The T-Shirt Project #10: picking knits for children

To keep up with my one-a-month goals for the project, I decided to make it easy on myself and make something for #1.  I have no idea when I’ll get back to sewing for myself, but definitely, I’m on a break for a little while.  I was a little disappointed about this decision, then it occurred to me that it’d be a good opportunity to write about knit fabrics and kids.  And certainly, writing about that is better than lamenting over the state of my hair (go figure that husbands just don’t understand).


First the tee.  This is Ottobre 1-2009-22.  I’ve made it before here and here in a smaller size.  It’s a great basic tee with double raglan sleeves and sleeve cuffs.  I love the double sleeves because you can use the pattern year round, but it also gives you some room to play with mixing fabrics.

submarineapplique sailboatapplique

I free-handed a submarine and a little sailboat to go with the white thermal knit sleeves.  The upper sleeves are a thick almost dark teal double poly knit and the main fabric is to my best guess some sort of cotton/poly/spandex blend in Noah’s favorite shade of red which he calls, “49ers red.”  Both fabrics I bought ages ago from the $2/lb table at Denver Fabrics.  This all leads me to the question of fabrics and children.

The challenges:

  • Fiber Content:  the very things I love in knit fabrics are not necessarily appropriate for children’s clothing, especially for boys.  All of my rayon knits which will make yield delightfully swingy garments with lots of flow that I can mold into cool design details and which will mold to me.  But the very same fabrics just end up looking, well, girly on boys.  And though girls’ patterns do allow for feminine details like gathering and poofyness, drapey knits just aren’t as hard-wearing as a quality cotton knit.  For the few months that their clothes get worn, kids inflict major trauma on their clothes–far more wear than we would put into them in years, so it makes sense to use nicer quality fabrics for them so they have a chance of holding up.  And when your local thrift store occasionally yields brilliant quality like this illegally cute cotton Mini Boden shirt with the cow applique for 25 cents, you end up not sewing for your kids.
  • Price:  Ottobre and like sources are wonderfully inspirational for the ways that they churn out creative garments with truly beautiful fabric combinations.  But sourcing multiple fabrics for a given garment can be difficult.  Most of us are close by a JoAnn, but the quality of the fabrics often doesn’t justify the expense, even with our beloved coupons.  I speak of the #$%^& t-shirt whose fabric (on sale) cost me $9/yd that I labored over only to see it last exactly 2 washes.  There are many good sources of quality children’s fabrics out there online, but their clothes take up so little fabric that it can get expensive simply because you’re not using what you have to order unless you’re utterly brilliant like Katie and can make 1 yard work into garments for all 3 of your kids.
  • Sheerness:  we’ve all run into it–the proliferation of sheer knits.  I’m almost officially ready to swear off certain online suppliers who shall remain nameless with their $35 free shipping because I keep getting knit fabrics that are so flimsy and sheer.  I can always choose to wear something underneath or line a garment made with such fabric, but for children, this is neither practical nor comfortable.  The “thermal” knit fabric on the sleeves in this tee is completely see-through, which makes me think twice about making the rest into a onesie for the baby.  Sad.

The good of searching for knits for kids:

It’s not all bad when looking for fabrics for kids.  In fact, there are some distinct advantages:

  • Unusual sources:  Because children’s garments take up so little yardages, you can find the required bits and pieces in strange places from which you can seldom find enough fabric for yourself.  The aforementioned $2/lb table at Denver Fabrics often yields great stuff for the kids–as long as I mind fabric content, I almost always score here.  And I’m rather confident shopping here because I can feel the fabric.  I’m not a talented refashioner (the shirt below, from a women’s tee is a rare example), but it’s certainly legitimate to go trolling for kids’ fabric among garments that are already made–or from scraps that you have in your sewing room anyhow.      
  • Grab bags/mystery bundles:  I fear mystery bundles for myself.  Given my near life-threatening allergy to black, I’m always paranoid that I’m going to end up with yards and yards of nothing but black fabric.  But for kids, grab bags can be a super affordable way of getting a lot of really cool fabrics in yardages that are practical for the amount of fabric actually required for their clothes.  And they probably won’t look at themselves and think, “What, am I dead?” if they end up wearing a black garment from the mystery bundle.
  • Fabric content:  though I mentioned sourcing hard wearing cotton knits above as a challenge to sewing for kids, occasionally, creepy knits that you probably wouldn’t wear yourself don’t bother your kids at all.  For instance, I find poly fleece’s ability to make you feel warm and yet smothered at the same time positively unsettling.  But it’s (ahem) absorbent, and a really practical fabric for jackets that sews up much more quickly and fuss-free than (admittedly more beautiful) other warm fabrics like wool.  Noah calls his green fleece pants I made him last year his “cozy pants.”  The title tee’s upper sleeves, made from thick, rigid poly double knit would be unbearable as a full garment, but on a tiny upper sleeve that is lined essentially with the lower cotton sleeve?–no problem.

So what say you, readers?  How do you find great knit fabrics to use for your children’s clothes?  Do you have any favorite sources?

Some good online sources of fun, inventive, and good quality knit fabrics for kids:

  • Sew Baby
  • The Fabric Fairy (what a great name, right?  Don’t we all want one of those in our life?)
  • NR Fabrics on Etsy
  • Banberry Place (Euro fabrics with a surprisingly good selection of boy themed fabrics)
  • Sewzanne’s (they have single issue Ottobres in addition to their fabrics)
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2 thoughts on “The T-Shirt Project #10: picking knits for children

  1. Great summary! And awesome shirt. I need to trace that one off and make it up for the boys.
    I would add to your list of e-tailers: Print Knit Studios (at and Girl Charlee ( who both have good quality knits. Both have excellent boy selections and good to reasonable prices. I like the quality of Chez Ami fabrics, but I seldom order there as they have a 2 yard minimum cut. I mostly get solid color basics there, since I know I’ll be able to use them for a variety of things.

  2. We have a few fabric brands in Germany/Europe that are practically guaranteed to deliver great, beefy, cotton knits. Hilco is the biggest one, I think. They’re rather pricey, but since I don’t make all the kids’ clothes I splurge now and then. It’s usually worth it since the prints are cute and fabrics a joy to sew. You shirt is great btw, and a great use of the different knits!

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