The ground outside is hard; every morning this week has seen a pale sun rise through icy fog, gradually revealing a frosty landscape. We’re trying hard to envision our spring wardrobes but it’s not easy in freezing weather when the stove in the ClothSpot workroom has yet to take the edge off the chill. Probably a bit late to be thinking of making a winter coat and our bank balances are yet to recover from Christmas – but we need warmth! All of which explains why jersey fabrics have been flying out of ClothSpot over the last few weeks. Inexpensive, quick results, practical and stylish too – what’s not to like? However with those purchases have come myriad questions – either from novice sewers or those wanting to know a little more about specific fabrics. With that in mind we thought this might be a time to make a jersey top (or three) to demonstrate the qualities of three different types of jersey fabric as well as to offer a few tips for working with knit fabrics. And so – with apologies to MasterChef – we have ‘Jersey Top – Three Ways’.
We embarked upon our jersey top exploration with the Cowl Neck Top/Dress pattern from Sew Over It.
It’s a simple, classically-styled starting point for sewing jersey fabrics, with Sew Over It’s usual clear instructions. Only three pattern pieces – it really is a design that you can take from download (we used the PDF version) to finished garment in an afternoon.
Version 1 – ponte Roma jersey
Its sister design the Heather Dress is currently popular – as demonstrated with elegance by HandMade Jane on her blog earlier this month. Like our first iteration of the Cowl Neck top, Jane used our Navy blue ponte Roma fabric – a fabric which has had great feedback – it washes, presses and wears well and we found it very easy to work with (no, really!!)
Ponte Roma jersey fabric is an example of a ‘doubleknit’ jersey. Constructed by interlocking two layers of fabric together, ponte Roma jersey fabrics come in a variety of thicknesses; some are very soft and flowing; others are much more structured. They’re great for layering as well as for stand-alone garments. They usually combine yarns of polyester and viscose, with a small percentage of spandex. They wash well and tend to be fairly crease-resistant. Our Navy blue ponte Roma fabric is a versatile version of this type of doubleknit, offering a soft handle and sitting somewhere in the middle of the ‘drape v. structure’ spectrum. (We always describe our ponte Roma jersey fabrics individually so it’s worth checking to see what we have to say about specific quality and potential uses). Generally, we’d say that a ponte Roma jersey fabric is better at holding the shape of a garment in comparison to a single-knit jersey fabric which will drape more. It will tend to have more body and although it can be ruched, draped and gathered, it often works better with simpler, more structured designs.
Here’s our version of the Cowl Neck top using our Navy blue ponte Roma fabric.
We cut a Size 12 since previous outings with Sew Over It patterns have worked for us in that size. Our mannequin is roughly the same size. Interestingly the Dress version of this pattern has a different cutting line for the side seam, introducing a shaped curve into the waistline. We think that this line would have worked well for our Cowl Neck top too – although it’s worth noting that the fabric suggestions for the pattern suggest a lighter-weight jersey for the top version. We love the elegant drape of the neckline…
…but we may yet re-seam the sides as we think a little shaping might be preferable. The appeal of this pattern is that it doesn’t have any darts or fastenings – so it’s a great starting point for working with jersey fabrics. However more experienced sewers might miss some of the structure those elements bring. We’ve belted our top here just to give you an idea of how it might look if more fitted.
Version 2 – single-knit stretch jersey
To demonstrate how different jersey fabrics behave when made up, our next jersey top outing with the same pattern was with our ‘Bright garlands’ purple & pink floral jersey fabric. This is a single-knit jersey fabric, a viscose knit with 6% spandex which gives it some added stretch and a little more weight. As viscose jersey fabrics go, it’s a medium weight example with just a touch more stretch than some. We cut this exactly the same as the ponte Roma version. Despite this, we felt the resulting garment was too big…
…although it draped beautifully at the neck as you can see here.
The sizing at the shoulders especially however, was just too big. We think this is probably because of the added stretch in the fabric – and the absence of the structure you’d find in a doubleknit. As such it’s a really useful illustration of making the right fabric choices. For our money, we’d have sized down using this fabric for this design, making more use of the stretch to help with the fitting. In addition, if using this fabric again, we’d probably use a pattern with more in the way of gathering and ruching that used the stretch in the fabric to create shape. This isn’t any reflection on the pattern itself – it’s simply an illustration of how important it is to match the right fabric to design.
Jersey top 3 – cotton jersey
Our final jersey top was one we made last autumn but didn’t have time to share. Since then it’s been worn, washed, worn and washed countless times. We used our Richest marsala wine stretch cotton jersey fabric…
…which sadly has sold out *again* (but we hope to have more – and there’s a black colourway arriving shortly!). This cotton jersey isn’t your usual t-shirt fabric. It’s been manufactured using mercerised cotton yarn – cotton that’s been treated to increase the take-up of dye and lend a smooth, almost silky finish to the fabric.
To make up this fabric we used BurdaStyle’s Knotted Keyhole Top pattern…
…and here’s our version.
We love the ruched and gathered keyhole neckline on this pattern; also the fact that the fit uses the just a little of the natural stretch of the fabric to create a lovely shape. As usual the instructions on the BurdaStyle fabric were just a tad enigmatic (that’s an understatement…) but we got there in the end.
We did have to re-shape the neckline as the original pattern cut just didn’t fit – the top of the keyhole seemed far too high to pull down the scarf shape to create those ruches, whilst the bottom of it revealed far more of our underwear than we were prepared for. We’re honestly not sure if that’s down to ‘broad shoulders and not a lot in the bust department’ at our end – or the pattern – but be prepared. Certainly the version in the BurdaStyle image shows the scarf element sewn into the front of the neckline which isn’t clear in the instructions. However our fiddling around was worth it in the end to achieve our version of the neckline – which we love, whether or not it’s as intended.
Stitching & finishing jersey fabric
The main thing to bear in mind about sewing jersey fabric is that it stretches – so your stitching needs to stretch with the fabric. If it doesn’t, then your thread will snap when your garment stretches along a seamline – and you’ll end up with holes in your seam. But don’t worry!! All you need to do is make sure that you use a stitch that has some give in it. You don’t need a special machine to do that. Most sewing machines will have a stitch that is intended for stretch fabric – just check your instruction manual. If all else fails, just use a shallow zig-zag stitch.
Similarly, you only need a zig-zag stitch to finish your seams too. Yes – if you have an overlocker then that can bring a professional finish to your garment but you can make a perfectly lovely jersey top or dress without one – so don’t be put off. Lots of our customers have discovered how easy it is to sew with jersey in the last few years and most don’t have an overlocker.
The other main tip we’d have is to use a fine gauge of needle (a 10/11 or 70/75 diamater) with a ball point – also helpfully known as a ‘jersey needle’. The ball point will make sure that the needle goes through your fabric without creating any pulls.
You’ll find lots more about sewing with jersey on the internet – Here’s some fabulous guidance at Seamwork which we can’t better, so rather than repeat it here, we’ll just suggest you take a look.
Hemming jersey fabric
Hemming your jersey fabric is another process that you can do perfectly well with your regular sewing machine. Again, the trick is to use a stitch that has some give in it, so that it allows your garment to stretch at the hem, cuffs and neckline for instance. A decorative or zig-zag stitch can do the trick perfectly well – or you can use a twin needle, which will fit in most sewing machines.
Twin needles come in different widths and will give you the characteristic double line of stitching that you find on lots of jersey garments. It’s a classic finish and using a twin needle will mean that you don’t have to go out and buy a ‘coverstitch’ machine – yet another specialist piece of kit that doesn’t come cheap. Of course if you sew lots of jersey then that might be the way to go but we think for occasional use, a twin needle is just fine.
However we had a bit of a problem with our twin needle in that our threads kept fraying, snapping and tangling. Aaagh! Our machine is a Janome Atelier 3 which we’ve had for 18 months – we simply adore it and nothing we’ve thrown at it has been in the least problematic – until the twin needle. So to the internet we turned – and found an excellent blog by Moonthirty on just that issue in which she suggests:
– Reducing the foot pressure
– Turning round one thread reel so it unwinds in the opposite direction
– Slowing down
There’s more too – take a look – but we tried these three tips – and guess what – not a single skipped stitch! What really worked was the slowing down. And we mean SLOWING DOWN. Your blogger grew up with her grandmother’s treadle Singer in the cupboard under the stairs (Harry Potter eat your heart out). That cast iron treadle would go so fast that the whole house would shake with the vibrations – and the same approach has been taken with most machines since, sad to say. On this occasion the speed control of the Janome was set to absolute minimum – and yes – it was a bit like watching paint dry. But it worked.
The message is – have a go! Sewing with jersey is surprisingly easy. Yes, there are a few learning points – but that’s all part of the fun of creating your own wardrobe in your own style.
Fabric choice is important – not all jersey fabrics are made the same – the trick is to find the right pattern and fabric for the look you want.
We’ll be putting together our patterns, fabrics and tips in a Pinterest board and we’ll let you know when that’s up and running. Meanwhile don’t be afraid to ask if you have questions – and do let us know how you get on!