Pictutorial- Knit Binding

In yesterday’s post, while celebrating the happy marriage of knit fabrics + 50’s boleros, I mentioned finishing the sleeve hems and bottom edge of the bolero with an extra wide knit binding, done in the usual way.  Commentator (is that actually the correct word or is my spellcheck whack?) Marthaeliza asked where she could find that method.   I’m so red-faced!  I haven’t explicitly addressed this technique, though I do use it in my patterns and hacks.  I also used it to create the fauxlero seaming interest on the recent 40’s Charm Tee:

There are many, many ways to finish a knit neck, sleeve or hem edge.  This is one way.  I like to know as many ways to do something (like finish a neck edge) as possible.  One way may work better in certain situations, etc.  This is my go-to basic bound edge.  Even when a pattern states otherwise, I usually finish neck edges this way.  I have seen some truly terrifying (not to mention fiddly, difficult or just plain silly) ways to finish a knit neckline- this is the simplest and most versatile method in my arsenal.

Cut a binding strip 1.5″ (3.75cm) and somewhat longer than the to-be-bound edge.  On a neckline edge, my usual method involves sewing one shoulder seam, inserting the binding, and catching the ends of the binding in the shoulder seam edge.  When done neatly, it makes no difference to the appearance of the finished garment.  Also, I’m sure there’s rules about it, but I cut my binding strips both along the stretch and along the length of the fabric, as seems handiest at the time.  I have never seen much of a difference.

Fold in half lengthwise, right sides facing out, and press.

To sew it on a flat edge, simply match up the raw edges and stitch.  A 1/4″ (6mm) seam allowance is the norm for knits.  USE BALLPOINT NEEDLES.

I use a “lightning bolt” stitch on my machine for sewing knits because it allows the garment to stretch.  If you use straight stitches, the seam will “pop” under stress.  If you don’t have a lightning bolt stitch, play around with a narrow (width) and long (length) stitch until you come up with something like mine.  I used a contrasting thread to show my stitching, usually I go for something that blends into the fabric.

Trim off any extra binding.

I also overlock/serge seams on knits because while it isn’t necessary to prevent fabric fraying, it does create a sturdier, longer lasting seam.
Curves are tricker to bind, but not by much.  Do test it on a few little samples first if you’ve never done it before or if you’re working with a new fabric.  There’s a little “fingertip knowledge” that must be built before you get consistent results.  But it won’t take long and it’s worth the practice.  Or just make a few shirts with wibbly necklines, that’s ok too.

I place the binding and neck edge under the foot with the raw edges lined up for the first inch or so.  Pins are much more a hindrance than help here.  I take a few stitches to secure the beginning of the binding to the garment.
After the first few stitches, I gently stretch the binding around the curve of the neck.  The lower fingers on my right hand keep the garment fabric from stretching.  DO NOT STRETCH THE GARMENT FABRIC.  I use my right thumb and forefinger to gently stretch the binding, and my left-hand fingers guide the binding into place.  It just takes a little coordination.

Stephen took a short clip to show you how my fingers move.  Isn’t he sweet?

Wrong side, before finishing or pressing.  Just trim off any extra, no sweat.
Right side, after pressing the seam toward the body of the “garment.”  You can also top-stitch along this seam, about 1/8″ from the seamline.

Questions?  I’m listening.  Later this week I’ll tackle a few other questions I’ve come across in blog reading and from y’all, I like addressing specific questions.

The banner is my “sweater knit” from the bolero.  I don’t know what else to call it, it’s thickish like a sweatshirt but has a knit “look.”

Check out the crazy fabrics my daughter wanted made into a dress:

Perfect for this week’s Challenge at Sew Weekly…

Tomorrow: I finally finished “The Diamond Chariot” (see sidebar) and it’s just one of those books you have to tell everyone about.  So I’m telling y’all about it tomorrow.  It’s Russian.  Book Review Time!


  1. You’ve perpetuated one of the most common sewing errors out there about knits. The edge finish you describe is a band, not a binding. A bound edge is wrapped in fabric. A band is attached to the edge. Both have their place but they are not the same. I am a bit picky about this, admittedly. But consider that using the proper terms in this case actually adds clarity to the conversation, as the terms mean what they sound like they mean.

    • Well- I used to be a trifle pedantic about the term “knit binding,” too. But then I thought about it and came up with three things:

      1) Technical definition of the word bind: “11. To furnish with an edge or border for protection, reinforcement, or ornamentation.” http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bind

      2) On a knit garment, an unfinished edge will spread and curl and stretch out of shape. Think “flashdance” necklines. A knit binding actually prevents that. It binds the raw edge of the fabric so it can keep its shape.

      3) It is in the common usage. That’s not usually enough for me to adopt a term I find odious, but if there’s a term in the common usage that actually makes sense (like this one) then I tend to adopt it. English is a living organism.

      Perhaps you’re thinking of a regular woven binding in which a strip of fabric is folded once or twice and encases the raw edge of the fabric. That is one kind of fabric binding, sure. But that kind of treatment is unnecessary (not to mention bulky) with knits.

      I hope that helps, if you have any more questions my ears are open and I’d be pleased to help you clarify your terms.

      • T-shirt neckband, like you showed here:

        T-shirt neck binding, not what you showed here:

        I’m not confused at all. Though, if you think about it, a band is a band whether it is sewn in a knit or a woven, at a neckline or a hem. A narrow piece of fabric is added to an edge. It can be folded or not. And a binding is a binding whether it is sewn in a knit or a woven, at a neckline or hem or the edges of a quilt. A piece of fabric is folded and sewn over an edge. The techniques for sewing a band in a knit or a woven varies a bit, but the technique is the same. The techniques for sewing a binding in a knit or a woven also varies a bit, but it is still essentially the same.

        Using the same term to describe both neckline treatments is confusing. Further explanation is required so the reader knows what is being described. Proper terms prevent that confusion and leads to clear communication. I see the mistake often in blogs by self-taught sewists, which is why I was surprised to see it here.

        • My darling, if you’re looking for me to throw my hands in the air and tell you you’re right, then you’ll be waiting a while. This is actually something I have carefully thought through; I take my use of language very seriously. Please re-read my reply above and let it simmer for a while.

          Further, I believe that you are being what is called “rude,” though it absolutely pains me to have to point it out.

          Yes, a binding is a binding whether it is a knit or a woven. Sure, there are several ways to sew a binding. I believe I mentioned that in the post above. According to the dictionary’s definition, common sense and the common usage, this technique is a knit binding. If you like, this is a “flat” knit binding and the other is a “fold-over” knit binding, but at the end of the day what we call something matters much less than how we execute the sewing.

          Binding is a term with many meanings. “Bands” is an equally nebulous term. It can denote a number of different treatments. That’s our language.

          I am a completely self-taught sewist. I worked selling sewing machines for a while and picked up a few tricks which refined my sewing techniques, but I am self-taught. I picked up a needle at the age of 7-8; no one taught me to do what I do. It’s a compulsion and a continuing process. Further, I actively push myself to figure out the best and simplest ways to accomplish a given sewing task, often using “new” or different materials and methods, which I write about so others can try what I do. I innovate.

          No one taught me to draft, either, unless you count Harriet Pepin. I taught myself.

          I do not appreciate in the slightest your implication that self-taught sewists aren’t “good” enough for you or are in some way inferior. If you can not be kind, interesting or useful, please take your snobbery elsewhere.

  2. I obviously need to practice this. When I cut my binding the same length as the edge I sometimes get buckling of the binding on the inside of curves, so I have been cutting them at 90% which seems to small. You just cut them the same size, gently stretch and cut off the excess. Any guess how much extra you take off?

    • No, I tend to cut one long binding strip that’s at least as long as the edges I need to bind and trim off the excess. The thing is, I can’t give you a formula. No one can, because knit fabrics vary widely in the way they behave. Some knits need a little more stretching, some need very little. It has more to do with fiber content and “weave” than anything else.

      When I was learning to do this, I started with t-shirt cotton and sewed a few samples like the one above. Then I moved on to bamboo jersey, and some polys and etc. Even now, if I’m working with a “new” to me fabric, I do a little sample. It doesn’t take much time or fabric, and it pays off in “fingertip knowledge.”

      The main reason for stretching the neck binding is so the outer edge of the binding lies flat. If it’s not stretched enough, the outer edge of the binding will buckle (like you mention) or stand up in a most unattractive way. If it’s too stretched out, the garment will pucker. Luckily, that “sweet spot” is pretty wide, I find if I can gently stretch the binding around the curve as I sew it (without forcing it), that’s enough. :)

      • I find when I’m sewing with cotton/lycra fabrics (so 90%/10% or 95%/5%) that 80% is about an ideal length to cut. I’ve used a variety of different brands but those that are cotton / lycra in these blend amounts work consistently well at 80%.
        Viscose, poly and rayons are another story!

  3. I love this! I made a dress in a knit fabric this weekend. Most of it was finished with contrasting woven bias tape anyway as part of the design, but when it came to hemming the skirt I was at such a loss that after a couple of botched attempts at, erm, “something”, I just used matching -woven- bias tape. It’s not perfect but it’s better than attempts 1 and 2. Now I just wish I had waited for this!
    I have been experimenting with doing the same thing with wovens recently and who knew it made sense for knits as well? Can’t wait to give it a try, thanks so much once again!

      • I certainly will! I am years away from being able to afford an overlocker and both my machines are so old that they thread from the side and not the front, so I can’t do the twin needle thing. Unless someone knows a way, and if anyone does they’re likely to hang around this blog!
        I tried folding and doing two rows of zig zag from the wrong side but it wasn’t very nice. At least the tape made a wearable dress, we’ll see how the binding goes.
        Thanks again, it’s not just how much you know but how you explain and encourage that is brilliant!

        • Stefpulls – I am a recent convert to sewing with knits – no serger, use long narrow zigzag like Steph recommends. For my three knit dresses, which all had half circle skirts, in one case – expensive plain black wool jersey I hemmed the wrists and the hem by hand using herringbone stitch as it’s stretchy. For the other two – viscose two way stretch knits – I turned up a narrow hem, did one row of the very narrowest long length zigzag stitch, and then pressed – it looks absolutely fine……try it. I can use twin needles but they don’t work very well on my machine where I cannot adjust the pressure….. so they stretch the fabric out…

  4. thanks steph! you inspired me to pull out some marine-stripe-jersey (have it for yeeeaaars!) and sew some shirts for our kajaktour in june :-) while i´m not a t-shirt-wearer in daily live, for the “outdoor-living” and the limited package 2-3 nice T´s are very wellcome.
    another question: i´m sew my jerseys just with the serger, with 2 needles/4 threads. i find this works nice. the seams lasts and lasts…… and look clean. dit you try this?

    • Awesome. :) I’m not much of a t-shirt wearer either until I started doing this hack thing… I’m trying to “de-casualize” the tee or something…

      If it works well for you, keep doing it. I find that even when the tension is relatively tight, my overlocking/serging stitches “spread” when tension is placed on the seam. So I stitch, then finish…

  5. The way you do this makes so much sense, but its not something I ever would have thought to do, had I not seen it in your BCT instructions.I have to admit, when someone says ‘binding’, my immediate thought is as of bias-binding – wrapping and enclosing a raw edge – so the fact that necklines on t-shirts are never (or rather, rarely) done like that has left me searching for what to call this particular finish for ages. I’m quite happy to now call it binding since other people seem to!! Won’t feel like a moron for using the incorrect term.

    • Yeah… Don’t let anyone make you feel like a moron. If someone knows something you don’t, they either have something valuable to teach you, or they’re being rude. But no need to feel bad about it.

      I’m pleased you find this technique useful. :)

  6. I also like this finsihing technique, and I had never thought of assembling only one shoulder: it seems like a great idea and less fiddly than with the whole band!

    • Yes, though it does take a little tiny bit of effort to make sure the seam doesn’t show at the neckline. It’s just doing it neatly, that’s all.

  7. Thanks for this Steph – you spoil us! And thanks so much for the latest hack – super cute… now, if only I manage to find plain normal jersey – not two way, not shiney, just plain cotton jersey – rolleyes!

    • Is it slim pickings where you are for fabric stores? I’m plotting to start reviewing online fabric stores the way I do the Brisbane ones, with extra gold stars going to those online shops that ship internationally without any fuss. :)

      • totally slim pickings! One super expensive shop with beautiful “occasion” fabrics. Another rather expensive shop with ditto. And one big place which gets a variety of stuff from crap to very nice which is reasonable – but they are the type of place where you say what is the gabardine made of and the answer is “gabardine”…. ahem. They get some nice viscose two way printed stretch stuff, and some very shiney very stretchy plain stuff – ew. And NO plain cotton jersey. Incredible.
        I tend to order on line – I like Whipstitch and Sewlovefabrics and TheNeedleShop on etsy – they’ve all served me well as a European buyer and they’re in the States…. Sewbox and sewessential in the UK… those are my go to online shops and I recommend them all :). Problem is that a lot of the etsy shops cater for quilters and although I like quilting cotton for some stuff it’s not my first choice for most summer dresses.

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  9. Binding an edge with a band. Brilliant. Thank you, Steph, and you are wonderful and do not need to take crap from anyone. An alternative way of phrasing could have been offered without the self righteous lecture. She was rude. Who died and made her queen?

    • Aw thanks, dawn! :) I don’t tend to take crap, no… I don’t think I’m capable of it, though I absolutely do not mind being challenged or constructively criticized…

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  15. Thanks so much for this tutorial it’s extremely helpful. I have a couple of questions: 1. Do you think this technique can be done only with a serger – just serge the edge directly and don’t bother with the first step?
    2. If you top stitch, then isn’t there a stress on the line of top stitching that might cause it to break?
    sorry for stupid questions but I’m really a beginner at this! And I’ve only got a serger, not a sewing machine..

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  17. Thanks for this! I have been practicing and practicing “bindings” (hehe) that actually enclose the edge, but I’m never satisfied with how the topstitching looks on the outside of the garment. I also like that this doesn’t require me to have ribbing. I am going to try this method now on some tees for my daughter.

  18. (-; just smiling how much of a discussion evolved over a neck binding…or should I say neckband (-; I think its a great tutorial and I am going to give this method a try, I have spend a few hours practising with fold over elastic, not to mention my (oh so beautiful) cover stitch machine… but I am always on the look for new ways! and I reckon thumbs up for self taught sewers, its always easier to go and learn things “properly” in a school or with a teacher, but not all of us are lucky enough to have this opportunity and thanks to all those great sewers out there who share their valuable knowledge on the web we can learn many things to improve our skills. (and i’d like to mention the dedication it takes for a self taught sewer, and how frustrating it can be at times to spend hours of reading and watching tutorials, practising, reading more tutorials and more practising…)to reach the level where we can proudly present out work! I have learned most of my skills from my mum who again learned from her mother and we still learn from each other now. I am proud to be a self taught sewer and think that it seriously does not matter whether a neck binding should be called a band or what, maybe if your in the business where those terms really count and are important, but I for now will just call it a neckline finish and I don’t think anyone is going to look at me funny or not like the things I make because of that (-; !

    • I use a straight stitch, 3.0 length (slightly longer than usual). It doesn’t pop because the topstitched seams are not stress seams. :)

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