How to Sew Jersey Fabrics on a Domestic Sewing Machine – Part 1: Seams

Many sewers both new and experienced are unnecessarily scared of sewing stretch knit fabrics.

Most knit-phobes believe these popular myths about sewing knits:

  1. I need to use an overlocker to sew knit fabrics
  2. I can’t sew knit fabrics on my sewing machine
  3. knit fabrics are harder to sew than delicate silk fabrics
  4. knit fabrics have to be stretched when I sew them
  5. it’s hard to cut out knit fabrics accurately
  6. I won’t be able to get seams to match accurately using knit fabrics
  7. it’s difficult to buy nice knit fabrics
  8. I don’t want to make really tight figure hugging clothes.

None of these statements are true!  Let’s go through them again and tell you the truth:

  1. No, you don’t need to have an overlocker to sew knit fabrics.  You can and an overlocker will make the job quicker, easier and neater, but if you’ve never used an overlocker before, definitely don’t start on one with a knit fabric!
  2. All reasonably modern sewing machines have a selection of stitches specifically designed for stretch knit fabrics.  I’m going to show you the best ones for joining seams in this article.  Even if your machine only does straight stitch and zig-zag a narrow zig-zag stitch will do the job.
  3. Some knit fabrics can be a bit more difficult to handle than a standard woven fabric, especially the lighter weight ones, but even a lightweight jersey isn’t going to be as difficult as a slippery lightweight silk.  A few more pins when cutting out and a bit of tacking when you might just have pinned are the only extra steps you’ll need.
  4. I’ve actually seen this recommended in some of the bigger commercial pattern brand’s pattern instructions.  This is absolutely the last thing to do unless you’re after stretched wavy seams!
  5. When cutting stretch knits you need to make sure the fabric isn’t hanging off your table because it will stretch the fabric, resulting in pattern pieces that ping up a lot shorter once you’ve cut them out!  If you don’t have room for the whole length of fabric on your table, pile it up over the back of a chair beside the table. Also use a few more pins than you might do normally to hold your pattern pieces accurately in place.  Using a few weights (or tins of beans!) to hold your pattern in place while you pin it will also help.
  6. To match seams accurately pin them first and if necessary tack them. Also use the nature of the fabric to your advantage…..it stretches, which means it’s very forgiving if something doesn’t quite match perfectly and you can get away with a bit of stretching to fit (as long as that bit of stretch is spread out along the whole of the seam).
  7. Have a read of my previous blog post about where to buy stretch knit fabrics, the different types of stretch knit fabrics available and their uses – knit fabric is a broad category.
  8. You can make some really flattering, draped styles using stretch knits.  They’re not just for leotards and leggings!  Think about the clothes you own that you enjoy wearing…..I’ll bet a lot of them are made from knit fabrics.

So, hopefully I’ve made a start at converting you and you’re willing to have a try.  The first thing I’ll show you is some stitches to use for seams.  I’ll go through hems and finishing edges in separate posts.

NEEDLES

The first thing you need for any machine is:

how to sew jersey - ballpoint needlesa pack of jersey or ballpoint needles.  They’re a bit more blunt on the end than a regular sewing needle meaning that they won’t ladder the knitted structure of the fabric.  You can see they also come in different sizes like regular sewing needles.

Here’s a guide for which size will best suit which fabric:

70 – very lightweight silk or viscose jersey

80 – light t-shirt weight cotton jersey

90 – interlock, ponte roma, some cut and sew knits.

MACHINE SETTINGS FOR SEAMS

The first and easiest stitch to use for seams is the stretch straight stitch:

how to sew jersey fabric

how to sew jersey fabric

how to sew jersey fabricThis stitch is useful when sewing with thicker knits whose edges don’t need any neatening and where you need to be able to press your seam open.

A stitch we use a lot for sewing knit fabrics in my classes is the overlock stitch:

how to sew jersey fabrics

how to sew knit fabric

sampleseam-HtrimmingThis stitch mimics an overlock stitch and can join the seam and neaten the edges in one go.  You can trim off the excess seam allowance close to the stitching as shown in the second picture.  The seam then has to be pressed flat to one side rather than open, so it’s not suitable for more bulky fabrics.  It works well on most t-shirt weight jerseys.

The final stitch for seams is the narrow overlock stitch used with an overcasting or overlock foot.  (See this blog post for more about what an overcasting foot is and how to use it).

how to sew stretch knits

how to sew jerseyHere’s the machine with the overcasting foot attached.

how to sew jersey on a domestic machine

how to sew knit fabricThis stitch again joins the seam and neatens the edge of the seam allowance in one go.  By also using the overcasting foot it means you don’t need to then trim off the excess seam allowance after sewing.  It also means though that you can only use it on narrow seam allowances (the overall width of the stitch).  It’s another stitch that results in a seam that has to be pressed to one side and gives a nice neat finish to lightweight jersey fabrics.  It’s not suited to heavier and thicker knits.

PRESSER FOOT PRESSURE

If your sewing machine has the ability to adjust the presser foot pressure, this can be helpful when sewing some knit fabrics to stop them being stretched by the machine as you sew.  You can read more about how to adjust the presser foot pressure in this blog post.

TENSION

how to sew jersey fabric

As with all sewing, make sure the tension on your machine is set at the right level for the fabric you’re sewing.  If your machine’s tension dial goes up to 9, 4 should be fine for joining two layers of most medium weight woven fabrics.  A lower number means a looser stitch which you need for lighter weight fabric or fewer layers.  A higher number means a tighter stitch which you need for thicker fabrics or more layers.  You shouldn’t need to adjust the tension up or down by more than one number, meaning you will usually stay within the range of 3-5.

Most lighter weight knit fabrics eg. t-shirt jersey and lighter need a looser tension of around 3.

So there you are – how to sew seams in a range of knitted fabrics on your sewing machine.  I hope you’re turning from a knit-phobe into a knit-fan!  In my next article I’ll show you how to get nice hem finishes on knit fabrics using a sewing machine.

42 responses to “How to Sew Jersey Fabrics on a Domestic Sewing Machine – Part 1: Seams

  1. Help Wendy!
    I’ve tried sewing a lightweight jersey knit skirt but there are stitches missing and I’ve tried adjusting the tensions, stitch lengths etc but still no good, I’ve even tried a different thread.
    Any ideas?

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  2. Very clear and straightforward.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This has been so useful, I just attempted my first pair of baby leggings…. I’ll definitely be putting some of these into practice next time!

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  4. Hello – I just bought a dress made with stretchy fabric and notice that it also uses stretchy thread for sewing seams. I’ve decided to make a copy of it but could I use standard thread? Great article by the way – just what I needed. Thanks. Sue

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  5. I have bought some jersey fabric, and am going to try to make a simple dress from it on my very basic machine. Thanks so much for this post, Wendy – it will really help!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks great tips 😀

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  7. Hi Wendy

    i have an old machine from the 60s and it only has straight and zigzag stitches. I purchased a jersey needle, but after your post I have doubts – do I absolutely need an mimic overlock stitch to sew knits? Or will what I have suffice? Can I just sew a straight stitch with jersey needle?

    The knit fabric I have is on the sturdier side and not a lightweight knit.

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    • Hi Jenny, as explained in the post you don’t have to have an overlock stitch. If your machine only does straight and zigzag stitches I’d use a narrow zigzag, definitely not a regular straight stitch. Whether or not to use a jersey needle depends on the thickness of the fabric, I find anything thicker than ponte roma is better with a regular needle. To be sure, try the jersey needle, if you get skipped stitches swap over to a regular needle. Hope that helps and happy sewing!!

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  8. If I have a janome 4030QDC where do I or how do I get a stretch stitch?

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  9. This is brilliant; thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Brilliant post, thankyou.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for your clear article. I am fairly new to sewing and have just ordered my first collection of patterns. I was worried as I do like tunics in stretch jersey fabrics but I am going to give it a try!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This was so helpful and encouraged me enough to have a go with jersey. I’ve successfully made two tops which I’m really proud of and I’m now on my third – which has a loose cowl type neck. Unfortunately this time things have gone horribly wrong and the neck has stretched badly out of shape at the back. I’m not sure it can be rescued but would welcome any suggestions!

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    • Hi Barbara, I’m so pleased to hear my post has encouraged you to successfully have a go at using jersey fabrics!
      Without seeing the style of your cowl neck top I’m not totally sure what might be the problem, but to stop necks stretching out of shape try these methods:
      1 – finish off the back neck with a folded band edge finish – have a look at the 3rd of my series on sewing knits for Sewing World magazine: https://wendyward.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/knits-know-how-series-hems/
      2 – use some iron-on bias tape to stop the back neck stretching, find out more here: http://miycollection.co.uk/2012/08/07/a-secret-weapon-for-sewing-jersey-fabrics/
      Hope that helps!
      Wendy

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      • Hi Wendy, thanks for replying so quickly – your suggestions will certainly help next time. The top I’m making has the wide collar attached to the neck of the top (and pressed as per pattern instructions, but I think that was where it all went wrong!) I then attached the facing with ironed on interfacing and turned that in – so the cowl is between the facing and the top. The cowl then turns out over the seam which has stretched badly out of shape. I’m thinking I could try the tape you mention and try re-attaching the collar after cutting off the stretched area. I have had a look on the internet to buy the tape – is it used for quilting normally? I can’t see one that’s recommended for jersey.
        Thanks again for your help.
        Barbara

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      • Hi Barbara, I get mine from Vena Cava: http://www.venacavadesign.co.uk/shop/home/581-vilene-bias-tape.html it’s really soft and works beautifully for knits.
        Hope that helps!
        Wendy

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  13. Such a useful post. So comprehensive and clearly written. Thank you!

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  14. Will be trying this soon, my son who is 9 wants to make his own summer clothes so i am hoping to start with some shorts, he will be designing and i will be stitching, hopefully it all works out well

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thanks so much for the reply about the leggings. The little legs are so small I wouldn’t be able to do them after sewing the leg seams but I will definitely try your advice about starting on scrap fabric. I will be sewing some more soon and I will pop back and let you know how I get on. Thanks again.

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  16. Great information. I have always avoided stretch fabrics but recently bought a coverlock machine and I am slowly coming to grips with it. My question is about using an overlocker on stretch fabric. I have only made two pairs of child’s leggings in jersey but I have found that the fabric seems to stick at the beginning of the leg seam and the two layers of fabric do not align at the start of the seam. The fabric is double on each side as I coverlock the hems first so it is therefore fairly thick. Never had this problem with other fabric. Do you have any idea how I can remedy this? I thought it might help if I started the seam at the crotch down one side and then down the other side as there would only be two layers. I would welcome any tips or advice.

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    • Hi Eileen, glad you liked the post thank you. As for your overlocker…..I definitely wouldn’t hem your leggings before joining the inside leg seam. I know it’s easier, but definitely not the neatest way and if you don’t hem first, your overlocker should be able to start sewing easily. If it still struggles or you want to continue doing the hem first, try running a scrap of other fabric through your overlocker first then run straight onto your leggings, that way the overlocker is already happily sewing by the time it gets to your leggings. I definitely wouldn’t do the inside leg in 2 runs starting at the crotch – you may end up with a gap in the stitching at the crotch. Hope that helps! Wendy

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  17. Thank you, I was about to throw my machine out the window 🙂

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  18. Great post! Recently been dabbling in sewing jersey with some degree of success but always been a bit unsure of the overlock foot – def gonna give it a try this weekend 🙂

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    • Thanks! I think you’ll like it – they’re great little gadgets. Just double check in your manual the settings that should be used on your particular machine – if you don’t set the stitch wide enough you can hit the foot with the needle….. Good luck with it.
      Wendy

      Liked by 1 person

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