Sewing jersey and knits without a serger

Ikatee offers you many sewing patterns to make in jersey knitwear. Some seamstresses have apprehension to use 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. How to use jerseys 

The jersey knits

 The jersey is a knitted stitch with more or less thick threads. It forms loops of stitches contrary to a woven fabric which is the result of an interlacing of stretched threads.

The jersey is a knitting technique; it is recognized by the stitches on the front forming "V" and the back forming "bridges".

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

The jersey is by nature extensible; this quality varies according to the nature of the fiber used and the tension of the mesh 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

The cotton jersey is the most widespread; it is used for the realization of tee-shirts, pyjamas and ample 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. We find it in light version (thin enough threads, non-scraped back: the "french terry"), in all-season version (medium threads, scraped back) and in warm version (scraped 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 nice fall.

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

The straight or tubular rib edge: the complementary mesh to the jersey!

The rib-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 little marked which is knitted one stitch on the front, one stitch on the back which forms the rib (each row is identical). The 2*2 rib is knitted with 2 stitches on the front and 2 stitches on the back, which enlarges 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 holding. The ribbed edge is available in straight (flat knitted in 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 complete strip is laid flat. The pattern pieces are placed across the width of the ribbed fabric and cut. Usually the cuffs, collar and lower leg or body bands are folded in half lengthwise to reinforce the bands and ensure a perfect fit (cuffs, collar and bands are therefore "double").

(see below how to climb a hillside pass)

2. Prepare the sewing of the jersey

The direction of the jersey

The jersey is stretchable in its width. Its knitting is done in successive rows so it makes sense. The pieces must be placed in the straight yarn, parallel to the selvedge (perpendicular to the formed rows). 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 line, your garment will "turn" as the washes go along because the mesh "moves" (you would then see the seams on the sides of your shirt twist with use).

The cutting

Fold the fabric in a straight line, right side against right side. 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 together in the middle of the fabric to form a gift wrap), it depends on the cutting plan provided with the pattern.

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

Transfer the outline of the pattern (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 mesh.

Cut the pieces. 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 overthickness under the clothes.

3. Sewing jersey

Serger or not serger ?

The overlock machine is ideal for sewing jersey because it stitches, cuts the edges and overtapes them in one 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!

The tools for sewing without an overlock machine

A few small basic investments are necessary to sew the jersey with a sewing machine without worry:

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 size of the needle: the thinner the jersey, the thinner the needle should be chosen.

  • Fine jersey: needle 60 to 80.
  • medium jerseys: needle 80 to 90.
  • thick jerseys : 90 and more.

A double needle (optional): it makes it possible to carry out pretty hems well extensible. They come in different sizes (depending on the distance between the 2 sewing 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-fiber polyester yarn has a swelling foamy appearance. It is soft and stretchy and is used to give elasticity to your seam. Because 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 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 see on the right side of the seam) because only one foam thread in the bobbin is needed to ensure the seam's stretchability. 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 color range of foam yarn is much less extensive than that of "classic" sewing yarns and having a color-coordinated yarn is important on the right side of the jersey. Therefore, it is sufficient to simply take a foam thread of a similar or neutral color because the foam thread will only be visible on the back of the jersey. NB: Spools of foam yarn are often proposed in small cones of about 1000m of yarn, at a price of about 6 to 10€. No need to have all the colors, 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 to cut the fabric (optional but recommended)

        The sewing

        • Choose the right stitch

        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 piqué zig-zag stitch: This stitch also makes it possible to sew the parts that must remain stretchy (collar, hems, etc).

        The overlock or overlock stitches: also allows 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 a bobbin.

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

        Fabric drive

        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 feed foot (or carrier foot) makes it easier to feed the material under the presser foot. Some machines have them on the basic model (e.g. PFAFF passport 2) or offer them 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 in use (the shoulders for example). It is then recommended to use an extra jersey strip or cotton twill tape on the back of the jersey and stitch it through the layers.

        Sewing hems

        Make a fold or tuck in and then 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 have only 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 ensure stretchability (no need for foam thread with the double needle).

        Sew a bias binding on jersey

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

          Sew together jersey and non-stretch fabric

            Assembler 2 matières différentes se fait facilement en posant le jersey sur la matière non extensible, en piquant au point droit avec une aiguille à jersey ou stretch.

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

            How to apply a ribbed collar

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

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