Hoo. Jersey is one of those terms that gets applied to a lot of fabrics, with a varying degree of accuracy, so let’s nail this down. Jersey is a knitted fabric, made with lightweight yarns of natural or artificial origin. Back in the day, it was made of fine wool in the Jersey Islands of the English Channel, from whence the fabric gets its name. These days, you can find it made from wool, cotton, silk and many blends of different fibers.
It has a smooth finish the right side of the fabric, and a slightly bumpy texture on the back. It has a four-way stretch – the degree depending on the yarns used. Jersey is usually a single color, but I’ve seen printed jersey fabric out there.
Jersey is very versatile. Cotton jersey is used for tee-shirts. I once owned a pair of silk jersey long johns that were just the thing during winter in Connecticut. Jersey is a popular choice for loose, drapey tops and body-hugging activewear.
If you’re going to make something like a bodysuit out of jersey, be sure that it’s not so lightweight as to let your foundation garments – or worse! – show through. No-one wants visible underwear lines. This is one of those times that you’ll really want to get swatches from an online retailer before committing to the entire yardage.
How the fabric will wear depends on the fiber used, so be sure to look at the fabrics composition when you’re shopping.
There are some varieties out there, such as ribbed jersey which is just what it sounds like. It’s a jersey knit but the right side of the fabric features a ribbed pattern. Double-knitted or interlock jersey is heavier than regular jersey, but offers less stretch.
This stuff is a knit. In general, hell will freeze over before it takes a crease. If you have to iron it because you left a garment wadded up in your suitcase for two months after a convention (Me? No, I’ve never done that *cough*cough*.) use as cool an iron as possible. Many jerseys feature artificial fibers and you don’t want to scorch your fabric. Rather than ironing it, hang it up in the bathroom while you take a steamy shower. That’ll probably address the worst of your creases. Or toss it into the dryer on the no-heat setting. Seriously, NO HEAT.
When cutting a pattern in jersey knit, it’s easiest to use pattern weights – which is a fancy way of saying soup cans – and a rotary cutter on a cutting mat. If you use scissors, the jersey will try to stretch and wriggle as you cut. Very annoying.
I hate sewing jersey – and most other knits for that matter. Jersey is particularly notorious for curling up at the cut edges and it’s extremely difficult to pin it flat and keep it flat while sewing. Jersey fabrics are why people buy sergers and even then, it’s still not easy – just less difficult. But if you’ve got to use it, I highly recommend Craftsy’s online class “Sewing With Knits” if you want to tackle jersey or anything like it. It’s totally worth the $25.
Use a Teflon foot or a walking foot when sewing jersey fabrics, so that there’s a reduced chance of it stretching while you sew. If your jersey gets stretched while sewing, you’ll get wavy seams.
Generally, jersey fabric should be washed in cold or warm water and laid flat to dry. Don’t hang it up, as it’ll stretch out and not recover. Pure wool jersey should go to a dry cleaner. You want to use a jersey needle – or look for needles labeled “ball pointed” and all purpose thread when sewing. If you don’t have a serger, a small zig-zag or lock-stitch is ideal. Do some test runs on scraps, first. If your seam is wavy, make your stitch longer. If it puckers, make your stitch shorter.