Log inSign Up

What is Jersey Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where

by Boris Hodakel  • October 30, 2020 • 7 min read

Fabric name Jersey
Fabric also known as Jersey knit
Fabric composition Wool, cotton, or synthetic fibers
Fabric possible thread count variations 150-600
Fabric breathability High
Moisture-wicking abilities High
Heat retention abilities Medium
Stretchability (give) High
Prone to pilling/bubbling Depends on the fabric used
Country where fabric was first produced Channel Islands
Biggest exporting/producing country today China or Australia
Recommended washing temperatures Depends on the fabric used
Commonly used in Underwear, T-shirts, bedding, sweaters, dresses, blouses, polo shirts, sweatpants, athletic wear

What is jersey fabric?

Jersey is a knit fabric that is commonly used in clothing. In the past, most jersey fabric was made with wool, but it’s now more common to find cotton and synthetic jersey garments. While many athletic jerseys are made with jersey fabric, the fabric “jersey” is different from the garment “athletic jersey.”

Characterized by its considerable stretchiness and close knit, jersey is a popular fabric for underwear, T-shirts, and other types of garments that you wear close to your skin. Since it is lightweight, jersey is not remarkably durable or insulative, but it is ideal as a base layer worn beneath thicker and more durable clothing.

Jersey is highly absorbent, and it is very breathable despite its fully opaque, close-knit structure. This structure provides jersey with an attractive drape, and the intensity of this draping effect varies depending on the material used.

History of jersey fabric

Jersey fabric originated in the Channel Islands, where it was primarily used to make underwear and fishermen’s sweaters. Records indicate that jersey knits existed as early as the Middle Ages, and this knit gradually gained popularity throughout Western Europe during the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods.

The Channel Islands are a group of islands in the English Channel. These islands changed hands multiple times between the Middle Ages and today, and even though they are currently under the protection of the United Kingdom, they are not officially part of the UK.

Therefore, it is difficult to establish the exact heritage of jersey fabric, but fabric aficionados generally consider jersey to be British. What’s certain is that jersey fabric was named after the island of Jersey, which is the largest landmass in the Channel Islands.

As its influence around the world spread, England became a major textile exporter, and by the mid-1800s, jersey fabric had become well-known enough throughout Europe and the United States to become the default fabric for men’s sports uniforms. Until the 20th century, however, the popularity of jersey fabric remained limited, and it was mostly relegated to the realm of men’s underwear and athletic or work clothing.

Everything changed in 1916 when iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel made the bold move of including jersey fabric in classy garments. Despite its use in sports uniforms, jersey still suffered from an association with underwear, and using this fabric in normal garments was seen as relatively risque. Due to the overwhelming popularity of her designs, however, Chanel’s jersey garments became universally admired, and competing designers quickly adopted the jersey fabric trend she had started.

Jersey fabric today

Within no time, jersey fabric made its way into apparel categories as diverse as evening wear, blouses, and, perhaps most notably, T-shirts. While other applications of jersey have remained largely contained within niche categories, the T-shirt is one of the most ubiquitous types of garments on the face of the planet. If you’ve ever worn a T-shirt, you’ve worn jersey fabric, and you know from experience just how soft and breathable this fabric can be.

One of the most notable changes to jersey that occurred as this fabric became an international superstar is the type of material it most commonly contains. Back when knitters on the Channel Islands were responsible for the entirety of the world’s jersey supply, this fabric was made exclusively with wool. These days, however, cotton is the most common jersey material, and this fabric also frequently contains synthetic fibers.

How is jersey fabric made?

The production process used to make Jersey fabric varies significantly depending on the types of fibers it contains. Wool, for instance, is an animal product that textile manufacturers derive from the coats of sheep, goats, or other animal species. Cotton, on the other hand, is a plant product derived from the fluffy coverings of seed pods. Synthetic fibers, which can also be present in jersey fabric, are created by combining various chemicals to produce usable textile materials.

Whichever type of fiber jersey fabric contains, however, knitting this fabric follows the same universal process. Jersey manufacturers begin by taking cotton, wool, or synthetic yarn and loading it into an automated knitting machine. It’s also certainly possible to knit jersey by hand, but this process is labor-intensive and inefficient.

The knitting machine then twists and combines yarn to create the distinctive, close-knit structure of jersey fabric. Once complete, jersey fabric looks like a latticework of twisted vertical yarns connected by untwisted horizontal yarns.

In some cases, yarn intended for manufacture into jersey garments is dyed prior to the knitting process, and in other scenarios, textile manufacturers dye fabric once it is finished. Depending on the material used, textile manufacturers may also apply flame retardants or other finishing treatments to improve the appearance or durability of jersey fabric.

How is jersey fabric used?

Coco Chanel’s use of jersey in high fashion may have been the factor that originally made this fabric popular, but jersey is no longer a common sight on the catwalk. Instead, this fabric has become ubiquitous as a default material for run-of-the-mill, everyday garments.

Textile manufacturers primarily use jersey fabric to make casual, lightweight garments like T-shirts and underwear. There are quite a few different types of jersey fabric, however, and manufacturers might use certain types of jersey for more heavy-duty applications.

Of course, jersey is also a popular choice for athletic wear. While sports uniforms most commonly feature synthetic fibers these days, many athletic shirts, tank tops, and shorts feature jersey knits.

Applications of jersey fabric mainly remain limited to apparel, but one notable non-apparel example of a jersey fabric application is bedding. Due to its tight-knit softness, textile manufacturers commonly use jersey fabric to make bed sheets, pillowcases, and even blankets.

Where is jersey fabric produced?

While a handful of artisans still produce traditional jersey fabric on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands, gone are the days when these British protectorates produced the majority of the world’s jersey. These days, China is the overall largest textile producer, and this nation is also the largest exporter of both cotton and synthetic textiles.

Wool, however, remains a popular fabric material for jersey production, and the largest exporter of this natural animal textile is Australia. This Oceanian nation has more sheep per capita than any other nation, so it’s unsurprising that Australia is the world’s wool capital.

How much does jersey fabric cost?

The price of jersey fabric varies depending on the textile fibers it contains. Out of all the textile materials on the market, synthetic materials like polyester and rayon are the least expensive, but plant-based natural materials like cotton can be nearly the same price as synthetic fibers.

Wool, on the other hand, is slightly more expensive than cotton and considerably more expensive than synthetic fibers. High-quality wool and cotton textiles that are organic and sustainably harvested command the highest market prices out of all the available jersey materials. Since the jersey knit is relatively simple, this type of fabric is not inherently more expensive than other types of woven or knitted garments.

What different types of jersey fabric are there?

There are quite a few different distinct types of jersey fabric:

1. Single jersey

Defined as jersey-knit fabric weighing less than 140g per square meter, single jersey fabric has one flat side and one piled side. It consists of a single sheet of knit fabric.

2. Interlock jersey

Interlock jersey, also known as double jersey, features two sheets of jersey fabric attached along their piled sides. The resulting fabric is smooth and flat on both sides, and since it has double the thickness of single jersey, it is more insulative and durable.

3. Jacquard jersey

Like other jacquard fabrics, jacquard jersey features designs that range from simple shapes to complex brocade-like patterns. Textile manufacturers use industrial knitting machines to make these patterns.

4. Clocqué jersey

Clocqué (French for “blister”) jersey features a puckered, raised pattern that textile manufacturers create with knitting machines.

5. Stretch jersey

Stretch jersey is a type of fabric that features a common jersey fabric material, such as wool or polyester, combined with spandex or a similar elastic fiber.

6. Slub jersey

Slub jersey has a textured pattern that results from using irregular slub yarn in the process of weaving jersey fabric.

How does jersey fabric impact the environment?

The environmental impact of jersey fabric varies depending on the types of fibers it contains. Synthetic fibers, for instance, have a remarkably negative impact on the environment. Producing polyester and rayon involves the use of toxic chemicals during the production process, and while it’s sometimes possible to contain or reuse these chemicals, they inevitably end up contaminating local ecosystems even if they are handled properly.

From there, synthetic fibers also release toxic microfibers into the water supply with every washing. At the end of its life cycle, synthetic fabric enters the environment in the form of non-biodegradable pollution. As a result, using synthetic fibers to produce jersey fabric is environmentally unsustainable.

Wool and cotton, on the other hand, both have the potential to be completely environmentally sustainable. Cotton cultivators commonly use toxic agrochemicals, but it is possible to grow cotton without using agricultural pollutants, and cotton is highly biodegradable.

Since wool is an animal product, the production of this fiber does not involve agrochemicals, and improper land use is the only potential negative environmental impact of producing this fiber. Wool is also highly biodegradable, making this fiber the most inherently environmentally friendly jersey fabric material.

Jersey fabric certifications available

A variety of jersey certifications may be available depending on the material this fabric contains. Woolmark, for instance, is a prestigious certifier of wool garments, and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certifies wool, cotton, and even some types of recycled synthetic textiles.

The Global Recycle Standard (GRS) also certifies recycled synthetic fibers, and both new and synthetic fibers may be eligible for International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification. Jersey fabrics that contain pima cotton grown in the United States may be eligible for American Supima Association (ASA) certification.

Share

About the author:

Boris Hodakel is the founder and CEO of Sewport - an online marketplace connecting brands and manufacturers, former founder of various clothing manufacturing services. He is passionate about e-commerce, marketing and production digitisation. Connect with Boris on LinkedIn.