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How to Sew a T-shirt Knit Neckband the Fail-Proof Way

Are you struggling to sew a knit neckband on your t-shirt and tops? Perhaps it’s gaping, won’t lie flat or it pulls the fabric of the neckline and creating those annoying draglines and gathers.

I can assure you that you are not alone in this struggle, because sewing neckbands on knit tops is deceptively simple, so don’t feel bad if you nail this sewing technique straight away.

The good news is that there are easy fixes for this issue, you just need to understand and follow some important principles and then use the right techniques. So in this sewing tutorial, I will share all the tips and techniques I’ve found super helpful in my own sewing, and hopefully, these can help you too!

6 important things to know before sewing a neckband

  1. The more stretch the rib knit has, the shorter the neckband piece should be. A good rule of thumb for a regular crew neck t-shirt opening is to make the neckband piece around 70-75% of the neckline circumference.
  2. For a super stretchy rib knit you might have to go below 70%, but remember that if the rib knit is stretched out too much it will create gathers around the neckline when attached, so it’s always a balancing act to figure out the sweet spot.
  3. A wider neckband is less likely to lie flat compared to a narrow. If you want to use wide neckband, cut a strip and fold it in the desired width and stretch it around the neckline to get an idea if it will work.
  4. A good folded width for a classic t-shirt neckband is around 2.5 cm (1″) + seam allowances. Remember though that the finished width will likely be a little narrower since the fabric is being stretched out when attached. The more you stretch the fabric, the narrower it gets.
  5. For a neckband on a deep neckline, make it narrow, since it won’t lie flat otherwise.
  6. If using self-fabric (jersey) instead of rib knit, the neckband piece should both be longer and more narrow than a pattern piece for rib knit, as jersey has less stretch and won’t lie as flat when stretched out. Opt for around 80% length and around 2 cm (3/4″) folded width or even slightly less

What all this means is that even if your pattern has a neckband pattern piece included, you might still need to modify it depending on the type of fabric you are planning to use for the neckband.

Neck band sewing with self-fabric (notice that it’s quite narrow)
Neckband sewing with rib knit. This band can be a bit wider and will still lie flat. But don’t make it too wide!

Before you attach the neckband

  1. The neckband needs to be stretched out evenly, otherwise, you might end up with different widths and/or gathers along the neckline.
  2. To avoid a bulky intersection of seams at the shoulder, move the neckband seam a couple of centimetres (less than an inch) towards the back.

How to notch a neckband

So let’s put all this information into practice. To make sure the neckband is evenly distributed I recommend that you use notches. So in this example, the distance between the shoulder seam and the mid-back on the neckline is 10 cm.

This means that the corresponding distance on the neckband should be 7.5 cm if we are using a neckband that is 75% of the neckline circumference.

And then we have the issue of moving the neckband away from the shoulder to minimise bulk. If you want to account for this, you need to move the shoulder notch away from the seam line on the neckband, like this:

Moving the shoulder notch away from the seamline makes it a little trickier, but you don’t have to be super precise with the measurements, the most important thing is that you follow the principles somewhat and the rest will sort itself out.

Is all this info giving you a headache?

I know, it is a lot! But the good news is that if you just follow the guidelines somewhat loosely it will still make a big difference. And after you have sewn several neckbands, you’ll eventually develop a sixth sense on how to gauge all this, so with time, it will become more intuitive and less mathematical.

But if you are struggling currently, I highly suggest that you start with this methodical approach before going rogue.

Step-by-step tutorial for sewing a neckband to a t-shirt

1. Cut the ribbing

Preferably use a ruler and a rotary cutter to cut the ribbing because it creates the most even ribbing piece. But of course, a paper pattern piece and a pair of scissors will work too,
just make sure the scissors are sharp!

2. Mark notches on the neckband

First, fold the ribbing. You can carefully press the fold with an iron on low heat to make the fold crisp. Then, mark notches that correspond to mid-back, shoulder seams, and mid-front using the suggestions above. Either clip the fabric or use a pen for the notches.

3. Close the neckband

Use either a 3-thread serger stitch, a narrow zigzag stitch or a sewing machine stretch seam. If you are using a narrow zigzag, press the seam apart to make it flat. To create a flat fold when using an overlock seam, clip the seam allowance carefully (just a tiny notch) at the fold and press in opposite directions.

4. Match the notches

Mark the corresponding notches on the neckline of your garment and align them with the notches on your neckband. Tip: You can use needles or very loose hand basting to keep the neckband in place when sewing.

5. Attach the neckband

Use either a serger or a sewing machine stretch seam to attach the ribbing. Stretch the neckband while sewing, making sure the notches align. Don’t stretch the neckline, just the neckband.

6. Press the band flat

After sewing, it’s a good idea to press the neckband on a low setting to make sure the ribbing lies flat and to remove any creases. Just test the fabric first to see that it can tolerate an iron.

7. Stitch down the seam allowance

To create a flatter and more professional-looking finish, you can topstitch the seam allowance. Use a twin-needle, zigzag stitch, or a coverstitch machine for this. I recommend starting on the back piece, a few centimetres from the shoulder seam.

This will make the finishing of the seam less conspicuous and it also makes sewing easier since you don’t’ have to start over the bulky shoulder seam area.

A great tip that I got from my friend and professional pattern maker Pattern by Malena is to topstitch the neckband in the opposite direction from how you attached the neckband. So if you sewed the neckband in a counter-clockwise direction, do the topstitching in a clockwise direction, as this will prevent draglines.

BTW, check out Pattern by Malena’s Hazelhen Tee pattern (English version is coming). She understands this stuff from a professional perspective, so her patterns include two neckband options, one for rib knit (shorter and slightly wider) and one for jersey (longer and slightly narrower).

To sum it up

I hope I didn’t overwhelm you with all this info, but I think it’s important to understand the principles behind how sewing works. So if you are struggling with sewing neckbands on knit tops, now you hopefully understand what causes those issues and how to fix them!

And rest assured that with practice this becomes easier and easier, and all the info in this post will become intuitive and you’ll be able to gauge and go by feel rather than bother yourself with too many numbers.

Twill tape neckline tutorial

If you want the inside of your neckband to look neat and professional, you can also check out my tutorial for covering the seam with a decorative band, just like many higher-end RTW brand does.

12 Comments

  • Kyle Winden
    November 19, 2020 at 2:10 pm

    This is an excellent tutorial. I’ve been sewing for over 60 years and have stayed away from knits because they never came out quite right. This has solutions to those things that drove nuts. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Johanna Lundström
      November 20, 2020 at 10:05 am

      I’m so happy to hear you find this tutorial helpful, and I agree even if we have sewn for a long time, knits really are a very different way of sewing and we have to do and think quite differently about things compared to wovens.

      Reply
  • Anne
    November 19, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    I agree that this is fantastic. I am working on my first project with knit fabric and have just gotten to the point of having to attach the neckline. Your article has more information, clearly explained than anything else I have come across I now feel confident of how to try it and what to look for if doesn’t lie correctly. Thank you so much

    Reply
    • Johanna Lundström
      November 20, 2020 at 10:07 am

      Thank you! It’s always tricky to explain these things when I can’t be next to someone and show how I do it, so it makes me very happy to hear that you’ve found this tutorial helpful when it comes to filling in those gaps!

      Reply
  • Vivien Lee
    November 19, 2020 at 4:53 pm

    Excellent detailed instructions. I’m literally just sewing on a stretch neck piece and a couple of your tips have helped it to look more neatly finished. Thank you again.

    Reply
    • Johanna Lundström
      November 20, 2020 at 10:09 am

      Yay, that’s so great to hear! Usually, it’s just those small tweaks that can make a big difference, but we don’t know it until we know, so I’m happy to share the things I’ve learned the way!

      Reply
  • Donna B.
    November 19, 2020 at 5:30 pm

    Glad to “hear” from you, Johanna! Thanks for the tutorial. I always learn something from your posts!

    Reply
  • GIll
    November 20, 2020 at 8:59 am

    Great to have you back, excellent written tutorial rather than audio. Hope you are fighting fit soon.

    Reply
    • Johanna Lundström
      November 20, 2020 at 10:11 am

      Thank you, yes I’m slowly getting my mojo back and doing this really extensive tutorial was really fun and rewarding, even if it took quite a bit of work. So it’s very validating to hear that you’ve found it useful!

      Reply
  • Tracey Sabolevski
    November 20, 2020 at 2:07 pm

    Thank you for the great tutorial! I just got some twin needles, but worry about using them on stretch fabric. Will the stitching stretch enough, especially around a neck hole?

    Reply
  • Linda Dinnocenzo
    November 21, 2020 at 5:35 pm

    I made some t-shirts out of up cycled t-shirts that my family no longer was wearing. Most of them were sleeveless due to lack of material and also work well for me at work. I am fond of v-necklines so most of them have an attempt at that. T-shirts are supposed to be easy but the details are important to get right as that is where the eye goes. I used self fabric for the neckline and armholes as that is what I had . I usually cut the band longer and stretch it ( sometimes too much) Thank you for your tips as I would like to refine my process. I am assuming the 3/4” is the entire width of the band not folded in half and not including seam allowances? Thank you for all of your wonderful media.

    Reply

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