I had the devil’s own job deciding on a title for this post. I’d discussed it with Kerry and knew exactly what I wanted to explain and we’d agreed it would be useful….but how to sum it up? To be quite clear…the longer version goes something like:
I know – snappy, right? Feel free to make your own headline suggestions in the Comments below – but in the meantime I hope it’s clear what I’m trying to cover here. One of the things that concerns us most at ClothSpot is the notion that any of our customers might mistakenly purchase a fabric that’s not suitable for the project they have in mind. Jersey fabrics can vary enormously and we try and explain each one as comprehensively as possible in our descriptions and videos. Sometimes though, there’s more to be said about a type of fabric more generally – so that’s what I’m doing here.
What’s a viscose jersey?
For the purposes of this post, a viscose jersey is a single knit that’s been manufactured using viscose yarns. Single knit fabrics are ones that look like a very fine version of the knitting that you might see in a sweater, with the equivalent of a purl stitch on the smooth front side and a knit or plain stitch on the back. You can just see the difference between the two sides here.
It’s called a ‘single knit’ because quite simply it’s a single layer of knitting – not two interlocking layers as in a ponte Roma jersey, which is an example of a ‘double knit’. You can see those interlocking layers below.
The knit structure means that single knit jersey is a lighter-weight and much more draping jersey than a double-knit. The use of viscose yarns contributes further to that ability to drape – as well as the softness of the fabric.
The final element is usually the inclusion of elastane (or spandex) which helps the fabric stretch and return to its original shape, as well as adding a little weight to the fabric. Typically, there’s 3% – 8% elastane in a viscose jersey and you can expect it to stretch from around 25% to more than 70% of its ‘resting’ width and length.
And what exactly is viscose?
Viscose yarns are manufactured from cellulose, extracted from the stems of trees. Chemicals are used to dissolve the cellulose into a ‘viscous cellulose’ solution, from which fine viscose fibres are spun. ‘Closed-loop’ processes have been developed for this process, meaning that water and chemicals are recycled to ensure increased sustainability and reduce environmental impact. We try and establish the most sustainable provenance for ‘regular’ stock fabrics although this can be more difficult for sometimes less well-documented ‘deadstock’ fabrics.
Some types of viscose yarns are manufactured using very specific processes. For example ‘Modal’ or ‘Micromodal’ knits are examples of very fine, even softer versions of viscose jersey, manufactured using a proprietary process owned by a specific company, Lenzing.
Although they’re created using a complex process, the cellulose origins of viscose means that viscose fabrics are breathable.
Viscose jersey knits in a nutshell
The trick with a jersey knit as for any fabric, is to select a pattern that will work with, rather than against, the qualities of that fabric. The qualities of viscose jersey fabrics that we love are that they’re:
- Very soft to the touch
- Very drapey
These all sound like fabulous qualities – and they are! However each of those qualities has an opposite – for example the more draping a fabric, the less structure it has. So if your project needs a jersey that depends on any of the following:
- Sufficient substance for outer wear
- Enough stability to hold a shape (e.g. for an A-line dress or a fitted bodice)
- The structure required to avoid clinging to the body or hanging loosely (e.g. for more tailored trousers or a shaped jacket)
- The ability to hold its weight without sagging
…then a viscose jersey might not be the best choice. We’re always delighted to discuss your project with you so don’t ever hesitate to drop us an email if you’re not sure. You can also check out the pattern suggestions we make for each of our fabrics – they’re also a good clue as to whether a viscose jersey will work for what you have in mind.
Other factors to consider
When you’re selecting a viscose jersey fabric for your project there are other factors to bear in mind.
Prints & plains
Viscose jersey fabrics take a print well – there are some fabulous designs around that change from season to season. However jerseys prints are usually applied to a lighter-coloured base fabric. If you choose a print, you’ll need to make sure that your pattern design doesn’t require both sides of your fabric to be visible – e.g. in a ruffle or waterfall element.
Remember too, that the stretch in a viscose jersey can reduce the impact of a print and the opacity of your fabric – so designs relying extensively on stretched design elements might work less well for prints.
Viscose jerseys can vary in weight. If it’s the first time you’ve sewn with a specific jersey then it’s often wise to get a sample or check the weight of the fabric first. As you get to know viscose jerseys, the weights will start to make more sense. A viscose jersey like our ‘Villette’ black viscose jersey fabric is around the 300 grammes per square metre (gsm). It’s great for dresses, tops and tunics – but might be a little heavy for some tops or underwear. Our micromodal jersey fabrics come in at around 170gsm however – which is great for lighter-weight t-shirts and tops (as well as knickers!) but probably wouldn’t work for a dress. If in doubt then please check with us! It’s often down to personal preference but the more information you have, the better.
Good to know: We often include the weight per square metre in our descriptions – but all our fabrics have the weight per linear metre listed in the ‘Additional information’ tab on the website. Our system needs that information to calculate shipping – but you can also use it to calculate the grammes per square metre by dividing the linear weight by the width of the fabric in centimetres, then multiplying by 100.
Some patterns that work well…
Here are some patterns that make the most of the qualities of viscose jersey knits in different ways.
Classic wrap dress
The ‘Wanda Wrap Dress’ from Wardrobe By Me is an example of a design that draws on all the qualities of a viscose jersey. It needs a single knit that isn’t overly bulky for the gathers and layers of fabric used in the wrap bodice, as well as the drape and movement in the skirt. It’s also a good example of how ‘negative ease’ works – the deliberate stretching of the fabric to help define the waist but using pleats and gathers to do so with subtlety.
The Clara Top from Fibre Mood uses the ability of a viscose jersey to drape with elegance, skimming the body and moving softly. A double knit or a less draping single knit would be too stiff, standing out like a tent.
Cowl necklines & fine gathers
Viscose jerseys have the ability to gather without bulk and create elegant draped necklines. The ‘Plitvice Top’ from Itch To Stitch uses both those qualities. It has a fluid cowl-style neckline then ripples the drape down the whole front panel by using fine gathers into the side front seams.
Twists and ties
Here’s another one from Itch To Stitch (they’re a lovely resource for knit fabric pattern designs) – it’s their Nottingham Top. This incorporates a lovely twisted interlock feature at hip level that also creates asymmetrical gathers around the hip and tummy, reaching softly up to the bust. The weight of a viscose jersey allows this design feature to work without adding excess bulk and making the most of its draping abilities.
…and some that might not!
By contrast, these patterns all depend on characteristics that you’re unlikely to find in a viscose jersey. They’re all fabulous designs – but you’ll want to look at different types of knitted fabrics to make them work.
The ‘Kaia Coatigan’ from Sew to Grow is an example of a jacket that’s designed for a knitted fabric that feels cosy and can stretch to fit. However it needs a substantial knit without too much stretch in order to hold that lovely fitted shape. A boiled wool or ponte Roma jersey fabric would be perfect. A viscose jersey would hang down, losing the fitted shape and structure of the design.
The classic ‘Coco Dress’ from Tilly & The Buttons has a distinctive flared A-Line shape which relies on a substantial knitted fabric to prevent the dress drooping down from the hips. A ponte Roma jersey would work well, whereas a viscose jersey would lose that shape completely.
The ‘Gothenburg Top’ from Itch to Stitch requires a fabric that has enough structure to hold that funnel neck upright. A double knit ponte Roma jersey would be ideal; a substantial french terry or sweatshirt fabric might also work. A viscose jersey however would just flop down onto the neckline.
Leggings like these ‘Avery Leggings from Helen’s Closet require all the stretch and softness that you’ll find in a viscose jersey – but they also require structure, otherwise they won’t hug your shape or provide that all-important opacity😳. Some double knit fabrics can be a little too bulky for leggings – or lack the required stretch. We’d usually suggest a single-knit with substance which you’d be most likely to find in a cotton jersey with plenty of spandex, often combined with other fibres such as bamboo for added softness. You might find an unusual outlier, but a viscose jersey is unlikely to be firm enough to gather everything in and give you the confidence to get properly active!
I’ve spoken before about the fact that jersey knits were a bit of a daunting mystery to me until relatively recently. When I was growing up in Yorkshire, the local fabric shops and markets offered plenty in the way of woven fabrics but knits were a rarity – as were any sewing patterns that might have made use of them. I’ve loved getting to know them over recent years – although it’s taken me a while to work out what designs and knits work best for me. I love the satisfaction in achieving a professional finish and it’s always fun playing with jersey knits on the ClothSpot mannequin – there are so many things you can do!
I hope this post de-mystifies viscose jerseys a little – and goes some way towards guiding you if you have a jersey project in mind. If you have any questions – or indeed if you treasure a favourite a go-to pattern for viscose jersey, then please share in the Comments below – and thank you for dropping by!