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Five tips on sewing with ribbing

Five tips on sewing ribbing

As my cardigan project evolves (just the fastening left, hooray) I thought I do a post on ribbing. This is something I’ve struggled with quite a bit over the years but also learned a few tricks along the way. So here goes my five sewing tips:

1.Ribbing doesn’t always have to be smaller

If you look at many ready-to-wear garments today, you can see that the waist rib has pretty much the same circumference as the bodice piece. This is also common for sleeve cuffs and leg openings. The amount of gathers is a trend thing, and varies as fashion changes.

Five tips on sewing with ribbing

Lululemon hoodie from 2015 vs a vintage college sweater. Notice the difference in the amount of gathers.

2. When in doubt make samples

Second sewing tip! For my cardigan, I was unsure about how much stretch the ribbing should have since I would attach it along the length and not just across the width. Most knits have more stretch crosswise and less stretch lengthwise. My samples proved that point. Only 100% worked out. Both 90% and 80% curved, which would be great for a neckline, but not a good look on a button placket.

Five tips on sewing with ribbing

From left: 100 percent, 90 percent and 80 percent.

3. Add notches to make sure the stretch is even

When I attach ribbing to a neckline I always make sure to put several notches on the rib and the corresponding neckline to make sure the stretch is evenly distributed. Notches mid back, mid front and at the shoulder seams will suffice. Just make sure to do the right calculations, for example, if your rib is 80 percent of the neckline, the corresponding length on the rib pattern piece should be 80 percent of the bodice neckline length.

For instance:
Back neckline mid-back to shoulder: 10 cm (4 inches)
The length between notches on the rib : 8 cm (3,15 inches)

Five tips on sewing with ribbing

The calculations and notches for my cardigan.

4. The rib will get narrower the more you stretch it

Yes this might be a no-brainer for everyone but me, for I often seem to forget that rule. So if you want a finished neckline rib that is 2.5 cm (1 inch) you’ll need to add some width. Just stretch the rib fabric to see how much that is needed

5. Feeling overwhelmed? Here are some general rules:

If the ribbing has good recovery, in my experience the following formulas will work in most cases:

Neckline: Ca 75% . I know several sewing books recommend  66 % (2/3) but I’ve often found that to be too much. I’ve even done 80% with good results.

Sleeveless arm openings: Ca 80%

For a front fastening on a cardigan: 95-100%

Waist rib, hoodie or pants: 95–100% (for a smooth finish that fits in with current fashion). You can shape the side seams on the rib for a more form fitting look

Cuff: 95% for a smooth finish, 80% if you want gathers. If you want both a smooth finish and a narrow wrist width, just make the rib cuff v-shaped.

So that was my primer on sewing with ribbing. Please don’t take my suggestions as an absolute gospel, as the end result will always depend on the fabrics you are using and the look you are going for. And I would love if you shared your experience and methods when it comes to ribbing in the comment section!Five tips on sewing ribbing


  • Jenny
    October 19, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    These are great tips! Thanks for the %s – very handy.

    • Johanna
      October 22, 2015 at 3:04 pm

      Glad to hear you found them handy!

  • Dilliander
    October 20, 2015 at 4:56 am

    What a lovely cardigan and a helpful refresher on ribbing too, thanks.

  • Unknown
    October 20, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    this is great info! I always do it by stretching while sewing and never getting good results. do you think these percentages also works with very stretchy fabric such as lycra? I also want to use fold over elastic but each time I try it I have to take it of because it looks very very bad. I guess I have to use ca 66 % when I use very elastic material. What is your experience?

    • Johanna
      October 22, 2015 at 3:03 pm

      These recommendations has worked very well with lycra for me! As for the amount for fold over elastic, I think 66% would be too tight for many applications as elastic tends to have very good recovery. I've used more like 80% and even more, But maybe if you have something that has a lot of negative ease and should be stretched out a lot, like a swimsuit then less than 80 might be optimal. I should do a post on this too perhaps in the future!

    • Manik Nonik
      October 22, 2015 at 8:11 pm

      What you write makes sense, I guess fold over elastic is never a good option for a neck finish since it looks a bit cheap. Thank you, I really like your blog.

  • Linda
    October 30, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Nice post on using ribbing and sampling to get the right fit/look.

  • Mrs K
    October 30, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    Great info on ribbing – thanks!

  • Amy
    January 5, 2017 at 6:17 am

    I like these tips. I hadn’t considered varying the stretch on the same piece of ribbing, but the results looks nice!

    • Johanna
      January 5, 2017 at 9:13 am

      Yes, different lengths makes a big difference in the look for cuffs and waist band ribbing, and I really like same size ribbing currently, it sits on my body better too.

  • Renee
    July 4, 2019 at 9:29 am

    Thanks so much for these tips, Johanna. I’ve been sewing for a few decades but love my knit sewing now. So happy to have found your post! Greetings from Melbourne, Austalia

    • Johanna Lundström
      July 9, 2019 at 7:37 pm

      Thank you! Yes sewing knits is such a fun and interesting learning journey, it took me a while to fall in love with for sure!

  • […] Johanna @ The Last Stitch has some advise about calculating the stretch in ribbing. […]


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