Sewing with jersey fabric and stretch viscose is not hard!

Sewing with jersey fabric and stretch viscose is not hard!

In the UK, we’re regularly told that sewing with jersey and stretch fabrics is hard; that you need new techniques or specialist equipment; that the results are unpredictable for the mere amateur. 

Consequently beginners are advised never to try this hugely dangerous pursuit solo; to seek professional (preferably one-to-one) support through the trauma from experts with big, very tidy white self-contained sewing rooms, because sewing with jersey is so very, very, very hard.  

This is just not true. 

And, although many wonderful people have tried to set the online record straight about the joys of sewing with stretch, this only-the-brave myth persists. That means many sewists, especially beginners, don't even try.   

So if you've never sewn with jersey fabrics, and maybe a little nervous, here are a few no-nonsense tips from a wildly average sewer who has overcome the fear of sewing with stretch and lived:      

You don't have to be an expert - you can be an absolute beginner too

All these articles about the trauma of sewing with stretch fabrics put people off. And that's a big shame. They put me off too and I spent about six months using non-stretch cotton fabric until I realised that I'm just a jersey-clothes person and I would have to overcome my fear. 

Once I'd started I found it incredibly enjoyable, kept on going, and now I have no fear of fabrics of any kind. 

To put things in perspective, I'm a self-taught hobby sewer - I have the hours under my belt but I have zero patience and I'm not a detail geek. But I love the simple pleasure of sewing and make all of my stretch clothes, and lots of crafts and home decor projects too. 

So if I can sew with jersey (& stretch denim - but that's a different, but similar, story!) then literally anyone can, and I would urge beginners to jump right in straight away!     

Jersey fabrics and stretch viscose fabrics do not fray - which is why you do not need an overlocker!

Sewing with jersey fabrics is quick, easy and fun. If you're impatient like me, don't like faffing around or are busy all the time (also like me), sewing with jersey is perfect for you! It's a wonderful fabric and the best thing about stretch viscose and jersey fabrics is that THEY DO NOT FRAY – so it’s cut and leave; no hemming or finishing the seams off required, unless you want to of course. 

This means you can run up a pair of lounge pants or PJs in 45-minutes to an hour flat, using a fabric that's soft, durable and covered in unicorns or lovely woodland animals if you choose. 

It's also the reason why you do not need an overlocker sewing machine. I mean, how do you even thread such a monster? What are all those bobbins for exactly? And why pay upwards of 400 quid for something that hems the unsewn edges of a fabric that does not fray?! 

Yes, I absolutely see the point if you're making clothes to sell and you need a really professional finish - in that case, then yes, you definitely need an overlocker - but for the simple-life sewist then it's just a waste of money.  

Use a basic zigzag stitch if you have no stretch stitches

Even if your sewing machine has no stretch stitches (and the majority do have a couple these days), you can use a basic zigzag stitch, and in fact I still use the non-stretch one that looks like a zigzag but has multiple little stitches in it to sew the turnover on the neckline and cuffs, because it looks interesting. (See the top letter 'D' stitch below).

But if your machine does have stretch stitches then the only two I ever use for everything else are the basic stretch straight stitch or the one that looks like three zigzags knitted together to look like a fence (!). (See the bottom letter 'D' stitch below).

Use a stretch needle, get the tension right & use polyester thread 

It's true that you can sew stretch material with a normal needle. I've done it by accident lots of times, and vice versa. But if you don't use a stretch needle you're more likely to pull or snag the fabric or skip stitches, and this can be a pain. 

Stretch needles have a rounded tip, not that you can tell - you can still stab yourself with it! But it's rounded enough to part the fabric rather than pierce the fibres. 

I use Janome Ballpoint Stretch needles 75/11, which for some odd reason have 'Organ' written on the plastic pack, along with Super Stretch 130/705H. 

You can buy them for just under a fiver on Ebay, with five needles in the packet. They seem to last forever but I'm terrible at changing needles. To be safe you should swap out for a new one after every eight hours or three bobbins full of sewing.

Play around with the tension dial - I have mine on quite loose, and try to use a polyester thread - something like Moons which I use for everything - it glides through the knit rather than snagging on the fibres.        

Do you really need a neckband? No, you don't!

I have watched pretty much every single YouTube video on how to attach a stretch neckband and, you know, life is too damn short! I have done them, and I can do them successfully, but every time I do, I think: why am I wasting my life cutting strips on the bias and pulling them round and then double stitching when it takes one minute to turn over the neckline or just leave it (because it doesn't fray!). 

There is no law that says you must have a neckband, or cuffs, and in fact most women's clothes do not have one anyway. For children's clothing, I would always use ribbing because it's just easier to work with. But even then, think whether you need to go there or whether you can live without (even if the pattern says differently).     

Only difference? Don't pull the fabric! 

In my view, sewing with jersey and stretch viscose is absolutely no different to sewing with cotton. 

If I'm being ultra-picky, there is one slight difference - it obviously stretches so you shouldn't yank it through when you're sewing - but do you do that with non-stretch fabrics? Probably not! But take care not to pull it and practice first.

Experiment, go wild and hack non-stretch fabric sewing patterns

If there's one thing that proves jersey is not hard to sew with it's this: you can use your normal non-stretch sewing machine stitches to embroider on to jersey and stretch viscose fabric. 

I know because I've been experimenting with creating embroidered panels and inexpert applique panels with jersey fabric and then sewing them on to tops - running wavy lines up and down and making imperfect flowers and leaves in contrasting threads, and it's been great fun! 

Embroidered jersey fabric

I got the idea from this book: Improv Sewing by Nicola Blum, and I cannot recommend it enough for taking away any lingering fears you might have of jersey fabric.   

Applique flowers on jersey fabric

Finally, just because a sewing pattern says to use a non-stretch fabric like a 100% cotton, it doesn’t stop you from adapting it slightly and trying it in any type of stretch viscose or jersey fabric you fancy. You'll be surprised! I make all my lounge pants in French Terry from a pattern that is adamantly non-stretch cotton fabric only.   

Once you know all this, and the mythical aura has dissolved, sewing with jersey and stretch viscose becomes simple, and you unlock a whole new world of beautiful, useful fabrics to enjoy. 

Colourful jersey fabrics pile