In Praise of Polyester

I’ve already done a post extolling the virtues (and failings) of my favourite knit material, rayon. Today I’d like to talk about my next favourite, which I think isn’t always given the respect it deserves!

Polyester knits can be pretty great, guys! (It can also be pretty awful, I’m not going to lie.) Let’s dive right in to the good and bad kinds of polyester! Where I can I’ve collaged together pictures of my makes in each fabric… but some fabrics I’ve never made anything blog-worthy with, so have no pictures!

The Good: 

itycollage

Left to right: 1, 2, 3

  • ITY (aka. Interlock Twist Yarn) is a smooth, silky poly knit that is often found in ready-to-wear clothing. It feels a bit like bathing suit fabric, but thinner and much drapier. It doesn’t crease, bag out, or pill. ITY comes in a huge range of prints and solids, and in my experience, is the most reliable kind of fabric to order online. No matter the price point, it’s always consistent and reliable! I use ITY for all my underwear (with a cotton gusset), and I love wearing it for work. It even makes good leggings – in summer I wear ITY shorts under rayon dresses, and rayon shorts under ITY dresses, for the perfect bland of breathability and slipperiness (so I don’t also have to wear a slip). I have ITY dresses that are 5 years old and well-worn, and look as good as new!

jacquard-collage

Left to right: 1, 2, 3

  • Jacquard knits are a double knit with two colours woven into a design. The jaquard knits I’ve bought locally generally have a bit of a rough, cheap feeling base material on the back, but a soft cottony-feel on the outside face. When I first touch the back , I think “Hmm, might be scratchy!”, but in practice, I’ve never had any trouble once I’m wearing it. In my experience jaquard knits are cosy and warm, and hold up well over time!

liverpool-collage

Left to right: 1, 2, 33

  • Liverpool/Crepe knits are a type of fabric I’ve only started seeing this year, but I really like. I’ve bought some at my local chain store (which now sells online!) as Crepe knits, and on Fabric.com where they labelled them Liverpool knits. This type of fabric has a pebbly crepe texture on the outer face, and a silky inner face which means they drape beautifully and don’t need to be layered with a slip. I have found one dress has pilled a bit where my name badge was pinned at work, but otherwise, they wash and wear like ITY without creasing or fading. (Heather used Liverpool knit from LA Finch Fabric recently, and I saw it on KnitPop as well, so I guess it’s officially a widespread type of fabric now! Had anyone seen it before this year? How did it suddenly become pervasive?) 

mystery-collage

Left to right: 1, 2, 3

  • Mystery knits: I’ve got a few garments in my wardrobe made from fabric that is uncategorizable – so synthetic, should be awful, but actually makes amazing clothes!

 

The “Hit-Or-Miss” Fabrics: 

sweater knits Collage.jpg

Left to right: 1, 2, 3

  • Sweater knits can be good or bad. I tend to find mid-weight sweater knits are the best-behaved, whereas thin polyester knits can loose their drape when they go through the wash, or be too thin and cheap to sew nicely. Definitely potential there though!
  • Brushed jersey is popular right now – and I like it in some circumstances. Great for tight-fitting clothing like athleisure leggings or tops, but wouldn’t be my choice for anything more elevated or flowing. I might be proved wrong though – it’s a fabric I haven’t experimented enough with yet!

quilted-and-scuba-collage

Left to right: Love #1, about to trash #2 because these leggings make me COLD, and never wore #3 because it was sweaty and gaped.

  • Quilted knits and scuba can be great… or not. Some feel very synthetic, and have a nasty smell when ironed. They can be scratchy on the inside, and very stiff, or they can be soft and lovely. Both quilted knits and scuba tend to be quite stable with only 2-way stretch, so consider that when you choose your size and pattern. These are the only two forms of polyester that I have ever noticed make me feel a) colder and b) smellier. For that reason, I think quilted knits work best as a layering piece over other fabrics, and scuba works wonderfully for something like a sleeveless fit-and-flare dress.

 

Now for The Bad: 

ponte-collage

Left to right: #1 pilled unwearable in 5 washes, #2 got donated for fit problems before it pilled, #3 also pilled and faded straight away! 

  • Ponte double knit made out of pure polyester always disappoints me. It tends to fade and pill appallingly quickly, and become unwearable. Prints seem to be particularly a problem – I’m looking at you, pretty floral prints and Girl Charlee cute designs! Not worth wasting money on a fabric that won’t last, in my opinion. Good quality ponte generally has a significant amount of rayon blended in, and then it’s more likely to last.
  • Jersey made from polyester is THE WORST! I’m talking about the stuff that is pretending to be cotton or rayon, but actually has no drape, often limited stretch, and fades and pill immediately. If you have even slightly rough skin at your fingertips, this kind of fabric snags and catches on the rough parts, making it unpleasant to sew or wear. (As proof of how much I hate polyester jersey, I just paid $45 to mail back $70 of fabric to Minerva Crafts that was labelled as rayon online but turned out to be poly. Waste of my money, but I tried sewing with it and just ended up with an unwearable garment!) 

 

I think polyester gets a bit of a bad rap. We’ve all heard people say “I only sew natural fibres.”, right? Which makes sense if you have a medical reason or live in a climate that very hot, cold or damp, or maybe it’s for ethical reasons… but I think there is such a good range of polyester options that wear well and last for years! That said, most of my online fabric shopping disappointments come from polyester content where I didn’t expect it, so do be careful.

All of this is just my personal opinion, so I’d love to hear your thoughts! We all look for different qualities in our fabrics, so it’s fair to disagree. What are your favourite (or least favourite) forms of polyester knits? 

 


50 thoughts on “In Praise of Polyester

  1. I completely agree with you on this- for years, I avoided polyester like the plague it once was, but now I don’t care about fibre content on the whole. If it looks nice, and feels good to wear, it stays. Of course, silk, linen and wool are wonderful, but not ALWAYS worth the extra work or wash problems…

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  2. My BIGGEST problem with synthetics is:… ah… B.O. I can spray, soak, and pray, but the BO returns to the garment as it “heats up” when I wear it. (This does not happen to me with natural fibers.) Does anyone else have this problem? Solution? P.S. It’s not a deodorant problem.

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    1. You are not the only person to mention this! I guess I do wash most clothes after wearing them once, but that’s what I’m used to so I”m not sure if changing he fabric would change that? Maybe it also helps that I live in Canada and I’m cold ALL WINTER, inside the house, at work, or outside. I have had those clothes before that held onto the funk even after washing – I don’t know why that is!!!

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    2. I have that problem, although I’ve not noticed it in synthetics as much as cotton fabrics. I find that my workout tees and any underwear I’ve worn to work out in will have a lingering odor that is not noticeable until after I’ve been wearing it for a while. I once saw a product that was made to remove “heat activated odors,” but I don’t remember where and the price was higher than I wanted to pay. I did research online and found that soaking the garment in vinegar will neutralize the odor and I did that and it worked a treat. I just have one of those plastic cat litter containers that I soak things in it for a bit before putting them in the wash. And the vinegar smell is gone by the time it’s through the wash, so I don’t even smell like a salad afterward.

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  3. Very interesting, I agree with the ITY – this is the first winter i have worn some ITY tops, they don’t keep you very warm! Never hear of the Liverpool knits but thanks for the fabric.com link 😉 I am all for experimenting!

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    1. I”m enjoying the Liverpool knits! I’m hoping that, like ITY, they are something that’s reliable to order online. (Unlike jersey, which can turn out thick or thin or stable or who knows what!)

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  4. I agree on all fronts! 🙂 I’ve never had an issue with polyester knits as a whole. I’ve only had issues with poor quality, but that can happen with natural fibers, too. 🙂

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    1. I”m glad to hear I”m not the only one! It’s definitely partly because Fabricland doesn’t carry a lot of rayon, and only rarely has rayon prints… but you certainly have more options in the city!

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      1. You know what, though, there really aren’t. I think knit fabrics are largely not a huge thing in Canada and knit prints are barely available. Online is definitely the way to go. I’m glad to see more knits at Fabricland, though. Too bad it isn’t accessible to me anymore, though. hahah.

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  5. This was a great post; you have so much experience with knits of all kinds, so it was nice to read your perspective on polyester variants. I was so bummed for you about that rayon-that-wasn’t on IG–what an ordeal! >=[

    I agree that polyester has its place and uses in most wardrobes. Like you, I am a fan of ITY knits–they take prints wonderfully and I’ve yet to handle one that I wouldn’t want to have against my skin. I actually enjoy scuba knits, partly because they stretch well while retaining some body; my interest is also partly intellectual, because the texture and feel of the fabric fascinates me!! Good scuba knits also have a nice smooth face (probably because of nylon in the blend), whereas sometimes double knits/pontes have obvious knit texture on the right side that can look cheap or worn. They can snag though, and they aren’t ideal for warm weather garments IMO. I’ve never tried a brushed poly (but you are right, they seem to be EVERYWHERE right now) or a Liverpool knit, but maybe someday I will. SO many fabrics, so little time (and space, and cash, and….=D)

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    1. That’s a great description of good scuba, and helps me separate in my brain what I haven’t liked about cheap stuff vs. what I admire in nice fabric! I do enjoy the drama scuba can bring – I feel like there’s a reason that project Runway designers choose scuba so often!

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    1. It can definitely take some trial and error to figure out which patterns are going to work with which fabrics… but I do like how reliable ITY is! Always seems to have the same weight, body and drape!

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  6. I’m glad you’ve found some nice polyesters. You’ve made some lovely things. I personally cannot stand the stuff; the only time I am smelly is when I wear it, and the smell does not wash out.
    Living in a cold climate I practically spend my winter in wool and I love the breatheability of linen for the summer. Wrinkles? sure but I consider them status wrinkles 😉 . Plus I feel bad about using stuff that will not decay in the landfill.

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    1. AHh, decaying in landfill is a good point. I like to think that clothes that last for years are more env friendly that things that pill, fade and wear out quickly, but I hadn’t considered if they would biodegrade! (Not that our dumps are designed for things to decay – I think it’s all sitting there forever, at least in Canada.) Food for thought!
      Also, tell me more about what sort of wool clothes you like to sew! I’ve got merino available locally for the first time, but it’s so thin and only in solid colours that I’m not quite sure what to make with it!

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    1. Yes, but I”m not clear on how the net environmental impact of producing a polyester or poly blend knit is different than that of a cotton, linen, rayon, etc. I’ve seen dye and other chemicals from cotton factories in India run straight into the river, so it’s clear to me that a natural material does not mean an environmentally-friendly production process. I am curious to learn more though, so if you can suggest any research to read, I’m alll ears!

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  7. Helpful as always Gillian. As a rule I avoid poly because it doesn’t breathe and being one who can comfortably live in a meat locker it just ends up downright smelly 🙂 I also TEND to avoid rayon – not because it doesn’t breath but because it can be a DEVIL to sew, pattern pieces grow all out of shape seemingly unprovoked and it can pill as well. I do however like some poly in my jeans. There is a magic blend of 75% cotton, 23% polyester and 2% spandex that make perfect jeans 🙂

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    1. SO good that you’ve figured out your ideal denim blend! I like a bit more spandex than that – but I agree, the poly can really help them denim in small quantities!

      The smell issue is interesting, and several people have mentioned it. I don’t find I sweat or smell more on a poly day than a rayon shirt day, but I do only wear most clothes once before washing. That one purple quilted knit top I sewed made my have BO instantly though – why is that?

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  8. Thanks so much for this post – I’ve been trying to work out what ITY meant for absolutely ages! I’m a natural fibres girl at heart (I do worry about it being unsustainable), but then again, polyester is so quick and easy to wash and dry that I’ve always been a bit envious of people who can pick polyester fabrics that won’t fade, pill or itch. Which is where this post will help! How do you manage with pressing it though?

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    1. I really need to do more research on the relative env impacts of different fabrics being produced! Realistically, poly is the majority of what I can buy locally, so that’s why I sew it. In my ideal world I’d wear more rayon, but it’s hard to fin in a medium weight with good prints! I also way hope that clothes that last years are in the end the least harmful, but if you have any good info sources, I’d love to find out more!

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      1. My impression is that it’s a real minefield out there. A lot seems to depend on where scientists draw the lines around the lifecycle of a garment, and what impacts you measure. I absolutely agree with you that creating something you’ll wear over and over makes a huge difference, (as does washing at low temperatures and drying outdoors). The article that really worried me was this one: (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/20/microfibers-plastic-pollution-oceans-patagonia-synthetic-clothes-microbeads), which describes how synthetic fibres leak out of our clothes each time we wash them, with knock-on effects on aquatic life. I’d love to know what other sewists think on this topic and how they choose what fibre to sew with.

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        1. Ooh, that is a sobering article! Microfibres had never crossed my mind as a form of pollution! I’m going to feel guilty every time I prewash fabric now, because that’s the time when it sheds the most. I wonder if any more research has been done on the shedding properties of different fabrics than fleece – it does seem like it would naturally have fibres that would pull lose, but something tight and smooth like ITY, surely less so? I”ll do some googling and let you know if I find anything – thanks for the link!

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  9. thanks for this lovely, thoughtful post! My bad experiences polyester have also been in the form of ponte–it pilled so quickly.

    I’m very curious about the shorts you make out of ITY/rayon. What pattern do you use? I absolutely have to wear shorts under dresses–chafing makes me grumpy very quickly, no matter the temperature.

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    1. I just use my favourite leggings pattern (Cake Espresso leggings, but any pattern with minimal seams would work), and cut them short! With ITY you don’t even have to hem them – and then you don’t get a hemline bump under slinkier dress fabrics. Easy peasy!

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  10. I’m still relatively new to fabric options so really appreciate this post (and will have to go back and check out your rayon post.) I’ve experienced the odor issue with some RTW tops, too. Will have to look back at the tags to check out the fabric composition. I love that the sewing blog community is so open to discuss things like this that could normally be an awkward conversation!

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    1. Hehehe – I’m feeling like we all need to do a collective smell test to compare the same pattern sewn in different fabrics! I swear I don’t notice a difference on days I wear poly or rayon, but I have had one or two poly items that do seem to cling on to BO even after washing! Generally though, not a problem.

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  11. I pretty much avoid polyester–I hate the way it feels clammy, holds odors, and pills. Natural fibers age well; cotton and linen fade a bit and gets softer and more comfy as time goes on. Polyester just gets nasty.

    The exception for me is fleece, which I live in during the cold winters here. I always wear a cotton tee or turtleneck under it, and I love how soft and warm it is.

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    1. Seems like the feel of wearing poly is really personal! I don’t find it clammy at all, and the fabric I choose to sew almost never pill. I hate how fast cotton knits fade. The smell factor though – a lot of people have mentioned that! Makes me wonder if I’m just totally used to it and accept it, or if it’s really not an issue for me?

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      1. It might be a quality issue, that the fabrics you’re getting are just higher quality than the ones I’m familiar with. It occurs to me now that I haven’t used 100% poly in so long that maybe what they’re making now doesn’t have the issues that I’m griping about. I hope so, anyway.

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  12. What an interesting post! I’d never heard of Liverpool knits but will look out for them now. I’m another who feels the cold and has no problem wearing polyester, but I agree poly double knit is best avoided. I wish I could find a wider range of solid colours of viscose (aka rayon) jersey. I love the drape.

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  13. Part of the reason polyester knits might have such a bad rap is because of the chain stores that mostly sell cheap polyester fabric as a whole. I remember being shocked the first time I bought real ITY from an online shop, especially that it’s still comfortable to wear during our humid summers! I made that dress probably 5-6 years ago, and it’s still in great shape. So far, I’ve enjoyed working with ITY, other than my machine hates hemming it and often skips stitches. I’m hoping the new coverstitch solves that. The prints are fun on those! I do wish it was easier to find quality sweater knits, though, since the best ones always seem to be wool, and animal fibers and my skin just don’t play nice. Do you know of any online shops that generally have nicer poly ones?

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  14. I’m with you! ‘Polyester’ is such a broad term as to be pretty meaningless – there’s such a wide variety. I tend to sew with more natural fibres because the local-to-me stores have either really terrible polys or ok natural fibres, and I don’t like to order polys online because I need to feel them first. But it’s good to have a reminder to check out the non-natural fibres, because sometimes they are amazing!

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  15. Interesting! I often avoid polyester because my experience of it is associated with being sweaty and smelly. But now I think about it, I do have a few RTW dresses made of (presumably) ITY and they are nice to wear in cooler weather. I love seeing higher-end RTW clothes with interesting and lovely poly / synthetic blends. I think design houses will have those blends custom made to suit the garments. Don’t know about the sustainability of polyester – or of natural fibers for that matter- and it is something I think / worry / wonder about. I like the philosophy of being mindful in buying decisions, using what you have, wearing things out, and then re-purposing.

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  16. I can’t believe Minerva would make you pay to mail back something that was mislabeled!

    My favorite thing about polyester is that it doesn’t stain as easily as natural fibers. I’m such a klutz…

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  17. I don’t use too much polyester in my sewing, mainly because in summer it makes me feel like I’m wrapped in plastic, and in winter it doesn’t keep me warm. I do have a few polys in the wardrobe and they are either technical or sports polys designed to wick away moisture (all RTW items, as they seem elusive fabrics to buy) or I’ve used them in “special occasion” dresses – the type of dresses I don’t expect to wear for too long at any one time, or do too much in. This keeps the BO effect at bay (I hope!)

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  18. First of all – thanks for the mention! Before I ordered that liverpool knit from LA Finch (which was really great by the way) I had heard of liverpool knits but had never seen them before. I was pleasantly surprised with it.
    Secondly, I totally agree with you about ITY making great leggings. Now I want to try it for undies too. I did use some to cover foam cups in a bra once, and while the bra doesn’t fit super well, the fabric looks awesome! Great post as always Gillian!

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    1. What? That’s crazy. Wash and dry in any way because that fabric is indestructible! Doesn’t shrink, doesn’t fade, doesn’t pill.

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