Fabric Files: Jersey

Fabric Files: Jersey

This content was originally written for Indiesew and has been adapted for this blog. It was originally published on April 20, 2015.

Today’s fabric files post is one I’ve been itching to write for weeks now. Jersey is a ubiquitous fabric in the sewing world. Most sewists likely have a few yards sitting in their stash right now. It’s easy to shop for and relatively easy to sew with. Plus, sewing with jersey results in comfortable garments that wash and wear well. Jersey is easy. Plain and simple. Let’s see why.

Jersey Characteristics

Jersey is a knit fabric used for a wide array of garments. It tends to be mid to light-weight with a considerable amount of stretch. Jersey is often made from wool, cotton, rayon, or polyester. Jerseys made of natural materials like cotton and wool are breathable and suitable for year round wear. 

Interlock fabric is also considered a jersey, but is much heavier than a typical cotton jersey fabric. For this post, we’ll be referring to non-interlock jersey fabric.

Jersey Blends

Jersey fabric can be found in 100% cotton and also in blends that include polyester, rayon, Tencel, lycra or spandex. Both lycra and spandex give jersey more stretch and better recovery than a 100% cotton jersey. Rayon jersey blends are softer to the touch than typical cotton jerseys. They also have more drape and pliability.

Below a 95% cotton, 5% spandex jersey is pictured. Notice how the knitted texture of the fabric is visible.

Cotton Spandex Jersey Fabric

How to Sew with Jersey

Though not the hardest knit fabric to sew with, jersey requires a few extra considerations before you saddle up to your sewing machine. The first rule of thumb is to use a ballpoint or stretch sewing needle. Using this special kind of needle will ensure that your fabric doesn’t snag as you sew. Also, using a ballpoint needle reduces the number of skipped stitches you might see when sewing.

Stretch Sewing Needles | Working with Jersey Fabric

Jersey (excluding interlock) tends to roll at the edges when cut and handled. Often, a little spray starch and a hot iron will help smooth out rolled edges, but it can be hard to eliminate them completely. If you don’t already own one, consider investing in a serger to whip up jersey garments in a snap. The serger will force the seam allowances to stay flat while finishing them at the same time.

Rolled versus Serged | How to Sew with Jersey Fabric

If you’re not sewing your jersey with a serger, be sure to use a stretch stitch when sewing with this knit fabric. A simple zig zag stitch works great for hems and knit bound necklines. If you don’t like the look of a zig zag stitch on your seams, you can use the lightening bolt stitch (leftmost stitch below) if your machine includes that feature.

Stretch Stitches | How to Sew with Jersey Fabric

Some jerseys are super lightweight and semi sheer (often called tissue knits). These fabrics very drapey and delicate. Often a serger will handle tissue knits with no problem at all, but this is not always the case with a sewing machine. Tissue knits can get sucked into the bobbin case of your sewing machine if you don’t take a few special precautions. If you’re sewing with a lightweight jersey you might consider placing a layer of tissue paper underneath and on top of your two pieces of fabric. This will help the delicate fabric feed through the sewing machine evenly. Carefully rip off the tissue paper when you’re finished.

Regardless of what kind of fabric you're sewing with, we recommend you sew some sample stitches on a scrap of the fabric before you get started on your project.

How to Buy Jersey

Jersey tends to be a fabric of varying quality. One 100% cotton jersey can be completely different from another with the same fiber breakdown. This can be due to variations in the density of the knit or the quality of the fiber. I recommend visiting your local independent fabric store and seeing what types of jersey they have in stock. It helps to touch the fabric and read the labels to understand how the blends and brands differ. 

How to Care for Jersey

Luckily, jersey fabric is easy to care for and keep looking great. Pay attention to the fiber breakdown of your jersey to decide what sort of wash cycle your fabric requires. Jerseys with a majority of cotton will shrink. Be sure to prewash your fabrics on a warm wash cycle and medium tumble dry cycle before sewing.

Cotton jerseys can withstand a medium heat steam iron. I set my steam iron to the wool setting when working with jersey.

After your garment is sewn up, you can continue to launder it on a cold wash cycle and medium tumble dry cycle. I’ve found that an iron isn’t needed, as long as I hang the items as soon as it comes out of a warm dryer.

Garments Best Suited For Jersey

The best part of sewing with jersey is that it works well for most sewing patterns intended for knit fabrics. It’s the all-star in the family of knits, if you ask me, because it’s so versatile. The Kila Tank is an ideal design for jersey fabric. You might consider sizing up one or two sizes if your fabric has less than 50% stretch.

Happy sewing!