Fabric Files: French Terry

Fabric Files: French Terry

This content was originally written for Indiesew and has been adapted for this blog. It was originally published on July 12, 2015.

It’s time for another installment of Fabric Files and this month we’re taking a deep dive into a knit fabric that everyone loves. French Terry needs to be discussed; this substrate is the bee’s knees.

Though sometimes hard to source, French Terry is the king of cold-weather knit fabrics. It’s soft and comfortable against the skin and provides a chance to play with contrasting colors and textures. It’s not just meant for activewear. These days, French Terry is used for many types of year round garments. Let's see why.  

French Terry Characteristics

French Terry is a member of the terrycloth family of fabrics. Terrycloth fabric features loops of fibers that are quite absorbent. Terrycloth fabric can be woven or knitted, resulting in two very different types of fabric (source).

The towel you dry off with after a shower or a dip in the pool is most likely a woven terrycloth fabric. It doesn’t stretch and the fiber loops are visible on both sides of the fabric. It’s absorbent, soft and cozy to the touch.

Today, we’re focusing on French Terry, which is a knitted terrycloth fabric. French Terry typically features a looped texture on only one side of the fabric and a smooth texture on the other side. Typically, the smooth side of the fabric is considered the right side, though many sewists choose to feature the looped side in their garments for a bit of visual interest.

While French Terry is technically a jersey fabric, it's heavier in weight than a standard cotton jersey and lighter than a sweatshirt fleece. Most French Terry fabric ranges in weight from 10 to 15 ounces per yard.

Here’s a grey French Terry in my stash. Noticed the pronounced loops on the back of the fabric.

Grey French Terry Fabric

Another fun characteristic of French Terry is that the looped side can be a different color than the smooth side. For example, this teal French Terry features a teal looped side and off-white smooth side. This provides the opportunity to sew contrasting cuffs and neckbands on knit tops by simply using the other side of the fabric.

Teal Two-Toned French Terry Fabric

French Terry is commonly manufactured from mostly cotton fibers, blended with a small percentage of polyester, spandex, lycra or rayon. French Terry fabric with more spandex or lycra will have more stretch and better recovery, while French Terry with rayon will be softer to the touch. New, sustainable French Terry fabric features soy and organic cotton fibers.

How to Sew With French Terry

When considering the entire category of knit fabrics, French Terry is an easy variety to sew with. It has less stretch than a cotton jersey, ranging anywhere from 20 to 50%. Because of its limited stretch, French Terry is a relatively stable fabric to sew with. And because it’s jersey, the edges of French Terry fabric will roll slightly, but less than a cotton/spandex or rayon/lycra jersey.

With all stretch fabrics, be sure to sew your French Terry using a stretch stitch. When using my sewing machine, I use a narrow and long zig zag stitch to sew up my seams. In the photo below, I'm sewing with wrong sides together.

How to Sew with French Terry Fabric

French Terry sews especially well with a serger. Play with your serger settings until you achieve the stitch width you prefer. In the photo below, I'm serging with the right sides together.

Serge French terry fabric.

Because of its looped texture, it's difficult to seam rip stitches out of French Terry fabric. Be sure to align your seams correctly the first time when sewing with this type of fabric to avoid this frustration.

How to Care for French Terry

French Terry is super easy to care for too! Depending on the cotton content of your French Terry, prepare for a moderate amount of shrinkage. I always prewash French Terry on a warm wash cycle and medium tumble dry cycle. I continue to launder it this way after the garment is sewn up.

French Terry may tend to pill with lots of wear and multiple washings, so you may consider line drying your garments. Also, you may notice the fabric loops flatten over time. This is common with this type of fabric.

How to Buy French Terry

One look in your indie fabric store and you’re likely to find only a few bolts of this special knit fabric. French Terry, though its popularity is on the rise, isn’t a fabric that flies off shelves of most retailers. It sells well in cold weather months, but not so much in spring and summer. Additionally, French Terry is often a bit more expensive than a standard cotton jersey, ranging anywhere from $10 to $20 per yard depending on quality.  

You may have noticed that most French Terry fabric is available only in solid colors. French Terry prints (besides stripes) are somewhat rare.

Garments Best Suited for French Terry

The best part! Let's talk about all the things you can sew up using this soft, snuggly fabric! French Terry is most recognizable as jogging pants and sweatshirts, but it’s a versatile fabric with tons of potential. Any pattern requiring a mid- to heavy-weight knit fabric will likely work with French Terry fabric. We especially love French Terry for cozy cardigans and knit dresses.

Because of its absorbent qualities, French Terry is ideal for cold weather workout clothing. And because it’s heavier in nature, French Terry sews up into warm, comfortable garments. The Monarch Jacket is an ideal pattern to sew in French terry!

Happy sewing!