Sewing with jersey fabrics
Sewing with jersey fabrics is not as difficult as you think. All you need is the right stitch and needle and the right choice of fabric for your garment. This article will tell you about the different types of jersey fabric, how to cut them, how to sew the fabric and how to finish hems and seams.
One of the common questions asked is what are the differences between different types of knit fabrics, and which knit fabric is best for my garment/pattern? Below is a guide to the main types you will come across and which garments they are best used for:
Usually single knitted jersey with a percentage of 90-95% cotton and 5-10% elastane. Weights can vary greatly with cotton jersey – generally knits under 200gsm will tend to be more transparent in lighter colours and may be slightly harder to sew. 100% cotton jersey is commonly used in t-shirt type of applications as it has a sturdy hand and wear with a minimal stretch.
This fabric is perfect for t-shirts, leggings, hats, etc. and mainly comes in a light to medium weight.
Light to medium weight fabric which is usually made of about 92-95% viscose and 5-8% elastane. It drapes better than most cotton jerseys and is therefore used in ladies wear such as dresses and tunics. It makes beautiful draped, cowled and gathered styles.
Heavier than single jersey as two layers of jersey are ‘knitted’ together which makes the front and back look the same. It can either be made of cotton or viscose and is suitable for dresses, tops, leggings, etc
This fabric is made of a synthetic material so it doesn’t have the natural feel to it that cotton jerseys have. The percentage of polyester and elastane is about the same as with the other jerseys. It tends to be more stain and wrinkle resistant and can be used for ladies wear such as tops, t-shirts, dresses, etc
Ponte di Roma
This is a stable double knit fabric. It’s not as stretchy as cotton or viscose jerseys and therefore fairly easy to work with. Ponte knits are stable, easy to sew knits as they are a good weight, resist wrinkles and creases, and have a soft hand and good stretch. They can be made from various types of yarn and is suitable for garments like tunics, tops, jackets, bottoms, cardigans, etc.
Cotton Ribbed Knits
Ribbed knits have ‘wales’ or vertical rows of stitches that form ribs on both the face and the back of the fabric making both sides appear the same. Ribbed knits are usually 100% cotton, but can also come with spandex and other fibre blends, and have a natural stretch that make them very useful for cuffs, bands, and necklines. Rib knits are also popular for use in infant wear and tops and dresses.
Lycra Spandex Knits
Perfect for swimwear, sports and active wear applications, Lycra (also known as elastane) or nylon spandex are usually found with a nylon, rayon, spandex content and have a very smooth hand and a four way stretch. It’s a great fabric for garments which are close fitting but needs to stretch a lot with the body like yoga pants, dresses, tops, leggings, dance wear and much more.
Sweatshirt Fleece Knits
Cosy and soft, sweatshirt knit fabric is a sturdy fabric with a smooth knit top side and a lovely brushed soft fleecy wrong side. Sweatshirt knits are great for the traditional hoodie or sweatshirt tops, and are also good for sweat pants and jogging bottoms and shorts for both adults and children. They tend not to have much stretch in them.
French Terry Knits
Not to be confused with Terry cloth or Terry towelling, French Terry knit fabrics have a regular, soft and smooth jersey top side with a varying loop piling on the back (in varying length). French Terry is typically 100% cotton, but can also be found with spandex and other fibres for increased stretch and recovery. French Terry knits are extremely popular and can be found used in many fashion applications in women’s clothing, while traditionally used for swim cover-ups and athletic bottoms due to their moisture absorbing capability.
The majority of jersey fabrics have a 4-way stretch, which means they stretch crosswise and lengthwise. But there are also some knit fabrics, usually heavier types, with only a 2-way stretch so it’s always best to check the fabric recommendation on your pattern before choosing your material to make sure you are using the correct fabric.
TOP TIP – I recommend to always pre-wash your fabric – some jerseys tend to shrink quite a bit in the wash so it’s best to do it before you start cutting it.
How to cut jersey fabric
The most important thing when cutting jersey fabric is not to stretch it. Lay it flat on the table, either single or double layered depending on your pattern, and place your pattern pieces on it. Make sure the fabric doesn’t hang over the side of your table as this will stretch it out of shape. You can either pin your pattern down and cut it out with scissors or use paper weights and a rotary cutter, whichever you are most comfortable with.
What needle should I use to sew jersey fabric?
All knit fabrics should be sewn with a special needle, either a ballpoint or stretch needle. A ballpoint needle has a round tip and pushes the fibres away when sewing rather than piercing through them and tearing them. The size of the needle depends on the type of jersey, a size 75/11 and 80/12 for light to medium weight knits and 90/14 for heavier fabrics. No special thread is needed, normal polyester thread works absolutely fine on knit fabrics.
What stitches should I use to sew jersey fabric?
The best stitch for sewing stretchy fabrics is either a stretch stitch (looks like a lightning flash as per the image above) or a very narrow and short zigzag as shown in the image below.
If your machine doesn’t have a built in stretch stitch, you can use the zigzag stitch and adjust the width and length. On my machine I narrow the width and length down to 1, but the settings on every sewing machine are different so you’ll need to play about with them to get it right. Test your stitches on a scrap of your fabric first.
You can also use an overcast stitch which sews and finishes your seam at the same time.
I wouldn’t recommend sewing stretch fabrics with a normal straight stitch as it doesn’t have any ‘give’ in it and when you stretch your garment the thread might snap.
Gently guide your fabric when stitching through the layers, don’t pull from the back or hold on to the fabric as this will result in puckering and the seams will look messy. If you can adjust the presser foot pressure on your sewing machine, I suggest to reduce the pressure slightly which also helps reduce puckering.
Most patterns suggest to stabilise your shoulder seams, necklines or armholes. I’ve found that on shoulder seams clear elastic tape, also called swimwear elastic or Framilon, works quite well. But you can also use iron-on seam tape which prevents seams from stretching out of place during wear. And if you don’t have any of those on hand, ordinary strips of thin cotton fabric or iron on interfacing cut to size will do the job.
Finishing seams and hems on knit fabrics
Most jersey fabrics don’t fray so basically you don’t need to finish your seams off at all. If you still want to give your garment a more completed look you can either use a three-step zigzag as shown in the photo above or overcast stitch (shown previously) to finish the seams. Both stitches are flexible and stretch with the fabric.
The best way to hem your jersey garments is by turning your hem to the wrong side and topstitching them in place from the right side. You can either choose a straight stitch and sew it with a twin needle (shown above), or, what I often use on children’s clothing, is the three-step zigzag (pictured below).
Find a full tutorial on sewing a twin needle hem here.
Both stitches give your garment a nice finish and both have ‘give’ in them, so they won’t snap so easily when stretched. You can also use a piece of tearaway backing on the underside to give the hem more stability if needed.
TIP– Always try your stitches on a piece of fabric first before sewing your actual garment. This way you can find out if your stitches look right or if they need adjustment.
TIP – Check the weight, fibre content and stretch of your knit fabric before you buy. If you are unsure about a particular knit fabric, ask for a swatch or sample to see what it is like.
TIP – Try not to stretch the fabric while you sew. Take it slow and you’ll be fine!
TIP – If you can adjust the presser foot pressure on your machine, it can help to reduce this when sewing thicker knit fabrics and trying to match stripes.