This content was originally written for Indiesew and has been adapted for this blog. It was originally published on February 10, 2015.
Many years ago, I started sewing more knit garments than woven. I found them easy to sew up with my serger and, in general, more wearable in my every day wardrobe. I knew little about fabric stretch percentages or fiber breakdowns. I simply bought clearance fabric and found out after sewing the garment if it was appropriate. Trial and error, baby.
Through this experimentation I discovered a fabric that most people cringe at the sound of its name. Ponte or ponte de roma, has become my new go-to for structured knit garments. When you hear the word ponte, you may think of sad 70’s dresses hanging on the racks of your local thrift shop. Today, ponte is soft to the touch, doesn’t wrinkle, and is great for structured, knit garments.
Ponte Fabric Characteristics
While this is up for debate, Ponte (pronounced pont-ee), Ponte di Roma, and Ponte de Roma are all the same type of fabric. Some people remember ponte fabric to be the rough, polyester material that band uniforms are made of. But today, ponte fabric has come a long way!
Ponte is a stable, double knit fabric. What’s a double knit? A double knit is a type of fabric manufactured with two needles on two needle beds. This results in a durable, stretch fabric that can often be reversible.
Ponte fabrics of yesteryear were made up of 100% polyester which made for a very rough-to-the-touch fabric. Today, ponte fabric is a mix of polyester, rayon and spandex, although you can find rayon/spandex and rayon/nylon/spandex blends. In my opinion, ponte without polyester is preferable to one that contains it. You’ll notice that non-polyester knits are softer, closer resembling jersey.
Ponte fabrics are tightly knitted, resulting in a mid or heavyweight fabric that has a moderate to slight amount of stretch. Some ponte fabrics have two-way stretch (the fabric stretches only from selvage to selvage), while others have four-way stretch (the fabric stretches in all directions). You’ll also notice that most pontes have fine lines on one side of the fabric, as pictured below.
Ponte is heavier than a cotton jersey with less stretch. Ponte is also a bit heavier weight than interlock, but with more stretch. In my opinion, ponte is most comparable to French Terry in weight, stability and stretch. Ponte fabric is often sold in solid colors, although ponte knits in fun, colorful prints have started to appear on the market.
Here’s a grey ponte fabric I purchased for about $4 per yard. It has about 10% two-way stretch and is very soft. You see how noticeable the small lines are on the wrong side of the fabric.
Here’s another ponte fabric, this time in magenta. It’s comparable to the above fabric in price and quality, but this ponte has more four-way stretch.
How to Sew with Ponte
As far as knits are concerned, ponte is a dream to work with. Really. This knit fabric is incredibly stable, with edges that don’t roll or fray during or after sewing. The fabric can withstand a steam iron, and in general doesn’t wrinkle much at all. When I sew with ponte, I always use a ballpoint needle and all-purpose thread.
I use the standard stitch length on my sewing machine when sewing with ponte. Often, I'll sew a ponte garment with just my serger. I pin every 2 to 3 inches.
How to Buy Ponte
When buying ponte, it’s especially important to touch the fabric before making the purchase. Beware of ponte knits with a high percentage of polyester, and look for those with more rayon and spandex. Also, test the stretch of different ponte knits at your local fabric store. I’ve bought ponte knits with around 10% stretch, and others that had almost 50% stretch.
It’s possible that your local independent fabric store may not carry ponte fabrics. But I encourage you to ask your fabric store to carry ponte if it’s a fabric you just can’t live without. Because it’s not as popular as other stretch fabrics, ponte is often sold at a deep discount. You can often find ponte fabric for less than $8 per yard at retailers that do carry it.
There are many great online retailers that carry ponte fabric. Request a swatch before placing your final order. Ponte is one fabric you’ll definitely want to touch and compare before buying several yards.
How to Care for Ponte
Another great characteristic of ponte is that it’s easy to care for. We recommend pre-washing your ponte fabric in a warm wash and medium tumble dry cycle before sewing. Rayon ponte fabric can shrink considerably, up to 15% both lengthwise and widthwise. After your garment is sewn, you can continue to launder your ponte garments on a cool or warm wash and a medium tumble dry cycle. I haven’t noticed any pilling, fading, or recovery loss in my ponte garments after many washings.
Garments Best Suited for Ponte
Because of its heavyweight, stable structure, ponte knits are great for fitted garments. If you love rayon jersey knits, but hate how they cling to the body, consider sewing with ponte fabric.
In many clothing stores today, you’ll see pencil skirts and moto jackets sewn with ponte fabric. This versatile fabric allows a comfortable fit, while still holding its shape. We love ponte so much we’ve sewn up the Monarch Jacket in both a double sided navy blue and red ponte shown below.
Happy ponte sewing!