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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- For a neckband on a deep neckline, make it narrow, since it won’t lie flat otherwise.
- 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.
Before you attach the neckband
- The neckband needs to be stretched out evenly, otherwise, you might end up with different widths and/or gathers along the neckline.
- 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.
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.