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What is Warp Knitting?

By C. Daw
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are two main types of knitting commonly done: warp knitting and weft knitting. They are different from each other because in warp knitting the yarn follows a zigzag pattern along the length of the fabric, with adjacent columns called “wales.” In contrast, weft knitting uses a single row called a “course” across the width of the fabric. Warp knitting is done along the length of a fabric, while weft knitting is done along the width of the fabric.

Another difference is that warp knitting is often done by machine, not by hand. It can be a bit difficult and time-consuming to do by hand because the knitter must always ensure that the “ends,” referring to the number of individual strands of yarn, must be exactly equal to the count of stitches in one row. Warp knitting using machines is actually a modern innovation that sprang from much older techniques of hand or weft knitting. Knitted fabrics made through a warp type of knitting include Raschel knits, tricot, and Milanese knits. These are popular because they are soft, yet exceptionally resistant to runs, and they are also not at all difficult to sew using a warp knitting machine.

Of the three knitted fabrics, tricot is the most delicate and it is often used in lingerie. Tricot comes from the French word tricoter which means “to knit.” Milanese knits are more stable and strong, but also more expensive. They were used to make women’s underwear, particularly the more luxurious and pricey types, but now they are not utilized as much anymore. Raschel knits, meanwhile, continue to be very popular form of warp-knitting. They are bulky and not very stretchable, but strong and durable. They are often used in jackets, coats, skirts and dresses.

Knitters, and people who work with fabrics, prefer nylon tricot because it is soft but it does not run or snag easily. It is very comfortable to wear because it does not cling to the body, and it does not build up static. Because of its warp-knit construction, it also has an interesting texture; one side has vertical grains and the other side has a horizontal grain.

Knitting produces fabrics that are more stretchable and flexible than fabrics produced by weaving. This is because both warp and weft knitting techniques use interlocking loops. The yarn used in knitting also contributes to the stretchability and softness of the knitted product.

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Discussion Comments
By starrynight — On Nov 30, 2011

I was looking into ordering some fancy lingerie awhile back. I saw that the website referred to some of the garments as being "Milanese knit" like that was something really special. At the time, I didn't understand what that meant.

It's interesting to know that warp knitted Milanese knit fabric isn't used in lingerie much anymore. No wonder that company wanted to make sure people knew the garments were made of that kind of fabric!

By ceilingcat — On Nov 30, 2011

@SZapper - I'm a knitter also. I've seen the knitting machines you refer to at the craft store, and I'm not sure that you can use them for warp knitting. Most of the examples I see pictured on the box tend to be weft knitting. You may want to do a bit more research before you purchase a knitting machine if you want to make warp knitted fabric.

Anyway, I'm glad I stumbled on this article. Ever since I started knitting, I always pay a lot more attention to how commercial knitting fabrics are produced. I've never heard of the term warp knitting, but it explains a lot! There are some fabrics I've come across that I just couldn't figure out how they were produced.

By SZapper — On Nov 29, 2011

Very interesting. I'm a hand knitter, and I've never heard of warp or weft knitting. I've usually heard those terms used to refer to woven rather than knitted fabric.

However, according to this article it seems that I probably produce weft knit fabric. In all of my hand-knit project my knitting follows a single row down the fabric.

This article is making me a bit interested to try out machine knitting. As I said, I'm a hand knitter. However, I do see personal knitting machines for sale at craft stores every now and then. It seems like you can use them to produce more kinds of knitted fabric than I thought!

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