Mastering how to sew a knit neckband is one of those sewing skills that makes you feel like a boss, along with inserting a zipper and clean topstitching.
If you can sew a stretch neckband, you’ll always have something to wear, whether it’s a T-shirt, sweatshirt, or knit dress. It’s that chestnut about teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime. Teach a sewist how to sew a knit neckband, and she’ll never go naked. Or something like that, right?
In this post, you’ll be schooled in not only how to sew a knit neckband, but also in how to draft a knit neckband. File that under good to know! This tutorial will help you sew any crewneck, scoopneck, or round (but not V-neck) neckline finished with a fabric or ribbing band.
RELATED: Sewing Stretchy Fabric without a Serger: Stretch Stitch Settings and More
Step 0: Make Practice Neck Opening
As it goes with most sewing techniques, practice makes progress. You’re going to create a “stunt” neck opening and neckband before executing this task with fashion fabric.
Cut a 15-by-15-inch square of knit fabric. Cut a circular hole in the middle of the fabric square that’s about 7 inches in diameter. You’ll also need fabric for the neckband; more on that in a minute.
You don’t have to be precise with these dimensions. (Most T-shirt neck openings are not perfect circles.) We want you comfortable with the technique, particularly with how to stretch the neckband while sewing it to the neck opening, and these approximate measurements will help you get there.
Step 1: Draft T-Shirt Neckband
Time to draft a knit neckband. This is a two-part process.
A. How to Calculate Neckband Width
The finished, visible part of most crew or scoopneck neckbands is 3/8 inches to 1 inch wide. Neckbands wider than 1 inch likely will gape. (Not saying it’s not possible, but test first! ALWAYS TEST.)
Here’s how to calculate the width:
B. How to Calculate Neckband Length
Measure neckline length at the seam, not including seam allowance. Multiply by 0.85. (Most neckbands are 80 percent to 90 percent of the neck opening length at the seam. Eighty-five percent (0.85) splits the difference). Add seam allowance times two.
Here is the length calculation:
For ribbing for T-shirt necklines, I suggest using a length that’s 70 to 80 percent of the seam length (vs. 80 to 90 percent for fabric bands). Ribbing is mighty stretchy. As always, test first, zero regrets later.
Step 2: Cut Out Neckband
Cut out a neckband using your newly calculated width and length. The neckband length goes in the direction of greatest stretch, which is perpendicular to the selvage edge.
If you have the fabric yardage and the will, you also can cut the neckband length on the bias — 45 degrees (diagonal) from the selvage. A bias-cut neckband will hug the body better than fabric cut in the direction of greatest stretch, making it less likely to gape.
P.S. If you have a pattern piece for a neckband (as in a pattern piece that you didn’t draft) that calls for it to be cut in the direction of greatest stretch, you CAN cut it on the the bias.
Still another note about bias-cut neckbands — you probably can make them a little bit shorter in length, because bias is stretchier than the direction of greatest stretch (sounds weird but is true).
Step 3: Sew Short Ends
Sew together the short ends of the neckband, right sides together.
Step 4: Fold Band in Half
Fold the neckband in half the long way, wrong sides together (right sides out). The raw, long edges should be even. You may want to give the band a gentle press to help hold the fold. RELATED: Buying an iron for sewing: 5 irons less than $100 from Amazon
Step 5: Baste Long Edges
With wrong sides together, baste along the raw (unfolded) edge using a 1.5 mm wide and 4 mm long zig-zag stitch. (Basting is temporary stitching.) Basting together the neckband edges will make sewing the band to the neck opening easier. Instead of managing three layers of fabric, it’ll feel like you’re managing two.
Step 6: Quarter Neckband
Use the seam as a quarter marker. Fold in half, and fold in half again.
I like to use pins for marking quarters, but you also could use a fabric marker, chalk marker, or washable marker for kids.
Step 7: Quarter Neck Opening
Start by marking center front and center back. Bring center front and center back to touch; mark second set of quarters.
Remember: The shoulder seams probably ARE NOT quarter markers of the neck opening.
Step 8: Match Quarters
Match neckband quarters to neck opening quarters. Pin right sides together.
Step 9: Divide Again (Optional)
This is a hot, extra-credit tip for the paranoid perfectionist. Divide each quarter in half, creating eighths. You’ll have even greater control while sewing and a greater opportunity to sew the perfect knit neckband.
I’d rather take the extra few minutes of additional subdivision to increase my chances of a flawless neckband. (Hello, I’m a paranoid perfectionist.)
Step 10: Ready, Set…
You’re on the verge of actually SEWING! Get your machine ready with these specs for stitches, thread, and needles:
- What stitch to use: Something that stretches. I recommend a zig-zag or “lightning” stitch.
- What thread to use: For the average T-shirt neckband, I use all-purpose polyester thread on the top and stretchy, floofy Wooly Nylon thread in the bobbin. (P.S. Wind Wooly Nylon thread by hand so as not to stretch it out!)
- What needle to use: Use a stretch or ball point/jersey needle. These needles slide between knit and purl stitches in your fabric vs. a woven/non-stretch needle that punctures the fabric.
As always, TEST stitch-thread-needle-tension-foot combinations before sewing your fashion fabric. RELATED: Sewing knits with a sewing machine: Testing foot-tension-needle combos
Step 11: Sew!
Sew the neckband to the neck opening, stretching the BAND (not neck opening) between each pin.
Hold the fabric layers behind the presser foot with your left hand and in front the presser foot with your right hand. Gently pull the layers until the neckband is the same length as the neck opening. Stitch!
Do not overstretch; that’s how you make waves!
This GIF is sped up four or five times, which means I sewed the neckband here S-L-O-W-L-Y. Take. Your. Time.
Step 12: Press Seam Allowance
From the wrong side, press the seam allowance toward body of the shirt. I recommend using a a tailor’s ham while pressing to keep the neck opening nicely curved.
Be gentle with heat, steam, and pressure. It’s easy to stretch a curved opening out of shape. Bonus points for using a press cloth.
Also, if after you’ve sewn your neckband and it’s a little wonky (puckers, etc.), pressing it likely will resolve these icky bits.
Step 13: Finish Seam Allowance
You’re got some options for the seam allowance, depending on how wide it is and your preferences.
- Trim it: This is good if you’re not keen on bulk. I recommend using applique scissors.
- Finish the raw edge: Use a zig-zag or other stretch-sewing-machine stitch, or finish the raw edge on a serger (overlocker).
- Sew it down: From the right side, stitch down the seam allowance. Use a stretch twin needle for that coverstitch look. RELATED: My Must-Have Tool for Twin Needle Sewing
- Let it ride: It’s a knit; it’s not going to fray. Sometimes you can’t be bothered.
How did your practice neckband insertion turn out? Happy, or nah? Give it a few more tries; you’ll be sewing knit neckbands like a pro before you know it.
And speaking of knit neckbands… might I suggest stitching Cass, Sie Macht’s T-shirt pattern? It comes in misses and plus size ranges, and the PDF includes illustrated directions for how to sew five different Cass hacks. Yeah, it’s basically six patterns for the price of one. 👍
P.S. Check out these other Cass/T-shirt-related posts to help you have THE MOST FUN sewing thin knits:
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