Today’s Knit Necklines tutorial will show you how to finish a knit neckline with a strip of knit fabric. This is a standard knit edge finish that you’ll find is very useful for more than just necklines! I also recommend that you also read yesterday’s tutorial on adding a standard knit neckband if you haven’t already.
First, let’s make sure you’re ready to sew:
- put a ballpoint or stretch needle in your machine
- stitch length is set to a slightly longer straight stitch
- I HIGHLY recommend stretch thread (be sure to read my post on stretch thead if you haven’t already!). If you can’t rustle up some stretch thread, set your machine to a long-ish narrow zig-zag stitch (so: stitch length somewhere between default and basting, stitch width close to 0) and use a standard polyester thread in your machine. In this tutorial I used stretch thread for all of the stitching shown (except for serging the tee together before I began), so if you use regular thread you’ll need to use the zig-zag stitch instead.
Start by sewing the tee together at the shoulder seams (I also went ahead and sewed the sleeves and side seams too, but you really only need to do the shoulders before you finish the neckline).
Step 1: Measure neckline and cut out knit “bias strip”
I put “bias strip” in quotes here because with knits, you don’t actually have to cut the strips on the bias, because it already stretches so much, but this way of attaching the strip to the neckline is very similar to finishing a neckline with woven bias tape, so I’m calling it “bias-bound” even though there’s no bias involved. Maybe there’s a better name for it, but I can’t think of one right now.
For woven fabrics, when you’re making a strip of fabric to bind a neckline or armhole, you cut the strip on the bias (diagonal to the grain) because that makes it more stretchy and creates a smoother finish around your neck hole. But with knits, you really just need to cut the strip of fabric you want to use in the stretchiest direction on the fabric, which is across the fabric from selvage to selvage. This is called the “direction of stretch” and is perpendicular to the grain. SO REMEMBER: CUT OUT YOUR KNIT STRIP ALONG THE DIRECTION OF STRETCH as shown in the image above!
A note about fabric selection: I think you’ll find that you like this finish best when you use a thinner, stretchier knit for the bias strip. Rib knits are great as long as they aren’t too thick; jerseys can also be nice for bias finishes as long as they have a good deal (at least 50%, but 100% is even better) of stretch. My personal preference is a lighterweight 1×1 rib knit.
How long? Cut the strip as long as your neck hole. You won’t need the whole length but it’s easiest just to start with this much.
How wide? I like to cut my knit bias strips at last 1.75″ wide; this makes a finished width of about 1/2.” I don’t usually cut knit bias any wider than 2.”
Step 2: Attach the knit strip to the inside (wrong side) of the neck hole with a 1/4″ seam
Beginning at a shoulder seam and folding over the end by about 1/4,” sew the strip to the neck hole with a 1/4″ seam. The RIGHT side of the knit strip should be facing the WRONG side of the neck hole. As you go, gently stretch out the strip of knit out a bit (but not too much!).
DISCLAIMER: This is a stretch-as-you-go technique that I tend to prefer because it’s faster than sewing the ends of the strip together, stretching it out around the neck hole evenly, and then attaching it with the ends already sewn. But I will readily admit that this takes a bit of practice to get the stretch just right. If you stretch too little, the neckline will look stretched out when you’re finished. If you stretch it too much, you’ll get a gathered look around the neckline. If you’re unsure, try walking the knit strip around the neckline while stretching it gently, cut the strip to the length you want (plus a seam allowance at each end), sew the ends together, press the ends apart, and then attach it with a 1/4″ seam by pinning/clipping it to the neckline first, as shown in yesterday’s tutorial.
Step 3: Overlap the ends
When you get back to where you started, overlap the ends of the strip by 1/4″ – 1/2″ and trim the rest of the knit strip away. Again, I will say that while this is super fast and quick, it also makes for more bulk at the endpoints than if you would take the time to sew the ends of the strip together as discussed in the previous step, so you might want to try that instead if you’re finding that your knit strip is too thick to get a nice fold at the starting/ending point.
Step 4: Press it!
Use an iron to press the entire knit strip away from the neckhole, and then fold and press the top edge 1/4″ under, towards the wrong side, around the entire strip.
Step 5: Stitch the bias strip down to enclose the neckline
Fold the bias strip in half so that the pressed-under edge just covers the original neckline seam and pin in place around the entire neck hole. Then stitch it down along the fold; this is called “edgestitching.”
Voila! Beautiful bias-bound knit neckline!!! Tune in next time for another bias-finished neckline, but this time it’s inside the garment! PS. You can see pics of this tee on me in my Two Knit Maternity Tops post.
Along with hemming, I think finishing knit necklines might be one of the more difficult techniques to master when making clothes from knit fabrics. So I’ve made three different knit neckline finish tutorials for you! This one — adding a standard knit neckband — will be the first of the three. This happens to be the default way the neckband is finished in my Flashback Skinny Tee sewing pattern, though that pattern also includes a few other alternate neckline finishes as well. I think you’ll find that this will work for pretty much any knit tee with a round-ish neck hole (in other words, you would need to modify this for a v-neck or boatneck tee).
I also want to say that my sample necklines in the photos are by no means perfect (see the ripples at the bottom portion of that neckband above??), so I’ll try to talk about what I could have improved as well…sometimes it’s good to show and talk about mistakes, right? That’s how we learn!! And actually, this tee looks totally fine when I wear it because it’s fitted, so the neckband ends up stretching out perfectly when it’s on my body.
First, let’s make sure you’re ready to sew:
- put a ballpoint or stretch needle in your machine
- stitch length is set to a slightly longer straight stitch
- I HIGHLY recommend stretch thread (be sure to read my post on stretch thead if you haven’t already!). If you can’t rustle up some stretch thread, set your machine to a long-ish narrow zig-zag stitch (so: stitch length somewhere between default and basting, stitch width close to 0) and use a standard polyester thread in your machine.
Start by sewing the tee together at the shoulder seams (I also went ahead and sewed the sleeves and side seams too, but you really only need to do the shoulders before you finish the neckline.
Step 1: Measure neckline and cut out neckband
Measure around the neckline with a measuring tape. Now you’ll need to cut out a neckband that will be a bit shorter than that number, because we want the neckband to stretch a bit to fit the neck hole, otherwise it will look stretched out. My general rule of thumb is to cut the neckband about 2-3″ smaller than the neck hole circumference. As far as width, I usually cut it 1.75″-2″ wide.
This neckband is 1.75″ wide by 20″ long, because my neckline measured 22″ around. In retrospect, it could have been a little bit shorter and worked, because it was a super-stretchy knit and as you can see, the bottom of the neckband ended up being a little loose, hence the ripples. The thing is, there’s no SET RULE for how long to make a neckband, because it has a lot to do with how stretchy your knit is (I know, frustrating!!), but I find it helps to gently walk the neckband around the neck hole, stretching it slightly as you go, and see how long it needs to be that way.
VERY IMPORTANT: Cut the neckband so that the length of the neckband runs in the direction of most stretch, or from selvage to selvage. This direction of stretch is perpendicular to the grain. AHEM I messed up and cut this one out along the grain, which is another reason it looks a little weird at the bottom. Again, not trying to be nit-picky, just want you to learn from my mistakes!
Step 2: Sew the neckband ends together and press it in half
Now sew the ends of your neckband together with a 1/4″ seam, then press that seam apart. Now fold the neckband in half along it’s entire length, so it’s a double layer, and press that fold to create a crease down the middle of the neckband.
Step 3: Attach the neckband to the tee
Pin (or use Wonderclips, as I did in the photo here) the neckband through both layers to the RIGHT SIDE (outside) of the tee around the neck hole. The two raw edges of the neckband should be lined up with the edge of the neck hole, and you should stretch the neckband out around the neck hole as evenly as possible. Remember, your neckband should be shorter than your neck hole, so you want it to be evenly spread around the neck hole, but it won’t fit perfectly.
Hint: If your tee is a scoopneck, try to stretch it out a bit more at the curviest places (at the bottom, for instance), and less where the curves are less pronounced. If your neck hole is pretty much a perfect circle, you can fold the neckband in half to mark center front/back and the two side midpoints, then fold the neck hole in quarters and mark those, then match those points up and then stretch the neckband between them.
Now sew the neckband to the neck hole with a 1/4″ seam. Remember that you’ll be sewing through THREE layers, the two neckband layers + the tee, so keep all edges even as you go. It’s also a good idea to stretch everything out just a little bit as you sew, so that the neckband matches up with the tee. I don’t recommend using a walking foot on your sewing machine for this, because it can make the stitches pretty tight, which will make it harder to pull the neckband over the head.
Step 4: Press neckband away from neck hole and finish if desired
The last step is always to press it. DO. IT!!! It will always look better once its pressed! I also took a double needle and sewed around the entire neckline seam, which has the advantage of finishing the inside as well with that nice zig-zag stitch from the bobbin. Topstitching with a single line of stitches also looks very nice.
Voila! Beautiful neckband!!! Tune in next time for a bias-bound neckline!
Whenever I do the KNITerviews, I get really geeked about sewing with knits which makes me want to add a few extra posts to help get people started sewing with knits. I throw these posts into a side series called “KNITS: Stretch Yourself” which you can find on my knits page along with the KNITerviews. There’s a few pretty good posts in that series, including a post on hemming, a video on using a walking foot on knits, and a tutorial for a cute knit hat from my friend Shannon, among other things. This year I thought I’d include a few more of these posts again, adding a few new “tricks” that I’ve learned since the last series! Last week I talked about my favorite knit fabrics, and today I want to introduce you to…
Stretch thread was mentioned last series by Sascha in her KNITerview, and while I had sewn with wooly nylon thread before (when making this swimsuit for E), I hadn’t ever tried stretch thread. I’ve since discovered that it. is. AWESOME. It allows you to sew a straight seam with your sewing machine without the thread breaking when stretched. I know many people say they don’t have any problem with this, but I have found that I just can’t use a straight stitch with standard polyester thread on knits (even when I use a longer stitch length, or pair it with a double needle, see the hemming post linked above for more info on that); eventually those seams pop out and I have to resew them. Annoying!
For those of you with less experience sewing with knits, let me bring you up to speed: the Big Issue here is that because knit fabrics stretch, the stitches you sew the seams with need to be able to stretch too. In fact, the stretchier the knit fabric you are working with, the more this is true. The usual workarounds include sewing your seams with a narrow zig-zag stitch, which is fine, but in my opinion doesn’t look quite as profesh. Another thing that helps is using polyester thread instead of 100% cotton thread, which has less stretch and tends to break more easily when stretched. A double needle helps because the lower bobbin thread has to go back and forth between the two needles, creating a zig zag on the lower side of the fabric which is more stretchy than a straight stitch. Another option of course is to use a serger, but even sergers have some limitations; for instance, you can’t hem or add knit bindings to necklines with a basic serger. Enter, STRETCH THREAD:
See how it’s a bit fuzzy? It behaves a bit like a teeny tiny piece of yarn, so it’s got a bit of stretch. Stretch thread is similar to wooly nylon thread, which is another alternative to stretch thread that is even MORE stretchy. Here’s wooly nylon, just for contrast:
Maybe you can see that it’s even more stretchy? OK let me zoom in:
You can find wooly nylon at your neighborhood craft superstore, but it’s a bit pricey ($10-$15 for 1000 yards), so I prefer to buy stretch thread for the majority of my knit sewing because it’s cheaper ($10 for 2000 yards). By the way, I’ve been buying mine from WAWAK, which is a bulk sewing supply company that now also sells through Amazon as well, so it’s pretty easy to find. Wooly nylon can also be a bit more difficult to sew with because sometimes it’s SO stretchy it gets tangled in my machine, but I’ve found wooly nylon at J0Ann, so that’s nice. Not sure I’ve ever seen stretch thread there.
I am a complete STRETCH THREAD CONVERT I tell you!! I use stretch thread for ALL THE KNITS and I’ve gotten some really fantastic, stretchy seams. Here’s couple recent examples:
The bias-bound neckline for this pink Flashback Tee I made for Clementine (I used a ballpoint needle for this knit jersey, along with a slightly longer straight stitch than normal):
Things to remember when using stretch thread:
- I use stretch thread for both the top and bottom threads; for the bobbin, I wind it just as you would regular thread.
- if you have a machine that doesn’t work with the large cone of thread that stretch thread comes on (like me), just place the cone on the table behind your machine and thread as usual. The weight of the cone will hold it on the table in place. You can see a picture of this here (there are two cones pictured here because I was using a double needle at the time).
- you still need to use a stretch or ballpoint needle on your sewing machine
- I recommend using a slightly longer stitch length with stretch thread; in general, the farther the distance between each stitch, the more flexibility your seam will have to stretch, especially over necklines
- stretch thread can be a bit harder to thread through the needle because it’s more fuzzy, but if you clip the end nice and clean with a sharp scissors and then wet the thread just a bit, it threads quite nicely
- make sure to do plenty of stitching back and forth at the beginnings and ends of your seams — the stretchy nature makes it more likely to pull out at the ends. I would even go so far as to suggest you thread your tails through a needle, pull them to the back side of the fabric, and tie them in a little knot before trimming them.
- go slow. Stretch thread is a bit more fussy than regular thread, so start with your needle in the down position before beginning a seam, and stitch slowly so the thread won’t tangle.
Alright. Have I convinced you?? This stuff is awesome. Try it!!!
This post is part of the KNITS: Stretch Yourself Series
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