Fabric Focus Series

Understanding stretch jersey fabric for dressmaking
Part Two

Blog / 16 January 2019

Over the past few years jersey and stretchy fabric has grown massively in popularity. There is now so many more pattern options and the range and quality of this type of fabric is much better too! It’s super comfy to wear and probably makes up a lot of your wardrobe as garments made from this fabric are readily available in the shops as well.

In this second part of my fabric focus series I’m going to breakdown and explain different types and characteristics of this fabric from the point of view of the home dressmaker. 

To hear me chat about the fabrics and see them up close check out my latest Youtube video

General tips and points to remember….

  • The terms jersey, knitted and stretchy fabric can get used interchangeably, not just here but generally as you look around online you’ll see these terms being used to refer to similar things.

  • This fabric can be made from a variety of fibres such as cotton, viscose, modal, polyester, wool and bamboo. Usually they will also have a percentage of a stretchy fibre such as elastane or spandex.

  • The thickness or weight of them can be described in grams per square meter but as this number is hard to put into context and isn’t always available more subjective terms can be used to describe them such as light weight, medium weight etc

  • They can also be referred to with special more technical names such as ponte roma, double knit, single knit, sweatshirting and loop back. I’ll cover the most common ones below in more detail

  • I've tried to keep things are relevant as possible for the home dressmaker. These is lots of other more detailed and technical information out there but I hope this summery helps you understand more about this great fabric and how to sew it into your handmade wardrobe. 

How to work out the amount and type of stretch

  • They stretch in different ways by different amounts. Some fabrics have a two way stretch and will stretch between the selvedges. Some have a 4 way stretch and will stretch lengthwise as well as between the selvedges. Use a swimsuit as a way to remember - it’s a 4 way stretch as it must stretch the length of your body as well as the width of your body.

  • The percentage of stretch refers to how much the fabric physically stretches, NOT the percentage of stretchy fibre (spandex or elastase) that is in them. Sewing patterns will typically as for a minimum percentage of stretch the fabric must have. I recommend using the free printable from Megan Neilsen to help calculate the % stretch - click here to view it.

  • Why is percentage stretch important? Sewing patterns designed for this type of fabric are typically designed with negative ease. This means that the garment you make will be smaller than your actual body measurement so that it stretches and fits around you. That’s why it's really important to use the right amount of stretch, otherwise you won’t be able to get the garment on/off or move in it!

How jersey fabrics are made

  • They are created by the fibres looping together, rather than being woven in and out of each other. This also gives the fabric a stretchy quality as the loops have more give and stretch in them.

  • Quite often they are knitted as a big tube on a machine, rather than from side to side like a woven fabric. This means that in order to get the fabric as one flat piece that you buy from a bolt or roll the machine will cut the tube. To stabilize this cut edge sometimes you will see what looks like a line of hard glue marks along the cut ‘selvedge’ edge (see below left). 

  • Single knit fabrics have a right and wrong side, the front being smooth and the reverse will have very fine bumpy stitches

  • Double knit fabrics (which can also be known as interlock or ponte Roma) is made in a way that creates two layers of fabric joined together. It looks similar on each side and tends to be a thicker fabric.

  • Loopback or French terry fabric is knitted in a way that creates loops on the reverse of the fabric (see below right). This fabric was developed for sportswear with the aim of wicking sweat from your body into the garment and tray warm air to provide an insulating layer.

How to wash and care for jersey fabric

  • These fabrics will shrink when you wash them, sometimes they can even shrink a little after the second wash and this can sometimes be by about 10%.

  • Usually it’s fine to wash them at 30 degrees, sometimes 40 degrees and I usually use the second highest spin cycle which is 1200 on my machine.

  • You can tumble dry them too but it can make them shrink even more and some fabrics don’t last as long so if you can it’s better to air dry them.

  • After the pre-wash try to dry the fabric as flat as possible. I use a big cloths dryer that opens out from Ikea and I’ll fold the fabric so that it is nice and flat. If your fabric gets stretched whilst its drying it can affect the cutting out stage and ultimately lead to a distorted shaped garment.

Why choose jersey fabric for dressmaking?

  • It's really quick to sew! The fabric doesn’t fray so even if you are sewing on a regular sewing machine you just need to sew the seam and your done.

  • Garments can be easier to fit as the fabric will just stretch around your body

  • It’s super comfy to wear!

  • It’s easy to wash - you can just put the garments in with the rest of your clothes!

Tips for working with jersey fabric

  • If you are used to working with woven fabric, check the seam allowance, some patterns are designed to be sewn on an over locker so will have a ⅜” seam allowance.

  • Rather than being focused on lining up the selvedges when laying out your fabric to cut it out, instead use any pattern or stripe to ensure the fold in the fabric is on grain. If it’s a plain fabric look closely at the weave of the fabric at the fold and make sure the fabric is nice and smooth. Don’t worry if the selvedges don’t exactly line up - it might that when the fabric was cut flat from the tube it was made in, the cut wasn’t completely straight

  • Use a jersey ball point needle. This will stop holes from forming in the seam line. For super stretchy fabric such as active wear or dance wear use a stretch needle. The eye of this needle is a little higher meaning a larger loop is created when the machine makes a stitch. This means the stitches can really stretch with the fabric

  • Use a stretch stitch or long and narrow zig zag stitch so that your seams can stretch with the fabric

  • Keep the fabric relaxed as you sew, don’t stretch it out

  • Inserting neckbands into t-shirts and jumpers can sometimes be a bit tricky but I’ve made a separate video covering two methods of how to do it - click here to view.

Types of stretchy jersey fabric and what to do with them

Cotton Jersey

What to use it for - This is a single knit jersey and tends to be more stable and hold its shape more than a viscose or modal jersey (see below). You can get different thicknesses but it’s still best suited to t-shirt styles and is really popular for kids clothes. As it’s more stable it’s easier to work with so its good for beginners.

Recommended patterns - Grainline Lark tee, Tilly and the buttons Agnes top, Named patterns Inari Tee, Fancy Tiger Crafts Wanderlust tee, Papercut Bowline sweater, Cashmerette Concord T-shirt. Two stitches baby grow. 

We've got a range of plain cotton jerseys and ones that have a marl running through them too. Within each fabric link below you'll be able to see the other colours. 

Lightweight viscose jersey

What to use it for - This is a single knit jersey and usually feels lightweight and floppy. The fabric will drape and move around easily. It’s best suited to t-shirts that are more fitted and will stretch around your body or for a garment designed to have movement in it such as the Closetcase Patterns ebony tee. 

As it can move and slip around more as you cut it out and sew with it, this fabric is better suited to those that already have experience of sewing more stable jersey or stretchy fabric.

Recommended patterns - Tilly and the buttons Agnes top, Closet Case Patterns Ebony Top, Papercut patterns Aomori Twist Top

Modal jersey

Modal is a type of fibre that is made by spinning the cellulose of (usually) beechtrees into fibres that are then used to knit the fabric. It can be made into lots of different type of fabrics but in this section I’m referring to the single knit jersey. 

What to use it for - It feels very soft and almost silky and can sometimes have the appearance of a slight sheen on the surface. You can get different thicknesses of this fabric too but even the thicker and heavier modal fabrics will still be very floppy and have great drape and movement to them. This makes them really versatile and suitable for lots of styles. 

Recommended patterns - True Bias Nikko Top, Grainline Lark tee, Papercut Patterns bowline sweater, Papercut patterns Aomori Twist top, Closet Case Pattersn Ebony Tee, Named Kielo Wrap dress, Closetcase patterns Sallie Jumpsuit that is just available as a pdf (see here). 

Loopback French terry

This fabric is knitted in a way that forms lots of little loops on the reverse of the fabric. It creates a thicker fabric but you can still get some that are thicker than others. It can also be made from different fibres, so it might be cotton or modal for example.

The fabric was originally designed to help wick sweat from the body into the fabric and it the the loops at the back also create an extra layer to trap air which makes the fabric warmer to wear.

What to use it for - We have modal loopback that are very floppy and drape well - these are great for classic t-shirt styles as well as garments that need drape and movement.

We also have cotton loopbacks that hold their shape much more and are more sturdy with less stretch so are better suited for looser garments where you want the shape to be held out. 

Recommended patterns - I’ve used the modal loopback to make the Grainline Lark tee, Grainline linden sweater and Paper Cut patterns copellia cardi

The cotton loopback are great for the Megan Neilsen Jarrah and Tilly and the buttons Nora top as well as the Grainline Linden

Fleece back Sweat shirting

This fabric is at the thicker and heavier end of the spectrum and is really the thickest type of jersey fabric we have. The reverse of the fabric has a fluffy fleece feel to it as during the manufacturing process it’s been kinda brushed and agitated. The fleeceback sweatshirting we have is made from cotton and sometimes it will have elastase or spandex in it, sometimes it will be 100% cotton and the stretch just comes from the way the fabric is knitted so it will be less stretchy.

What to use it for - sweatshrits/jumpers and garments that have a looser fit is best 

Recommended patterns - Tilly and the buttons Nora Top, Sew House Seven Toaster Sweater, Nina Lee Southbank Sweater and Dress, Grainline Linden, Named Talvikki Sweater

Ribbing

This is the very stretchy fabric that is typically uses for cuffs, hem bands and neckbands. It almost looks like it has lots of little lines on it. It’s so on for patterns to recommend this fabric when making a jumper but it’s not always 100% necessary. You can use the same fabric you use for the main body often garment, you may just have to lengthen the pattern pieces. I’ve done a really detailed video about how to work that out if you’d like to know more click here


Double knit ponte Rome interlock

This fabric is like two layers of fabric that are interwoven the linked together as the  are made and knitted so they tend to look the same front and back. The double layer means they are thicker and more stable. They do still stretch but will hold their shape more and are really easy to sew with so good for beginners. It's usually made from a mix of polyester and viscose or rayon with spandex. 

What to use it for - Due to their stability they can be used for lots of projects such as tops, dresses, skirts and even some light weight jackets or blazers. 

Recommended patterns - Tilly and the buttons Coco top and dress, Deer and Doe Zephyr, Megan Neilsen River Dress