In Praise of Jersey

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All rights reserved. Copyright Helen Sharp 2017



It has taken me a while to fall in love with jersey, but then I fell hard and it will be forever.
Jersey is classic. It is timeless.

And what is more, it is the easiest fabric to make on a knitting machine.

Hand-knitters know it as stocking stitch (UK) or stockinette (US). Also called ‘plain knitting’.

As I design student, I used anything but, and on the rare occasions I did, it was only to knit intarsia, or fair-isle. Why would I want to use the most boring stitch in the world? For 30 years I cabled and tucked, bobbled, floated and ribbed – but never just plain old jersey.

At some point, it all become too much. I wanted less. Less color, less texture. I wanted knitwear to be paired down to it’s essence, it’s most simple state. I wanted jersey.


From Helen Sharp Knitwear Fall 2010
Photography: Julie Adams Photography

If you start to really look at jersey, it becomes the most beautiful, magical stitch. All those loops intersecting in perfect unison and rhythm with their adjacent loops. All those little ‘V’s lining up and stacking course after course. Turn it over and you see horizontal bumps from the knit loop and sinker loop.

It occurred to me a few years ago that ‘purl’ was the reverse side of ‘knit’. What I mean is, I knew it already of course.  It is just about the first thing you ever learn in knitting. But one day, looking closely at a piece of jersey and flipping it over and back, I saw it in a whole new way – I SAW it.  I could finally see the knit loop and how each loop was connecting with the next and why I could see the “legs” of the loop on the knit side and the tops and bottoms of the loop on the purl side. It was like something just exploded in my head. That was when I fell in love.


knits and purls

However, jersey has a little problem – it is unstable. It is always trying to curl up into itself and hide. The sides of the fabric want to curl to the back and the top and bottom of the fabric want to curl to the front.
There is an easy fix to this – ribs will stabilize the bottom and top and seams will stabilize the edges. Result – the perfect sweater!

On the other hand, you could, like me, learn to love the roll. Remember the J Crew Roll neck sweater? They ran that style for years – through most of the ‘90’s as far as I can remember. Now it is back, and just as perfect as ever.

Maybe you have been knitting for a long time and feel like there is nothing new. Here’s an idea – have another look at jersey.


Photography: Julie Adams Photography

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