Here on our quilty adventure, we’re going to keep it cozy. It’s still December, for a few more days at least and if you missed the post on wool, turn back! It was so warm! Jersey is another fan favorite when it comes to warm and cuddly fabrics. Babies love it. Kids love it. I’m pretty sure everyone loves it. Except maybe… quilters.
Have some jersey nerves? I get it. It’s so slippery and stretchy and scary. But it’s okay. Let’s hold hands and take it step by step. Jersey knits are super flexible… but so are we!
Read More From Our Quilty Adventures!
WELCOME TO JERSEY
How to Sew with Jersey: The History
Jersey is a knit fabric, actually called weft-knit if you want to get fancy about it. “Jersey” has become a pretty loose term, referring to any knitted fabric without a distinct rib. The name itself doesn’t come from the Jersey in the United States, but from the name of an island off the coast of England. The fabric was actually used commonly for fishermen’s clothing, and the original jersey fabrics were a lot heavier than the jersey knits we know today.
Jersey knits can be hand made (power to you!), or made on knitting machines. Though you can’t see it easily on your everyday t-shirt, jersey knits are made from the same basic knitting stitch you would use to knit a scarf… just much, much smaller. It’s a lightweight, stretchy, comfy fabric that’s great for everyday use. So let’s use it, shall we?
I know you’re worried about running into stretched-out seams and scary slippage when you’re out there on the jersey roads. But stretchiness doesn’t always mean poppin’ threads. Sometimes, it just means stretchiness. And stretchiness can be good!
Where does all that stretchiness come from? Jersey is stretchy because it’s knitted (made with inter-connected loops) instead of woven, like cotton. The knitted method gives it that soft, all-seasons feel that you totally love, so don’t be hate'n on it. If you’re looking for cozy simplicity, jersey really delivers. As long as you know some of the local insider tips, you’ll be just fine.
How to Sew with Jersey: What to Pack
So, jersey’s kinda special, and there’s some special gear out there that can help you get the most out of it. There’s also some more high-tech stuff that basically no one has, but everyone wants when they’re sewing with jersey. I’ll talk about it, just so we can all be jealous and drool all over the internet looking at all the fancy stuff.
But let’s start with some basics:
- A twin needle. This is exactly what it sounds. It’s a needle attachment with two needle heads. If you have a sewing machine that knows how to zig-zag, you can probably use one of these, and they don’t cost very much. Twin needles can build stretch into your seams by making two lines of straight stitching on the right side of your fabric, with a zig-zag stitch underneath LIKE MAGIC. (If the idea of two needles gives you a panic attack – check out this helpful video to see how simple it can be.)
- Ballpoint needles. If you'd prefer to skip the twin needles, ballpoint needles are another great option. Ballpoint needles have rounded tips that let you slip in between those knitted loops instead of barging right through the middle of the thread like a meanie. Respect your jersey knit, and it’ll respect you.
- A walking foot. Yah, you’ve heard this one from me before. They’re SO nice for working with stretchy materials! Just remember to get one that is compatible to your sewing machine.
- Use interfacing. If you don't want to mess with special needles, just stick with your regular Universal Needle and prepare your stretchy jersey by ironing some stabilizer to the back of it. I'm talking about some light-weight fusible interfacing such as this Pellon Shape-Flex. This stuff is really easy to use – just steam iron it to the back of your T-shirts. Because it's light-weight, it won't make your finished quilt feel crunchy.
Now, here’s the fancy stuff:
- A cover stitch machine. A whole new machine, you say? Yeah. And it’s super cool. So, have you seen those commercially sewn jersey knit pieces with double-row hems? Cover stitch machines do this IN ONE STEP. So perfect. But don’t worry, you can still do it with a regular sewing machine. In more than one step.
- A serger. This isn’t quite as exotic, but sergers are seriously awesome. Sergers let you sew jersey knits and cut your seams AT THE SAME TIME! It’s the most satisfying thing, like, ever. (Amazon recommendation here?)
Hand-stitched indigo jersey quilt by Natalie Chanin.
Y’all ready to go? Then grab that bag of tricks, and let’s hit the gas. (I’m driving.)
Let’s talk about our route (you know, the stitches.) Are we thinking a straight-and-narrow path, or something a bit more meandering? Here’s what I recommend:
Let’s get funky. Straight stitches give you an inflexible, potentially-bunchy look with jersey. And because they’re so inflexible, they pop easily. Which makes us cry. And we don’t want to cry (though your jersey scraps will make such a nice soft hankie.)
If you got ahold of a twin needle, try that out. You still get the straight look, but you have more stretch. Otherwise, try THE STRETCH STITCH! It’s a thing! It looks a lot like a lightning bolt, and the zig zag lets your jersey stretch like never before. So good.
Now that you’re hyper-aware of this stretch we’ve been talking about, relax and have some fun. Jersey is another one of those miracle fabrics that doesn’t unravel, so even though serging is super neat, it’s def not necessary. Enjoy the soft coziness of your fabric, and do your best. You may get lost and have to turn around a few times, but you’ll start to know your way around soon enough. And once you know jersey, you’ll love it.
TSHIRT QUILTS ARE NOT THE ONLY JERSEY QUILTS.
Jersey Hand-Stitched Appliqué, Alabama Chanin
Let me give you a minute to pick your jaw up from off the floor.
Back in your chair? Good, cause you're going to want to hear about this. Natalie Chanin, founder of Alabama Chanin in Florence, AL almost exclusively uses 100% organic cotton jersey in her designs. If you hop around on this website, one phrase you see often is "slow design." Each item created is slowly and deliberately crafted with sustainability in mind.
Interested in learning this delicate hand-stitching method? You're in luck! Alabama Chanin has published multiple books on the subject including this one – Alabama Stitch Book: Projects and Stories Celebrating Hand-Sewing, Quilting and Embroidery for Contemporary Sustainable Style.
Roman Stripes, Deborah Pettway Young (1960)
Well hey there Gee's Bend! Don't you know I can't go a post without bringing you up? You're definitely one of my fave groups of ladies and it's hard for me to miss a chance to brag about you.
This quilt, like many of the quilts from this group, uses multiple kinds of scrap fabric including cotton twill, jersey knot, denim and polyester. So if you were scared about trying a new kind of fabric, take a page from these quilters and jump all in! Why use just jersey when you can mix it up even more!
Indigo Star, Natalie Chanin
Natalie? How'd you get back in here?? 😉 I had to give Natalie Chanin two spots on this list for a couple reasons:
- She's A-mazing and her work makes me drool.
- Not many people are quilting with jersey, so the examples out there are pretty slim. (Help me out! If you have jersey quilt pics, let me know!) I think we can work to change that though. Are you with me?!
Before You Check Out
Our jersey adventure is almost over (or maybe yours is just beginning!) but I wanted you to come away with one tricky little souvenir: though jersey knits are just all-around stretchy, they will stretch further one way than another. This can be good to know, as you can rotate your fabric according to your pattern, with more stretch facing the right way. Plus, it kind of makes you feel like jersey knit’s boss. Because you are.
Stretch your fabric lengthwise, then width-wise, and make note of the stretchier direction. And then tell jersey that you own it, and not to mess with you.
I know jersey knits aren’t the easiest. But I never promised this journey together would be easy. This quilty adventure is about adventure, after all! Have any particular struggles or snags? Let me know below. We’ll work it out together.
PS. Click here for a super cute jersey rose tutorial. Now you can sew roses on all the things!!