always use 4 thread, for what it’s worth.) Wooly nylon is supposed to make it super stretchy, but sounds like you have a more fundamental problem than that.

      I assume the Craftsy class showed you have to set your stitch length and differential feed? The only reason I can think that your seam would be not stetchy normally is if you have it set to stretch the fabric out and you have a really long stitch setting… but if everything is set to normal/medium settings, that shouldn’t be the issue.

      Sorry – don’t know if that’s helpful or not. Definitely sounds off though! Hope you can get it fixed!

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  14. The few good pieces I’ve had I’ve LOVED…but then there’s the low quality stuff. Yuck. I’m convinced it comes from the factory with holes already in it. Either that or my washing machine thinks it’s a tasty snack. Plus, I’ve had trouble sourcing consistently good stuff–and price seems to be largely irrelevant. Do you have any tips for consistently finding the good stuff, or is it just a crap shoot?

    I’m going to have to see if I can locate some of this french terry–I’ve been thinking some cute lounge pants would be nice to have this winter.

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    1. Oh dear! Holes? That’s not cool! I’ve never had that. Personally I’ve found that the really cheap stuff can be hit or miss, but once it’s $10/m online, it seems to be better quality. Fabric.com has nice reliable bamboo jersey and bamboo french terry in solid colours, and all the rayons I’ve ordered from Cali Fabrics have been good. I stay the hell away from anything labelled as very light weight t though, and anything labelled lightweight means a top not a dress to me. Good luck!

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    1. I can’t wait to visit your store! I need a plan though – one garment I’m really going to splurge on fabric for, or else I’ll panic and walk out empty-handed, or with a weeks groceries worth of fabric!

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  15. I love rayon too. It drapes so beautifully for dresses and I also use it to make bulk leggings and underpants for my daughter who has sensory processing issues and is very fussy about fabric. For hemming steam-a-seam or other lightweight fusible tape is your best friend. It stabilises the hem without adding bulk, holds it in place without pins while you sew and will give you a perfect hem every time. I never do a knit hem without using it.

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  16. You do rayon very nicely. I have sewed with it some but the hemming issue has been such a pain – even when I use knit stay tape, my sewing machine refuses to hem rayon. I just got a coverstitch in hopes that that would help but you are making me scared!

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    1. Don’t be scared! I should say that my coverstitch stitches beautifully on rayon – it’s just that I have trouble keeping it going straight. It wants to wander side to side… but pulling the front and back of the fabric seems to help with that.

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  17. What a great run down Gillian! I have a love/hate relationship with Rayon knits. I love the drape and the hand, but I hate the wrinkles and how exposed to the cold it leaves you. I run cold and since I sew in my already cold basement, the window for wearing Rayon without a million extra layers is narrow. 😧 I second a fusible tape for hemming. Emma Seabrooke’s Sew-Keys-E makes for amazing hems on Rayon with a nice, soft hand. Bamboo is awesome… I can’t believe how much recovery it can have, and the couple of modal/cotton blends I’ve had in RTW tops are unparalleled in softness.

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    1. I’ll have to find some better hem tape. My knit stuff is too stable for rayon knits, but everyone seems to agree that some stabilizer is the key! I’m always cold too… which reminds me, I’m freezing right now and should really put on more clothes!😛

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      1. 😀 For real, Sew-Keys-E is magic stuff. It’s a really excellent knit fusible interfacing that’s been cut into varying widths. I’m out of the white right now and I’m dyyyyyying without it, but it’s one of those things that I forget to get because interfacing is not the most glamorous fabric purchase.

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  18. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Rayon knits. They feel amazing, but I find it depends on the project as to whether or not they are flattering. I do love my Marianne dresses that are made from it, but I have a couple of rayon knit tees that will not maintain their shape and end up looking like big sacks! Thanks for sharing your pros and cons! I always think your projects in rayon knit look awesome!

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  19. I don’t think that I have ever used a rayon knit but it is a bit hard to tell as I buy all my knit fabrics from either eBay or they were ones that I picked up in the market when I lived in the Netherlands more than 10 years ago (10 years!! They are almost vintage). Thanks for all the info. It is very comprehensive. I will have to keep my eyes peeled for some. Xx

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