I seem to be going through some kind of strange period in my life where I actually am interested in sewing somewhat complex projects. That has literally never happened before – previous complex garments, like jeans, have been tackled only out of necessity – but first I wanted to make a winter coat, and now I finally found the motivation to at last make the first of the three planned merino bike jerseys, supplies for which I’ve had for at least two years. Who have I become?
As a preface: I ride a lot. Like, a lot. If my work schedule allows, which is more than half the year, I ride every day for anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours. I do one or two long rides (30-40 miles) a week, and ideally a few times a year I do a metric or full century ride (60 or 100 miles). And I’ve been doing this for about 5 years now. So I have a pretty good sense of what I want out of a bike jersey. After trying a lot of brands and types, I discovered that I really like merino wool jerseys more than any kind of fancy synthetic athletic material. I understand this is a fairly uncommon opinion, but I like wool because it always keeps me the right temperature (summer or winter), doesn’t hold odor, and although it doesn’t “wick” the sweat away, it absorbs it all and doesn’t allow rivulets of sweat to run down my back in a gross way like the synthetic jerseys do (sorry if that’s TMI). I have RTW merino jerseys from SmartWool, Icebreaker, and Liv, and the former two companies are no longer making bike jerseys at all (which is of course because I was the only person buying them). Of all of them, the Icebreakers are my favorite both because of design and material, so imagine my delight when I found basically identical merino knits at The Fabric Store on my first visit. Finding a pattern took longer, but luckily my procrastination is so impressive that not one but two feasible jersey patterns were released while the fabric sat in my stash: the strange Simplicity 1361, actually an “equestrian performance shirt” but with the styling of a bike jersey, and the actually-designed-for-working-out Fehr Trade Surf to Summit top. I decided to start with the Surf to Summit because it seemed to require less modification, and with the raglan sleeves it most closely resembles my favorite short sleeve Icebreaker jersey.
I did not make basically any fit modifications to the pattern, I just cut an XS grading to a S based on my measurements (which is somewhat surprising, in a RTW bike jersey I wear a M or L). I measured all the pieces and found that size would be very close to my Icebreaker jersey. While I didn’t make any changes to the basic fit, I did change about everything else!
To start, I modified the bottom hem of the pattern. I prefer a gradual hi-lo hem, rather than just a duckbill on the back, so I kept the length of the center back and center front, but added pieces to the bottom of the side piece and the sides of the bottom to make a gradual transition from the front length to the back length. I also drafted my own facing for the neckline and zipper. I wanted to make a full zip front, like my RTW jersey, so I copied its facing style. I started by tracing the top of each bodice piece to create its own facing piece, tracing down the center of the front piece as well, then I overlapped the front and side facing pieces by the SA and taped them together to make one piece. I kept the back facing piece separate and stitched it to the fronts once I had attached the zipper.
I also created my own pattern piece for the back pockets, rather than use the included pattern piece. I’m pretty picky about my jersey pockets, as I’m sure any frequent cyclist is, and I like the pocket arrangement on my Icebreaker jerseys best so I traced them off. Luckily, they basically fit onto the back of the StS, the pocket piece was only a little too wide. On this version I just made the pockets slightly narrower, but I think in future I would widen the back piece slightly and narrow the side pieces to compensate. Of note, my traced off pocket pattern piece is substantially less tall than the included pocket, and I still think these pockets are a smidge too deep.
I also borrowed the construction method around the back pocket from the RTW jerseys. First off, all my jerseys have a seam at the bottom of the pocket, rather than just have the pocket topstitched on along the bottom. I thought this was smart, so I laid the pocket on the back piece where I wanted it, cut the back piece along the bottom of the pocket, flipped up the bottom piece I’d just cut off, and stitched all three together. Then I turned the seam down and laid open fold-over elastic on top of it and stitched along the edges of the elastic through all layers. This is another feature on the Icebreaker jerseys – the pockets are reinforced on the inside of the jersey with FOE. I also added it, as they did, to the areas where the top of the pockets are stitched.
Back piece done, I constructed the jersey as instructed. To attach the zipper, I tried a suggestion I saw on Sewaholic recently – use fusible tape to baste the zipper to the knit fabric so it doesn’t get all wavy from the differential feed. I was excited to try this, but it only sort of worked, probably because my fusible tape was “Quilt-n-Bond” of unknown age and questionable origin (does it expire?) I’d like to try it again with a freshly bought package of stitch-witchery. But my real problem turned out to be that I interfaced the facings (with knit interfacing, but still) and so my facings ended up a bit shorter than the fronts and caused drag lines when I topstitched them down. Like on my RTW jersey, I topstitched the facings about an inch from the zipper using the coverstitch, trying to catch the edge of the facings on the back. The drag lines could also be because of my coverstitch – it doesn’t feed thin fabric evenly at all, and if I loosen the presser foot pressure any more I think the screw will come off. Any advice? Do they make walking feet for coverstitches? Do I just need to play with the feed dog speed dial?
For the hem, I wanted to incorporate silicon-backed grippy elastic like on my RTW jerseys. I found several varieties on Sew Sassy a while ago, none of them as thin and flexible as I’d have liked, but fine (as a side note, they seem to have more options now, perhaps I will order more to try). I wanted the elastic just on the sides and back rather than all the way around, so I stopped it at the front seams. I attached it with a narrow zigzag, laying the elastic right side up on the right side of the jersey, then folded the whole hem under and coverstitched. For the sleeve hem, rather than turn under and topstitch I attached a hem band, again like my RTW model. I’m glad I did, because I think the short sleeve as drafted would be too short for my taste.
I added a folded over zipper shield to the top of the zipper, like on basically all RTW zip-up anythings. After puzzling out how it might be attached for about 20 minutes, I figured it out, but all it succeeded in doing is making it look like my collar isn’t the same height on both sides. It is, I promise! Also it hits my chin a bit because it sticks up from the collar, so it might be a RTW feature I abandon on future makes.
I also made arm warmers, because I had the extra fabric to do so, although I tend to prefer boleros to warm up my summer jerseys, so I’m not sure they’ll get much use. It was a good way to try out a different elastic attachment method, though. I added the same grippy elastic to the top, but this time stitching it on right sides facing and then turning it to the inside and topstitching. I think the method I used on the jersey hem worked better, though. The pattern piece for the arm warmers was simply the lower sleeve that I cut off, no extra length added or necessary.
Finally finished, I photographed the jersey, then took it out for a test ride. While trying on the jersey in my street clothes, I thought the size was good, but after riding in it I realized I would prefer it to be tighter around my hips. As it was, the grippy elastic served no purpose because the hem was flapping loosely around my hips. This wasn’t so bothersome on the bike (I have a few other jerseys with a looser fit and no hem elastic), but when I stood up at stops or after the ride with my phone in the center back pocket, the back hem just hung down too low in an annoying way. So I took a deep breath and headed back to the sewing room, where I picked out the coverstitch on either side of the front side seams for a few inches, resewed those seams tapering out about an inch at the hem, then folded it back up and re-hemmed. I think I took off about four inches total from the hem, and it’s a much snugger fit now. So I guess I could’ve started with a straight XS. Next time before I cut I’ll try to take the excess out of just the side pieces, to preserve the width of the front and back.
So, I have my first handmade bike jersey! I will say, this is the rare project that actually does save money – I paid about $30 for the fabric and maybe another $5 or $10 for the notions, but even on sale my RTW merino jerseys were in the $60-80 range. And they don’t exist anymore anyway. The extant merino bike jerseys from other companies range from $100 to a baffling $210, so I feel like I’ve made a sound financial decision here. I do like the level of detail on the RTW jerseys, things I can’t or don’t want to do as a home sewist, like overcast topstitched seams and reflective piping bits and a mesh panel in the same color fabric, etc. But if going forward making jerseys is the only way to get the jerseys I like most, I guess I’m in for some more complex projects. But not next. Next I just want to make a boring plain top.