If you’re going to be sewing with jersey knit for the first time, it may seem a little daunting, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Just like any other fabrics, learning the types of jersey fabric should be first and foremost. Once you know some of the basics of the fabric, the rest is a lot easier.
The truth is, with the right fabric, needle, and stitch, learning to work with this type of fabric is a breeze. So, just what is jersey fabric? There are several types available, and once you learn them, you can start sewing with confidence and create some beautiful items.
What Is Jersey Fabric? Learning the Types of Jersey Fabric
Jersey fabric can be made out of cotton, wool, silk, and even bamboo. When you’re working with a single-knit jersey, you’ll notice it has a “right” side and a “wrong” side. The good thing about jersey is that it doesn’t fray and it’s a lot easier to fit and to wash than other fabrics are.
If this is your first time working with jersey fabric, you might want to stick with a single-knit jersey until you become more comfortable with the fabric. Afterward, you can work up to other types so you can create the masterpieces you’ve always dreamed of.
While sewing with jersey fabric is a little different than other types of fabric because it’s stretchy, this doesn’t mean it’s difficult to work with. Let’s start by reviewing the different types of jersey available to you, and what makes each one unique.
Cotton jerseys normally come in light to medium weights and are perfect for sewing T-shirts, skirts, leggings, and many other items. The weights can vary quite a bit, but the fabric is usually made out of 90% to 95% cotton and 5% to 10% elastane. If you find one that is under 200 gsm, you’ll notice it is more transparent when you’re working with lighter colors and may in fact be difficult to see in these cases.
Usually used for ladies’ T-shirts, dresses, and tops, this type of fabric is made mostly from synthetic materials, so it doesn’t always feel as “natural” as cotton jersey fabric does. It is both stain- and wrinkle-resistant and has about the same percentage of polyester and elastane as most other jerseys do.
Viscose jersey is light- to medium-weight fabric that usually consists of 92% to 95% viscose and 5% to 8% elastane. When it comes to jersey fabrics, viscose tends to drape better than the others. This is why it is so often used in garments such as tunics and dresses. If you want a draped, gathered, or cowled look for your garment, a viscose jersey is just right.
Ponte di Roma Jersey
Ponte di Roma jersey fabric is a double-knit fabric that is a little less stretchy than other jersey fabric, which means it’s a little easier to work with. This type of fabric is often used to make tops, jackets, cardigans, and many other garments. They are easy to sew and will even resist creases and wrinkles, which is what a lot of people love most about them.
Sewing with Jersey 101: Knowing Your Knit Fabrics
At this point, it’s good to learn more about the different knit fabrics and when you should use them. Here are some of the most popular knit fabrics used today:
Cotton Ribbed Knits
Ribbed knits have “ribs” on both sides of the fabric because of the way they are stitched. They are usually made out of 100% cotton but can also be made from fiber blends and even spandex. They have a nice natural stretch and are usually used for necklines, cuffs, dresses, tops, and even infant clothing.
Sweatshirt Fleece Knits
Sweatshirt fleece knits have a smooth side and a “brushed” side, and they are traditionally used for hoodies, sweatshirt tops, jogging bottoms, and sweatpants. Although there isn’t a whole lot of stretch in this type of knit, it is very comfortable and is used for clothing for both adults and children.
French Terry Knits
When we say French Terry knits, we’re not talking about Terry cloth or the type of Terry used for towels. French Terry knit fabric has a soft jersey top side and a back side that has loop piling in various lengths. French Terry is usually 100% cotton but can also consist of spandex and other types of fiber so they can stretch a little more.
French Terry knits are used to make a lot of athletic bottoms and swimsuit cover-ups because they are so good at absorbing moisture.
Lycra Spandex Knits
Lycra is also called elastane, and along with nylon spandex, it is used to make activewear, sportswear, and of course, swimming suits. More often than not, it is a combination of nylon, rayon, and spandex and has a four-way stretch. When you need comfortable yoga pants, leggings, or dancewear, lycra spandex knits are the perfect fabric.
Keep in mind when sewing with stretch fabric like jersey fabric, that the majority of these fabrics have a four-way stretch. That means they can stretch both lengthwise and crosswise. Occasionally, some heavier types of jersey fabric only have a two-way stretch.
Neither of these is better than the other, but you’ll want to check your pattern for fabric recommendations before you choose the type of fabric you want to work with. Also, since some jersey fabrics shrink a lot, it’s best to always pre-wash your fabric before working on your project.
Now that we’ve answered the question, what is jersey fabric, we can get started on the fun part – learning to sew with it!
Getting Started: How to Sew with Jersey Knit
Just like any other sewing project, each step has to be executed perfectly for your project to turn out just right. The thing is, with a few tips on each step of the process, it’s a lot easier to make sure you do everything correctly. Let’s take a look at a few suggestions that will help your projects made with jersey fabric come out much nicer.
The Best Needles to Sew Jersey Knit
There are many different types of sewing needles, but most experts recommend that you use either a stretch needle or a ballpoint needle for jersey fabric. When you use a ballpoint needle, the round tip pushes the fibers away when you sew instead of tearing them and making big holes in them.
For light- to medium-weight knits, try a size 75/11 or 80/12. For heavier fabrics, a size 90/14 needle will likely work better. As far as the thread is concerned, you don’t need any special type when you’re working with jersey fabric. Normal polyester thread will work just fine.
Cutting Jersey Fabric
When cutting jersey fabric, the important thing you need to remember is never to stretch it as it’s being cut. Just lay it flat on the table, then place your pattern pieces on top of it. The fabric should also never hang over the side of the table because even this action can stretch it until it’s out of shape.
When you cut the fabric, you can either pin the pattern down and use scissors to cut it, or use a rotary cutter after pinning it down with paper weights. With all types of jersey fabric, this tip is crucial.
Of course, sharp cutting scissors are a necessity because if your scissors are dull, they will “drag” the fabric and therefore stretch it out. When your fabric is stretched out before you even start sewing with jersey, it’ll become even more stretched out once you start to wear it, which can be disastrous.
As you can imagine, the type of stitch you choose matters when you’re working with any type of stretchy fabric, such as jersey knit fabrics. Many experts recommend one of two stitch patterns for the best results:
- A very short and narrow zigzag stitch
- A stretch stitch, which looks like a flash of lightning
If you prefer to use the stretch stitch but there isn’t a built-in stretch stitch on your machine, you can use a zigzag stitch instead, but you’ll have to change the width and length settings. Many sewers narrow the width and length down to 1, but that’s up to you. You might want to test out the stitch on a scrap piece of fabric first.
The Hems and Seams: Finishing up Sewing Jersey Fabric
Some people use the overcast stitch when sewing with jersey because you can sew and finish the seam at the same time. For the best results, never use a normal straight stitch because it can result in the thread snapping whenever you stretch the garment.
Another tip to keep in mind is that when guiding your fabric and stitching through the layers, do it gently and never hold onto the fabric or pull it from the back as you sew. If you do, the seams will look messy because the fabric will pucker up. You can adjust the pressure of the presser foot on your sewing machine, but you’ll need to reduce it only slightly so that puckering doesn’t occur.
Again, sew very slowly when working with jersey fabric. If your sewing machine has a speed control, simply put it on the slowest speed. If it doesn’t, make sure you’re pressing as lightly as possible on your foot pedal.
The dog teeth will help you guide the fabric through, but you have to make sure the foot pressure is not too high. Otherwise, it will pull on the fabric the entire time you’re sewing, which can result in unattractive wavy seams.
If all of this makes you nervous, not to worry because you can always sew a sample on a scrap piece of fabric so you’ll know what you’re doing before you sit at your sewing machine and start sewing.
Once you look at the types of jersey fabric available and decide which one to work with, you’ll notice that most of the patterns tell you to stabilize the necklines, armholes, and shoulder seams. You can do this several ways. You can use clear elastic tape, also called swimwear elastic; iron-on seam tape, which stops the seams from stretching too much later on; or even regular strips of thin cotton fabric or iron-on interfacing, which you’ll likely have to cut to size first.
When you’re studying the types of jersey fabric, one thing you’ll learn is that most of them don’t fray. This is a good thing because it means if you don’t want to, you don’t have to finish your seams off at all. That being said, to give your garment a more “complete” and neat look, try using a three-step zigzag stitch or an overcast stitch to finish off your seams.
Both the overcast and the zigzag stitch are very flexible and will therefore stretch with the fabric, which means when you’re wearing the garment later on, you don’t have to worry about the stitches snapping or coming loose.
If you want a “petal,” wavy effect, you can overlock without stabilizers on the ends of your sleeves. As you can see, you have a lot of options when it comes to finishing the seams and hems of your garment made out of jersey fabric. Again, practicing with a piece of scrap fabric is the best way to ensure you’ll do the right thing once you start sewing.
Calculating the Jersey Fabric Stretch Percentage
When working with jersey fabric, you’ll notice that some patterns call for a jersey with a certain stretch “percentage.” Sometimes, the fabric store will specify what the percentage is, but if they don’t, there’s an uncomplicated way to figure it out for yourself.
To do this, take some fabric between your thumbs – about four inches worth – and pull it until it’s stretched out. You don’t want it stretched out to the max; instead, try to stretch it out the same amount as a fitted T-shirt might stretch as you’re wearing it. Next, take a tape measure and measure that stretched piece of fabric so that you can get the difference between the original four inches and the new “size.”
This difference will tell you roughly what the percentage is. Let’s say your four inches of fabric stretched to five inches when you’re done. That’s an increase of 25%, which means the fabric you’re using has a 25% stretch. If your fabric has both a vertical and horizontal stretch, you can simply calculate the stretch in both directions.
7 Tips to Remember for Projects with Jersey Knit
So, we’ve answered the question “what is jersey fabric” and learned the basics of working with this very versatile fabric. Now what? The thing is, the more tips and suggestions you learn before you get started with your project, the easier the project will be once you start to work.
We’ve talked about a lot of things in this article that should make you less nervous about working with this type of fabric, but below are some other helpful tips that should help.
- Besides ballpoint or stretch needles, you can also use twin ballpoint needles if you wish. If you visit the Internet, you can find out more about this useful technique.
- To use overlockers, place a stabilizer on the fabric and stitch over it to stabilize and overlock the fabric at the same time.
- To make sure you don’t stretch the fabric too much as you’re working, place a piece of tissue paper underneath the fabric as you work. Afterward, you can simply rip it away gently and the fabric won’t stretch.
- When you’re cutting the fabric, make sure you cut along the exact grain so that the jersey is less likely to distort once you start sewing.
- Again, narrow zigzag stitches are great when you’re working with jersey fabric. A length of 3 mm and a width of 5 mm often works best, but you’ll have to experiment to find the right numbers for you.
- Make sure you iron your jersey fabric from the wrong side so that those noticeable shiny iron marks don’t occur. Jersey fabric contains elastic fibers and will mark easily if you use an iron that is at too high of a temperature. If you’re unsure, test a piece of scrap fabric to find the right heat setting.
- Remember that even if you don’t normally tack, it’s a promising idea to do so with jersey fabric. More than anything else, tacking helps you get the stitches right the first time.
The more experience you have when sewing with jersey fabric, the more tips you’ll come up with on your own to make the job a little easier for you. Asking yourself, what is jersey fabric, is a good place to start because it helps you decide which type is right for you. Just be patient, take it slow, and make sure you practice with scrap fabric first so that you can feel more confident about the process.