In my teaching of both advanced and brand new students, I find that the one thing that seems to scare most of them universally is sewing knits. From there, if you break it down, the neck binding is at the top of the list of the reason why they are so nervous. For new sewers, it is often that they heard through the years that this step can be tricky, and for advanced sewers, their fears are usually based in failed attempts in the past.
All of this is fair of course, because the neck binding is not an area that you can hide from, as it literally encircles your face and neck. So a poorly sewn neck binding is always seen. Couple that with the fact that knits are notoriously difficult to unpick stitches from, and I can completely understand why this procedure can send a student into a panic.
But fear no more! There really are some basic steps to follow to easily guide you through this important step. The two things I always suggest to my first time knit sewers: use a stable and forgiving knit, like a 95% cotton/5% spandex blend; and practice practice practice! If you have tried it a few times and succeeded, you will feel much more confident doing it on your finished piece.
Read to sew a beautiful round neckline? Okay, let's get started!
Depending on the instructions for the pattern you are using, the designer might have you sew just the shoulder seams before applying the neck binding, which in my opinion is the best method, as it allows you to open the entire garment flat and gain easy access to the neck.
If the pattern has you sew the sleeves and the side seams before the binding, note that most styles allow you to bind the neck without it interfering the rest, so feel free to work out of order, as long as it won't negatively impact the rest of the garment. For the first step pictured above, I have sewn the shoulder seams.
Perfectly fit knits will soon be yours!
Sew the short seam on the neck binding by folding the binding in half, right sides together, then stitching at the pattern's seam allowance. This will form a circle as pictured above.
Press the seam allowance from step two to one side. If using a conventional machine, press the seam allowance open flat. A sleeve board makes this task much easier, as pictured above.
Fold the neck binding in half, wrong sides facing. Line up the raw cut edges and press the binding in half, creating a center fold around the entire circle loop of fabric.
Open the garment so it is flat. Lay the neck opening right side up. Place the neck binding on top of the circle, right sides together. Line up the raw edges of the binding with the raw edge of the neck opening. Pin in place at each of the pattern's notches creating four anchor points. If the pattern has less than four notches, you will need to create them. Fold the neck opening in half to find the center back and center front.
Then place those spots together, and find the half way point between them. This will divide the neck opening into four equal segments. Note: typically the shoulder seams will not be a center point between the center front and center back, so do not use those seams in assumption. Repeat this folding with the binding and line up the four marked spots and pin as pictured above.
Once the binding is anchored in at least four spots around the neckline, the distance between each anchor should be pinned in place. The binding will usually be a little bit shorter than the opening, so the fabric would be slightly stretched when pinning in place. Be sure to evenly distribute this stretch between each anchor point.
Continue pinning the neck binding to the neck opening around the entire circle, making sure that the stretch is evenly distributed. If one area is stretched more, it will likely pucker and warp, so this step is fussy but important.
If you are sewing with a conventional machine, insert the neck onto the open arm of your machine and line up with the project's seam allowance. If using a serger or overlock machine, as pictured above, you will need to start at an angle to get into the seam with the stitches and the machine's blade. Be sure to remove the pins in that area so you do not sew into them, but only remove what you need to as it is holding the stretched binding in place evenly around the neck.
On a conventional machine, line up with your original stitches and backstitch. For a serger or overlock machine, you will meet up with your original stitches as pictured above. Your stitch will blend into the first stitches.
Once the stitches on the serger overlap cleanly at the seam allowance, quickly turn off the seam to end the stitch. This is something I suggest my students practice on a scrap first before sewing on their finished project.
The process of sewing on, overlapping, and exiting all in the round on a serger machine can be tricky since there is a knife involved, continually cutting the fabric, so do it a few times in order to feel comfortable before doing in on the real fabric.
For a serger or overlock machine, press the seam allowance away from the neckline, towards the garment. For a conventional machine, trim the seam allowance down to 1/4", then press in the same manner.
At this point, you can be done with your binding as it now looks as it does above. However, many people prefer to top stitch the seam allowance down, just outside of the stitching line from the binding. This is entirely optional and personal preference, but many patterns will call for this final step so you might want to consider it for a polished and professional look.
To top stitch the binding in place, make sure the seam allowance is very well pressed away from the neck opening toward the garment. If your knit is not staying in place on its own, pin the seam allowance in place before proceeding with this step.
For my top stitching pictured above, I use the inside of my foot to sew at a 1/4" line around the seam. This step can be sewn with either a straight stitch, a zigzag stitch, or a coverstitch if you have that option.
Give the binding area another good press with your iron after sewing the top stitching, then proceed with the rest of the project as written in the pattern's instructions.