Sewing jersey without an overlock machine

Ikatee offers you many sewing patterns to make in jersey knitwear. Some seamstresses are apprehensive about using this material, but it can be easily mastered. In this course on how to handle jersey, I will explain all the tips and good habits I have developed to sew it without using an overlock machine.

1. The jersey and its uses
The jersey stitch
The jersey is a knitted stitch with more or less thick threads. It forms loops of stitches unlike a woven fabric which is the result of an interlacing of taut threads.

The jersey is therefore a manufacturing technique; it can be recognised by the "V" shaped stitches on the front and the "bridge" shaped stitches on the back.

It can be knitted with natural (cotton, linen, bamboo, wool, etc.), artificial (viscose, tencel, etc.), synthetic (polyester, elastane, etc.) or blends of these fibres (cotton polyester, cotton viscose, cotton elastane, etc.).

Jersey is by nature extensible;
this quality varies according to the nature of the fibre used and the tension of the meshes formed. A jersey with soft knits and elastane is particularly stretchy. It is ideal for sewing baby and children's clothing.

The jersey in clothing

Cotton jersey is the most widespread; it is used to make T-shirts, pyjamas and loose dresses. Comfortable and easy to care for, it is ideal for children's clothing. It is easy to sew.

Stretch cotton jersey
(or elastane cotton) is used to increase elasticity. It is used for leggings, T-shirts, lingerie or sportswear and is highly recommended for clothing close to the body.

Linen or bamboo jersey
is close to cotton jersey in functionality. It is highly absorbent and is therefore ideal for summer and baby clothing.

Fleece jersey is thicker
. The reverse side has looser looped knits. It is less stretchy due to its knitting and thickness. It is easy to sew. It is used for sweatshirts, jogging bottoms, sportswear dresses or vests. It is available in a light version (fairly thin threads, non-scratchy backing: the "French terry"), in an all-season version (medium threads, scratchy backing) and in a warm version (scratchy front and back). It can be worked on cotton-elastane or cotton-polyester-elastane supports; elastane gives more comfort; polyester gives resistance and swelling to the material.

Ponti Roma or Milano jersey
is a specific knitting technique that gives a thick and material knit. It is perfect for the realization of dresses, skirts or jackets with a good outfit and a nice fall.

Viscose jersey
is more fluid and tends to "move" more during sewing. It is therefore more delicate to work with. It is rather used in women's clothing for its beautiful fall.

The straight or tubular ribbed edge: the complementary stitch to the jersey!

The ribbed edge is used to form cuffs, collars, sweater or T-shirt bottoms.

This thick knit is knitted in more or less wide ribs. A 1*1 rib is a rib that is not very marked and is knitted one stitch on the right side, one stitch on the left side, which forms the rib (each row is identical). The 2*2 rib is knitted with 2 stitches on the front and then 2 on the back, which widens the rib effect, etc. The rib edge is very stretchy. It is generally knitted with yarns containing elastane to amplify its extensibility and reinforce its good hold. The ribbed edge is available in straight (fabric knitted in flat rows in variable widths) or tubular form; the mesh is knitted in a tube with no "stop" between each row. In the case of a tubular edge, the tube is opened by cutting one side open and the entire strip is laid flat. The pattern pieces are placed across the width of the ribbed fabric and cut. Generally the cuffs, collar and band at the bottom of the legs or body are folded in half lengthwise to reinforce the bands and ensure a perfect fit (the cuffs, collar and bands are therefore "double").

(see below how to assemble a collar in ribbing)

2. Prepare the jersey seam
The meaning of the jersey
The jersey mesh is stretchy in its width. Its knitting is done in successive rows and therefore it makes sense. The pieces must be placed in a straight line, parallel to the selvedge (perpendicular to the rows formed). This ensures the same elasticity to all the pieces of the garment.

Special care must be taken when placing the pattern pieces on the jersey. If the pieces are a little crooked in relation to the straight thread, your garment will "turn" as the washings progress because the knit will "move" (you would then see the seams on the sides of your t-shirt twist when you wear it).

The cut

Fold the fabric in a straight line, right sides together. Align the selvedges side to side if the fabric is to be folded in 2 or face to face if your fabric is to be folded in 3 (then fold the 2 selvedges against each other in the middle of the fabric to form a gift wrap), it depends on the cutting plan supplied with the pattern.

Place all the pieces of the pattern in a straight line, pin them carefully, avoiding stretching the material.

Transfer the pattern contours (add seam allowances if not included in the pattern) with a soft tracing tool to prevent the tip of the tool from catching on the stitch.

Cut the workpieces.
I prefer using a rotary cutter to scissors to avoid moving the jersey.

Rolling the cut edges: no need to overcast

Jersey has a natural tendency to curl at the raw cut edges. The stitches tighten. A raw edge can be left this way without overcasting because it will not come off. It's magical! On the other hand, a hole made in the middle of the jersey will tend to get bigger because a mesh cut in the heart of the material will come off.

Personally, I prefer to overcast the raw edges to flatten the seam margins and prevent the roulotté from making visible extra thickness under the clothes.

3. Sewing jersey

Overlock or not overlock?
The overlock machine is ideal for sewing jersey because it stitches, trims the edges and overcast them in a single operation. The seam is also very stretchy because it adapts to the material.

However, you can do without the overlock machine!

Sewing with a classic machine is quite feasible and it's even simple!
A few small basic investments are necessary to sew the jersey with a sewing machine without any worries:

A jersey needle:
this special needle with a slightly rounded tip allows you to slide between the stitches without piercing them and therefore without damaging them. (This needle is also used for an overlock machine).
The needle size: the thinner the jersey, the thinner the needle should be.

Fine jersey: needle 60 to 80.

medium jerseys: needle 80 to 90.

thick jerseys: 90 and more.

A double needle (optional): it allows you to make nice hems that are very stretchy. Different sizes are available (depending on the desired distance between the two seam lines). 2 bobbins are installed on the machine: you usually have 2 bobbin slots. If this is not the case, install the 2 bobbins one on top of the other. Thread the 2 threads following the same usual path and then thread 1 thread in each eye (one thread per needle). When stitching in straight stitch, 2 sewing lines will be stitched in parallel and the bobbin thread will form a zig-zag under the jersey between the 2 top stitching lines.

Foam yarn (for the bobbin): this multi-fibre polyester yarn has a swelling foamy appearance. It is soft and stretchy and is used to give elasticity to your seam. As jersey is stretchy, it requires a stretchy seam, otherwise the seam may break during use (threading the garment). Foam yarn is used in lingerie, sportswear and swimwear and more generally for all knits. It is recommended in the bobbin for single needle seams but is useless when using the double needle which already forms an extensible seam thanks to the zig-zag formed on the reverse side by the classic bobbin thread. Foam thread is not recommended in bobbin thread (the thread you can see on the right side of the seam) as only a foam thread in the bobbin is needed to ensure that the seam is stretchable. Also, foam thread has a foamy appearance that is not "pretty" on the outside, the seam would be less "linear" on the right side. Finally, the colour range of foam thread is much less extensive than that of "classic" sewing threads and having a colour-coordinated thread is important on the right side of the jersey. Therefore, it is sufficient to simply take a foam thread of a similar or neutral colour, as the foam thread will only be visible on the back of the jersey. NB: Spools of foam thread are often offered in small cones of about 1000m of thread, at a price of about 6 to 10€. No need to have all the colours, a few basics are enough!

Sewing thread: for the machine bobbin, a classic cotton or polyester thread can be used. I recommend polyester threads, which are more resistant to wear than cotton threads. In addition, it will be coupled with a foam thread in a bobbin, itself made of polyester; using threads of the same material is preferable to optimize the characteristics of the materials.

A rotary cutter for cutting the fabric (optional but recommended)


There are several stitches to stitch the jersey; all can be lengthened or shortened as desired.

The important thing is to create an elastic seam.

The elastic or stretch stitch:
it is not proposed on all machines (see your instructions). It is used to sew parts that must remain stretchy (collar, hems, etc.). This stitch is already stretchy enough and the use of foam thread in the bobbin is not necessary. The disadvantage of this stitch is that it is not very nice because it is not linear.

The zig-zag or stitched zig-zag stitch:
This stitch also allows you to sew the parts that must remain stretchy (collar, hems, etc).

Overlock or overlock stitches:
also allows you to sew and overcast at the same time.

Perfect in their uses
, zig-zag or stretch stitches have a drawback: the aesthetic rendering is not ideal in my opinion (zig-zag effect). It is therefore possible to use straight stitch for ALL seams using foam thread in bobbin.

Straight stitch (which is my favourite!): generally set the stitch to 2 to 2.5mm (4 to 5 stitches per centimetre). It is perfect for making straight seams at the shoulders, sides, etc. because the seams need less elastic. For other seams, it can also be used with foam thread in a bobbin.

Fabric entrainment
The jersey mesh is stretchy and will therefore tend to stretch during sewing.

First stitch: let the machine set the sewing rhythm! Do not hold or pull the material. If you pull on the jersey, the material will deform slightly and the seam will make the material "curl". Simply guide the jersey without pressure.

The use of a double-drive foot (or carrier foot) makes it easier to feed the material under the presser foot. Some machines have this on the basic model (e.g. the PFAFF passport 2) or offer it as an option. This is a good investment for seamstresses who wish to produce jersey pieces on a regular basis.

Without a double feed foot, carry out sewing tests on jersey samples, reduce the pressure of the presser foot in case of bad feed (if your machine allows it). Or, slide and pin a sheet of thin paper such as tissue or pattern paper under (or over) the jersey to stabilize the material under the presser foot. Simply remove the paper after sewing by gently tearing it off.

Reinforce seams (shoulders, etc.)

Some seams need to be reinforced because they are very stressed during use (the shoulders for example). It is then recommended to use an extra jersey strip or cotton twill tape on the reverse side of the jersey and stitch it through the layers.

Sewing hems

Make a fold or tuck in and sew either zig-zag or straight stitch with a double needle. When using the double needle, place 2 bobbins of thread on your machine. There are usually 2 places to place the bobbins; if you only have one, place the 2 bobbins one on top of the other. Thread the threads along the same path and then thread one thread through each eye of the double needle. Reduce the stitch length. Test on a sample straight stitch. If the seam tends to blister, reduce the thread tension. The bobbin thread will form a zig zag stitch between the 2 straight stitch lines and provide stretch (no need for foam thread with the double needle).

Sewing a bias binding on jersey

It is ideal to use a bias itself in jersey to allow the bias to be adapted as well as possible to the curves of the material and its extensibility.

Sewing together jersey and a non-stretch fabric
Joining 2 different materials is easily done by placing the jersey on the non-stretch material, stitching with a jersey or stretch needle.

Form a ribbed collar (or a cuff, etc...)

The technique explained above is obviously valid for a cuff in ribbed edge or an ankle bracelet in ribbed edge.

To your machine! You can safely start sewing jersey without an overlock machine!

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