Jersey Fabric

pile of tees

Jersey is a weft-knit fabric that is also called plain knit or single knit. Some sources claim the term "jersey" is used loosely to refer to any knitted fabric without a distinct rib. It is called jersey because it was manufactured on the island of Jersey off the coast of England. This early version of the fabric was used for fishermen's clothing and was a heavier weight fabric than the jersey fabrics of the early 2000s. The related term in current usage used to describe athletic shirts is from a similar origin. The tight-fitting, knit tunic-style sweaters worn by seamen were also known as jerseys.

Making Jersey Knits

Jersey can be made by hand or on flat and circular knitting machines. Jersey knits are made from the basic knitting stitch, in which each loop is drawn through the loop below it. The rows of loops form vertical lines, or wales, on the face of the fabric and crosswise rows, or courses, on the back. Jersey knits are lightweight in comparison with other knits and are the fastest weft knit to produce. Jersey stretches more in the crosswise direction than in length, may be prone to runs, and curls at the edges because of the difference in tension on the front and the back.

Historically, jersey was used mainly for hosiery and sweaters. However, as early as 1879 the actress Lillie Langtry, "the Jersey Lily," made jersey fashionable for daywear. Her costume was made up of a tight-fitting, hip-length jersey top that was worn over a pleated skirt. In the 1920s Gabrielle Chanel popularized the fabric for comfortable womenswear, constructing dresses and suits out of it.

Finishes and Uses

Jersey may be finished with napping, printed, or embroidered. Variations of jersey include pile versions of the knit and jacquard jersey. Pile jerseys have extra yarns or sliver (untwisted strand) inserted to make velour or fake-fur fabrics. Jacquard jersey incorporates stitch variations to create complex designs that are knitted into the fabric. Intarsia fabrics are jersey knits that use different colored yarns to produce designs and are more costly to produce than printing the design as a finish.

Jersey is used to make hosiery, T-shirts, underwear, sportswear, and sweaters. It has also been incorporated into the home furnishings market and is used for bedding and slipcovers.

See also Napping.


American Fabrics Encyclopedia of Textiles. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall, 1972.

Calisbetta, Charlotte M., and Phyllis Tortora, eds. The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion. 3rd ed. New York: Fairchild Publishing, 2003.

Gioello, Debbie Ann. Profiling Fabrics: Properties, Performance and Construction Techniques. New York: Fairchild Publishing, 1981.

Jerde, Judith. Encyclopedia of Textiles. New York: Facts on File, 1992.

Kadolph, Sara J., and Anna L. Langford. Textiles. 9th ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Wingate, Isabel, and June Mohler. Textile Fabrics and Their Selection. 8th ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1984.

Internet Resource

"Plain Stitch." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available from (subscription required).

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Jersey Fabric