Choosing the Perfect Knit for Summer Maxi Dresses

Choosing the Perfect Knit for Summer Maxi Dresses

Created by: Shannon McBride

Maxi dresses are so chic and easy, from day to night, they have become a staple wardrobe item for warm weather.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve made a few, bought a few, and worn them frequently. From my experience, here are some tips on how to choose your fabric based on the knit maxi dress you want to create.

Let's explore the pros and cons of different fabric types!

Choosing the Perfect Knit for Summer Maxi Dresses from Fabric.com on Vimeo.

Summer Maxi Dress

Rayon/Spandex Jersey Knit:

Pros:
  • Breathable
  • Very soft and comfortable on the skin
  • Drapes well
  • Well priced
Cons:
  • Pills
  • High maintenance wash care
  • Clingy
  • Warps
  • Fades

*Dress made with Rayon Spandex Jersey Knit Rose Cluster Black/Rose Quartz

Rayon and Rayon Spandex jersey knits are extremely common fibers for knit maxi dresses. Rayon is a hybrid synthetic/natural fiber derived from wood pulp. It is very soft, silky and has a slight sheen and has excellent drape. The drape of rayon, its breathability, and soft feel against the skin makes this fabric very attractive for maxi dresses. Rayon typically has low abrasion resistance and low color-fastness, so over time it will pill.

Because of its wood pulp origin, there is some wrinkling – but not bad. Rayon can be thin and clingy when stretched, so it is best for a flowy maxi dress, not form-fitting dresses.
The pilling and color fade will increase dramatically the more the fabric goes through a dryer cycle, therefore it is always best for rayon garments to lay flat/hang to dry. Because of the drape of rayon, it is best to lay flat to dry instead of hang dry, as the weight can warp the shape of the garment while it dries. But that’s a lot of fabric to lay out to dry! Indeed, it is. If you can’t commit to wet fabric taking up that amount of floor space, you could hang the dress halfway over a pants hanger, so that the weight is evenly distributed. Whether you let the rayon maxi dress lay flat to dry or use the half hang method to dry, throw it in the dryer on a low heat setting for 5 minutes to fluff and take the wrinkles out.

Dry cleaning is best, but that can get expensive. The first maxi dress I ever made was rayon. It lasted 2 summers because despite my knowledge of rayon, I dried it in the dryer anyway for convenience– and after 2 summers, it was warped, faded, very pilled and unwearable. Rayon maxi dresses are comfortable and drape well against the body, but require a higher maintenance of care if you want to wear the garment season after season.

Bamboo Rayon/Spandex Jersey Knit:

Pros:
  • Durability
  • Soft hand
  • Breathable
  • Slightly easier maintenance than regular rayon
  • Color fast
Cons:
  • Can’t get wet while worn
  • More expensive

Bamboo Rayon Spandex jersey knit is a more durable Rayon fabric – it is more color fast and abrasion resistant than regular rayon. It is a thicker jersey knit too, making it ideal for form fitting maxi dresses as opposed to flowy ones.

Bamboo Rayon does have a weakness – water. It is so bizarre to wear a bamboo rayon garment in the rain! The rain drops will make puckers in the fabric from where the water has temporarily weakened the fiber. It goes back to normal after it’s dried. So if you make a dress out of bamboo rayon, do not wear it if you know you’ll be sweating or in the rain. For longevity’s sake, laying a bamboo rayon jersey knit garment flat to dry is best and recommended. However, bamboo rayon can withstand the occasional dryer cycle from time to time.

Summer Maxi Dress

Polyester/Spandex ITY Jersey Knit:

Pros:
  • Color Fast
  • Wrinkle resistant
  • Drapes well
  • Cut edge does not roll/unravel, so you can leave them unfinished and it still looks great!
  • Doesn’t pill
  • Low Maintenance wash care
  • Retains shape
Cons:
  • Not Breathable
  • Absorbs odor
  • Clingy

*Dress made with Stretch ITY Jersey Knit Black

Another extremely common fabric type for maxi dresses is Polyester/Spandex ITY Jersey Knit. ITY stands for Interlocking Twist Yarn and refers to the way the individual polyester/spandex yarns are twisted before being knit up into a jersey fabric.

The result is a fabric with a very smooth hand, and a stretch with stability. If you want a flowy maxi dress with bold, brightly colored print or a solid color knit maxi dress with a bit more elegance – this fabric is ideal for that look. This fabric is colorfast, wrinkle resistant and has a wonderful drape. It can have a lustrous or matte appearance. In retail stores, I have seen this fabric widely used for flowy knit maxi dresses.

Polyester, a synthetic fiber, has a high absorption rate – which means it will retain its color and prints well. But it will retain other things too, such as smells – so be aware that if you wear a polyester ITY knit maxi dress on a hot summer day, it is very likely that garment will smell pretty sweaty by the end of the day, and you’ll probably sweat more than you would otherwise because the fabric doesn’t breathe. Despite being cool to the touch, this fabric is not very breathable which will make it uncomfortable to wear on very hot days. So if you choose this fabric, I advise you to wear that fabric in a temperature controlled environment.

ITY jersey cleans very well, so this garment can be easily washed and dried over and over without losing shape or color. Soft spun polyester jersey knit will pill, however – ITY Jersey Knit will not due to how the fiber is spun and knitted into fabric, making ITY jersey a unique polyester knit, ideal for dresses.

Summer Maxi Dress

100% Cotton Jersey Knit | Cotton/Spandex Knit:

Pros:
  • Breathable
  • Low Maintenance wash care
  • Not clingy
  • Doesn’t pill/very minor pilling over time
Cons:
  • Not color fast
  • Not as nice of a drape
  • Wrinkles
  • Shape could warp over time

*Dress made with Riley Blake Cotton Jersey Knit 1" Stripes Black

100% Cotton and Cotton/Spandex jersey knits are breathable, soft, durable, and provide a little more structure in maxi dresses. If you want a maxi dress with less drape than rayon to maybe conceal some body-conscious spots, but is ultra-comfortable and breathable like rayon – this is a perfect fabric. Cotton jersey knit blended with some Spandex can provide even more structure and is ideal for form fitting maxi dresses like the one shown. 100% Cotton jersey knits are ideal for oversized or flowy maxi dresses.

Over time, putting cotton jersey knit through wash/dry cycles will eventually warp and fade the garment. Granted, this could take years, but we want our creations to last a lifetime! I advise to use the appropriate detergent and let it air dry occasionally.

Summer Maxi Dress

Jersey Knits also come in a variety of blended fibers. Blends are great because they can combine characteristics within the fabric. The higher the percentage of the fiber, the more that property will dominate.

Decide what style maxi dress you want, where you’ll wear it, when you’ll wear it, and how committed you are to proper wash care. And ALWAYS pre-wash your fabrics.

Happy sewing!

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