Fabrics 101: Embroidering on Jersey Knit


Fabrics 101: Embroidering on Jersey Knit

A few days ago I unpacked my summer wardrobe. I've got a lot of lightweight shirts made from Jersey knit, that are perfect for beating the humidity and heat.

Jersey knit has a fluidity to it that makes it a wonderfully comfortable fabric. That's one of the reasons that I have a closet full of t-shirts in all colors and styles. The soft and flexible nature of the fabric allows for excellent draping, and gives plenty of movement.

Jersey knit is a textile made from cotton or a cotton and synthetic blend. The consistent inter-looping of yarns in the jersey stitch produces a fabric with smooth, flat face, and a more textured, but uniform back.

The textile is named for the island of Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, located between England and France. It became a fashion staple when it was used by the famous Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel.

Coco had a hat shop in Paris, and in that same building was a couture store. Her rental contract prohibited her from making any clothes from "fashion fabric" that would compete with the couture shop.

But Coco wouldn't be stopped. She was looking for a way to expand her business. She found that French sailors wore sweaters made from Jersey knit, and that fabric wasn't considered to be "fashion" fabric. Her first line of clothing that she sold in her hat shop was made from this very fabric, to avoid her rental restrictions.

Jersey became the backbone of the fashions that Coco Chanel created from World War 1 through the 1920's. Because of her clothing design, knitwear moved from being a working class fabric to high-end fashion, and has remained there ever since.

Jersey knits are usually light to medium in weight, and include types such as wool Jersey, confetti dot, rayon Jersey, silk Jersey, and nylon tricot.

The small, close-grained stitches have a "right" side and "wrong" side. The right side of the material is marked by a series of very small lines which run vertically, and the wrong side has a horizontal grain.

One of the reasons I like jersey so much is the stretch factor. The fabric can stretch up to 25% along its grain and  feels comfortable, before and after a big meal. It is also available in a large assortment of colors and patterns to suit all tastes. Some common uses for jersey fabric include t-shirts, full skirts, loose dresses, tops, and wrap garments.

Quick-stitching one-color flower designs
were used to stitch this shirt and skirt combo.

When choosing embroidery designs to embellish jersey knit, look for ones that have open areas and will allow the fabric to drape beautifully. If you choose designs that are solid shapes (squares, rectangles, circles), then those designs can cause the fabric to droop, and not drape well.

I have used a variety of needles with jersey knit - 75/11 sharp, ball point, universal, embroidery, and metallic thread. I have found a ball-point needle size 10/70 or 11/75 works well for lightweight jersey and a 12/80 for medium weight jersey. With a ball point needle, the tip moves the fibers of the material aside to make the stitch, while with sharp needles, there is a risk of cutting through the fabric fibers.

Tulip t-shirt stitched by Priscilla on a Viking SE.

Because jersey knit is so thin and stretchy, I find that cutaway stabilizer will best support the fabric during the embroidery, and also through wearing and washing. The stitches will be nice and crisp, and even though the fabric is a stretchy knit, there's no puckering or dimpling.

Some Jersey knit is pretty sheer, and if you're concerned about the stabilizer showing through the fabric or causing the fabric to drape in a peculiar way, try Floriani's No-Show Mesh stabilizer. That's a nice, sheer stabilizer -- but strong to support the fabric. More information about that product can be found at http://www.RNKDistributing.com.

To prevent puckering and help keep the fabric and stabilizer from moving during stitching, spray the stabilizer with spray adhesive, and smooth that on the backside of the shirt. Jersey knit is really stretchy, and does have the tendency to shift around during embroidery. Having the cutaway stabilizer adhered to the fabric makes a tight bond, so that all the stitches land in one place. You can also use an adhesive-backed or fusible cutaway in lieu of the spray.

When sewing or embroidering on Jersey fabric, be sure to wash the fabric first, especially if it is cotton. All knits tend to shrink when they are washed, and washing beforehand eliminates shrinkage issues, plus it will remove the surface finish which will make it easier to sew.

To see examples of designs embroiderers have used on Jersey knit t-shirts, click here. And, for information specific to Jersey knit t-shirts, click here.

Stitching tips for Jersey knit:

Needle 10/70 or 11/75 for light weight knits, 12/80 for medium weight fabrics (sharp or embroidery needles)
Stabilizer Cutaway (2.5 ounce)
Design Choice Low to medium complexity designs, or designs with open areas,
will drape best.

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