Green jersey fabric.

Fabric focus: jersey

We all love the softness of jersey fabric but what exactly is it?

A knitted fabric made from a fine gauge yarn, jersey is usually made from cotton but can also be made from synthetic fibres, wool and silk. The fabric is soft, drapes well, is stretchy (it can stretch up to 25% along the grain) and is fairly crease resistant. Sometimes lycra is added to give extra elasticity.

It is a popular choice for clothing: the most popular garments made from jersey are t-shirts, sweatshirts, sportswear, dresses, tops and underwear. Jersey garments tend to fit closer to the body than ones made from woven fabric, as their elasticity allows them to mould to body contours more closely.

Jersey fabric is available in a large assortment of plain colours, but patterns can also be added – some woven in (jacquard) and some printed on to the fabric.

The fabric is named after the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands, where a woollen knitted jersey fabric was produced and became well known. The early version of the fabric was used for fishermen's clothing and was a heavier weight fabric than we use now.

Until the early 1900s, jersey fabric was generally used for making men’s underwear. In 1913 Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel popularised the fabric when she introduced ladies’ casual clothes suitable for leisure and sport.

Types of jersey fabric

Single jersey: A single thickness of knitted fabric made with a fine grade yarn. It is usually made using stocking stitch, but can also be made using rib stitch or other patterns that are knitted in.

Interlock/double jersey: Two layers of jersey fabric are knitted together, with the wrong sides sandwiched together. The yarn is knitted alternately on the front piece of fabric for one stitch, and then the back piece of fabric for the next stitch. This creates a thicker and stronger fabric with a smooth surface that does not stretch as much as single jersey.

Jacquard jersey: A pattern (often quite complex) is knitted into the fabric to create texture. A single colour of yarn or multiple colours of yarn can be used.

Intarsia jersey: Two or more colours are used to knit designs that form self-contained areas of pure colour in the fabric. This is more expensive to manufacture than fabrics that have the pattern printed on.

Clocqué jersey (French for ‘blister’ or ‘blistered’): A cloth with a raised woven pattern and a puckered finish.

The properties of jersey fabric

Knitted fabrics consist of rows of loops of yarn, in which the loops of one row have all been pulled through the loops of the row below it. As there is no single straight line of yarn, a knitted piece of fabric can stretch in all directions, which means that knitted fabrics have much more elasticity than woven fabrics.

A knitted fabric will unravel when the yarn is pulled, so the edges need to be secured. If the fabric is knitted into the final shape, the edges are secured by casting on at the beginning of the fabric piece and casting off at the end of the garment piece. If the fabric is cut out and sewn together, the edges need to be securely finished, for example with an overlock stitch.

Weft knitting machines (meaning the rows of stitches are done horizontally) are used to make jersey fabrics, as they can create the small, even stitches that are required. The right side of jersey fabric has vertical lines of flat stitches (wales); the wrong side has a horizontal wavy stitches (courses). Jersey fabric curls at the edges because of the difference in tension on the front and the back of the fabric.

Sewing with jersey fabric

If you use jersey fabric for dressmaking, wash the fabric first, especially if it is made from cotton. All knits tend to shrink when they are first washed, so washing before sewing should help to eliminate shrinkage problems.

  • Use a sewing pattern designed specifically for knit fabrics, which will allow for the stretch properties of the material.
  • Use a ballpoint needle on your sewing machine and, if the fabric has a lot of stretch, use a walking foot on the sewing machine.
  • Use a stretch stitch (or a very narrow zig zag stitch with a medium/long stitch length) to sew the fabric pieces together. To finish the raw edges, use an overlock or zig zag stitch.
  • Always do a stitch test on a spare piece of fabric before starting to sew.

Find out how to wash, dry and mend jersey.