Have you ever struggled to sew a t-shirt neckline?
Sewing a clean t-shirt neckline can be the start of getting your handmade knit garments to have a finish you can be proud of.
But that can be easier said than done. Let’s face it, knits can be grumpy and that “quick and easy” t-shirt you started out sewing can be going on great until you get to the neckband. If you’ve ever wanted to scream while trying to sew a knit neckline that stays flat, gets weird puckers in it, or stretches out in a spot, this post is for you.
I’m going to show you several ways to tackle finishing a knit neckline that won’t make you pull your hair out.
Why 4 ways to sew a t-shirt neckline? Because you don’t always have to sew things the same way all the time! But don’t worry: Even if you’re sewing knits as a beginner sewist, you’ll have no trouble walking through this step by step knit neckline tutorial.
And because I don’t want you to get stuck, I’m sharing some of my best tips on how to finish a neckline on knits that’ll help you troubleshoot the problems you may run into. I am here to help you save your knit neckbands! Let’s do this!
What’s the difference between a knit binding and a knit neckband?
Before we jump into talking about how to finish knit necklines, we’ve got a couple terms to define.
Knit binding: a strip of fabric that wraps around an edge to finish it. A knit binding can wrap to the inside of a garment, making a knit facing or a clean finish binding. Knit bindings can also be visible from both the inside and the outside of an edge. On knit bindings, all seams are covered by the binding itself. Necklines and armhole edges are the most common things to finish with knit bindings.
Knit neckband: a strip of fabric that is folded in half and sewn around a neckline to finish the edge. The neckline seam is visible from the inside of the garment. You can serge off the edge to finish it, and neckbands are often topstitched in place. Finishing knit garments with a knit neckband is the most common way to finish a neckline.
How to sew a knit neckline for beginners: How to sew a knit neckband with quartering
If you’re new to sewing knits, you’ll want to practice how to sew a knit neckband before you move on to the other methods here. Master sewing knit neckbands, and you’re well on your way to professional looking projects you’ll love to show off!
This knit neckband tutorial is appropriate for scoop necks and crew necks. Try this excellent tutorial from Seamwork for a v-neck neckband.
Weird fact: If you ever measure it, a neckband needs to be shorter than the neckline.
That’s because the inside of the circle is shorter than the outside. But that means you have to stretch the neckband to fit inside the larger neckline. This method is fantastic for helping you stretch a neckband evenly around a neckband. So how to do this…
Measuring your neckband
First, measure your neckline.
Take a tape measure and measure along the seamline of the neckline all the way around. The general wisdom is to subtract 10% from that number. So say your neckline measures 60cm. 10% of 60 is 6, so your neckband needs to be 54 cm. It could be that you need to subtract more–up to 15%, but start with the 10%.
And if measuring freaks you out, assume that the pattern piece for your neckband is correct (it probably is).
Make sure to cut your neckband so that the stretch goes AROUND the neck. If you don’t, the neckband won’t stretch over your head comfortably when you go to wear it.
Prepping to sew the neckband
Press the neckband in half long ways. Unfold the neckband and sew the short ends right sides together with the seam allowance called for in your pattern.
Next, quarter your neckline and the neckband.
To do this, fold the shoulder seams on your t-shirt together to find center back and center front. Mark both with a pin. Then fold the pins together to find the other quarter marks.
Do the same for the neckband, using the seam as your center back.
Matching the quarter marks and sewing the neckband
Match your pins together starting at center back, pinning the neck band and t-shirt together only at the quarter marks.
Sewing with the neckband on top, sew the neckband to the t-shirt. You will have to stretch the neckband between the pins so that it fits into the curve of the t-shirt neckline. Do NOT stretch the body of the garment at the neck when you sew a t-shirt neckline!
I sewed this neckband on my serger, but you can use your sewing machine with a narrow zigzag. To sew with a narrow zigzag, change your machine to a zigzag stitch, then adjust the settings to 0.5mm width and 2.5mm length.
From here, press the neckline seam towards the body of the t-shirt.
At this point, your neckband is secure, but if you’d like you can go an extra step to finish a knit neckline.
To do this, you can stitch close to the seam with a narrow zigzag, a twin needle or a coverstitch. This extra topstitching keeps the seam nice and flat and less irritating on your neck.
Using this quartering method is the best way how to sew a knit neckline for beginners.
Let’s explore some other ways to sew a t-shirt neckline…
Make it dressy: Clean finish binding for knit necklines
What is a clean finish binding on knits?
A clean finish binding starts out much like a knit neckband finish on knits, but the band will get turned to the inside of the t-shirt. The result is a clean finish on the inside with no visible seams showing.
The binding is essentially acting like a knit facing, but since it’s still stitched down in the end, you won’t have to worry about facings that flop around on the inside or roll to the outside.
Clean finish bindings are beautiful on knits that are a little dressier. They’re also nice because the clean finished insides are less irritating on sensitive skin.
You’re going to notice this looks a lot like a bias tape finish or bias facing finish that you would use on a woven fabric. Grainline has a great tutorial for that if you’re curious on how different they look.
How to sew a clean finish binding on a knit neckline
Follow the steps for the neckband, quartering the neckband and t-shirt. Stitch the neckband to the t-shirt, stretching between your quarter marks just like before.
The difference here is instead of leaving the neck seam exposed on the inside of the shirt, we’re going to press the whole neckband to the inside.
I like to hand baste the binding into place, but feel free to pin.
Sew down the neckband into place from the right side close to that pressed edge of the neckband.
Onto the lazy person’s knit neckline binding method!
The no-measure method for sewing a t-shirt neckline
When + why not to measure a knit neckband
I probably use this method the most. It works great for unusual t-shirt necklines and any time you don’t feel like calculating the *perfect* length neckband.
The thing is that sometimes neckband pieces in patterns are too long or more rarely too short for a given knit. Knits all have slightly different stretch percentages and recovery. When you put one knit + another, you might have to adjust things so that you get a knit neckband that sits nice and flat against your neck.
So this method is really about feel.
[rant mode on!] And also no pinning. It’s too easy to overhandle knit fabrics and end up with stretched out necklines. When you limit your pins, your neckbands will get better! I’ll preach it til I’m blue in the face, this is why I’m a fan of sewing without pins. This is what I would try after you get comfortable with the neckband method. [rant off–back to how to sew a t-shirt neckline without measuring the neckband!]
Stitch a knit neckline without measuring
First, cut your neckband on the cross grain (stretch going around the neck). I usually cut mine 1 1/4″ wide X 13 or so inches on the fold (so 26″ total). This is usually way more than I need. In fact, cut it longer than you think you’ll need. The extra will give you wiggle room in case you’re dealing with a fussier knit.
Next, press the neckband in half the long ways.
After that, pin your neckband with only 1 pin a couple inches from either center back or a sleeve seam if you’re sewing a raglan tee.
Take your tee to the machine and start stitching from where you pinned. Stretch the neckband only while you stitch. Do this in sections, stretching a couple inches, sewing, stretching a couple more inches, sewing. I’m sewing here with my sewing machine + a stretch needle + a narrow zigzag stitch (0.5mm width, 2.5mm length). I often prefer to stitch this on a sewing machine vs. a serger with this method.
How much do you stretch? You want to feel a slight tug on the neckband.
You’ll know if you stretched too much because there will be puckers on the neckband seam if you flip it to the right side.
If the band stands away from the neckline, you didn’t stretch it enough. It’s not a bad idea to baste this first so you can see if you need to adjust anything. Better to pull out a basting stitch and try again than to have to unpick a serged seam!
Stop sewing a couple inches from where you started pinning.
Finishing the neck seam
At this point, bring the edges of your neckband together at the center back (or shoulder seam–wherever you started pinning). Cut both edges of the neckband 3/8″ past where that seamline is going to be.
Now unfold the neckband and sew the 2 short edges together with a 3/8″ seam allowance.
Finish sewing the last couple inches of the neckband to your t-shirt, stretching the neckband while you stitch just like before.
Press the t-shirt neckline seam towards the body of the t-shirt. Finish it off with a topstitch. I used a double needle for this one.
You can see this method in action on this video.
Wrapped binding for a t-shirt neckline
This wrapped binding finish is nice to use if you have a contrast knit that you want to show off or if you want a nice clean edge on the inside of your t-shirt. I used that for this lace applique t-shirt.
This type of knit binding is really similar to the clean finish binding except we’ll see the band on the outside AND the inside. The result is a knit neckline finish with covered seams that looks beautiful every time.
First, fold your neckband piece in half and press just like before. For this method, you only want to sew one of the shoulder seams before this step. Unfold your neckband and match the right side of the neckband to the wrong side of the t-shirt.
Stitch the neckband to the t-shirt, stretching the band slightly as you’re stitching. Press the raw edge towards the seam you just sewed.
To finish it, wrap the pressed edge around the sewn edge so that you cover the stitching. Sewing from the right side, stitch down the binding either with a narrow zigzag, double needle or coverstitch.
From there, sew the shoulder seam and the neckband seam in one step. Sew a couple extra stitches from the neckline edge to the neckband seam to tack down the neckband seam.
Troubleshooting: how to fix all the things that can go wrong when you sew a t-shirt neckline
How to make neckline lay flat
Trying to get a neckline to lay flat is probably the #1 issue knit sewing beginners have. This is an easy fix.
If the neckband is popping up and not sitting flat, it’s because the neckband itself is too long. The extra length ends up pooling outwards instead of rolling against the body.
To get a knit neckline to lay flat if it’s popping out, you’ll need to remove some length from the neckband.
First, baste the neckband in place before you stitch the seam following the quarter mark method described above in the how to sew a knit neckline for beginners section. Place the basted neckline on your body or a dress form.
- Does it sit flat? If yes, go ahead and stitch it.
- If it doesn’t sit flat: remove the basting, cut off a bit of length in the neckband, then baste it again. This might seem fiddly, but remember that all knits are slightly different in how they behave and sometimes it takes a little bit more trial and error.
Why do I get weird puckers in my knit neckline?
If you’re getting weird puckers in the body of the t-shirt, it’s because the your neckband is too short either all around or it’s been pinned unevenly so that you have to stretch it too far in one spot and it’s too loose in another spot.
Quarter the neckline and the neckband, marking the quarter points with pins. Match the pins to each other. The neckband will be shorter, but the quarter points will help the neckband be evenly shorter as it should be all the way around the neckline.
Baste the neckband into place as described above.
Are there still puckers in the body of the t-shirt or does the neckband itself feel tight at the seam line?
- If yes, remove the neckband and cut a new one that’s slightly longer. How much length to add? This depends on what kind of knit you’re working with. This is where I like my no-measure method for sewing knit necklines. Sometimes you have to guess at these things and measuring tapes can be fiddly. If you pay attention to the fabric, it’ll never lie to you though.
My neckband seems okay but my neckline seems stretched out. Can I fix a knit neckline that’s stretched out?
Sometimes despite your best efforts, you may end up accidentally stretching out the neckline of the t-shirt as you sew the neckband.
You can try to steam the neckband, but ultimately, there’s really no way to fix this.
An example for you:
My lavender t-shirt below if I’m being honest wasn’t my best go at a t-shirt neckline. I made it in a hurry with leftovers fabric, one of which was much stretchier than the other. I love the colors, but the neckline is a hair stretched out.
To stop yourself from accidentally stretching out a knit neckline and ruining your sewing project, here’s a couple thoughts:
- Slow down: You will NEVER regret taking 5 extra minutes to slow down and do something right. You will ALWAYS regret making a mistake like this that you can’t really fix.
- Sew with your neckband on top: go slow and keep the neckband visible on top, sewing slowly to make sure that you are only stretching the neckband only.
- Baste the neckband if you’re working with a fabric with little recovery. Knits like interlock, other cotton knits, or even sometimes ponte don’t snap back into place once they’ve been stretched. Relax your hands as you sew and baste the neckbands into place before you stitch to keep yourself from overhandling the fabric and potentially stretching it out of place.
- Know that this happens as you’re learning: you will stretch out a neckline at some point. Chalk it up to experience. Some days your breaking eggs for that omelette! You can still wear your handmade t-shirt with pride, knowing that your the next time you work on how to sew a t-shirt neckline it’s going to get just a little better.
So there’s 4 different ways how to sew a t-shirt neckline. What’s your favorite one?
Get more advice on sewing with knits:
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.