How DO You Make Knit Tees Look RTW?

Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Your coverstitch hem stitching looks like Lombard Street in San Francisco. Your neckline served as an excellent crumb catcher at a cocktail party hosted by your husband’s new boss. What the H is the problem!?! Knits are fast and easy, right?

Sewing knit tops by Sew Maris

Yes. And no. In my opinion, the basic construction of a Tee is fast and easy. But your finishing details can spell Becky-Home-Ec-y in a heartbeat.

I made 3 Tees last night; two sleeveless tanks from Pamela’s Patterns Versatile Twinset, and a long-sleeved Tee using Pamela’s Perfect T-Shirt pattern. Both of these patterns are TNT for me, and I am very happy with the fit of my previous versions. BUT. A few have some not-so-perfect-for-me issues. Little things. The kind of things no one would notice. Except possibly some of my ASG sisters. (I’m looking at you, Helen! . 😉

Sewing knit tops by Sew Maris

This sleeveless tank is made from Birch Fabrics Twigs organic cotton interlock. I don’t sew with interlock that often, but this fabric was a dream to work with. Zero complaints about the fabric, and I think the tank sewed up really nicely. Rather than turning the neck and armhole edge under as Pamela suggests, I added a narrow band finish. The armhole to binding ratio was 1:1, and the binding to neckline ration was approximately 7:8. I think I might have cut the armhole binding a smidge shorter, but the neckline ratio turned out pretty close to perfect.

The conventional wisdom for neckline: binding ratios is somewhere between 7:8 and 3:4. So basically not much better than a guess, huh? I can’t offer perfect precision, but I can say there are a couple of factors to keep in mind when deciding which ratio to use.

  1. If your fabric has lycra (i.e. great recovery), then do not get that binding too short. WARNING: CHOKING HAZARD.
  2. If you are using baby rib or some other very, very stretch fabric, even 3:4 might result in a gappy crumb catcher neckline. (Ask me how I know 😉
  3. Basting the completed ribbing to the neckline is a great way to test your ratio without ripping serger stitches. Just sayin’.
  4. Experiment with binding widths. Look at RTW. Narrow is often used in RTW, but is tougher to do really well in a very stretchy rib.

Sewing knit tops by Sew Maris

This little pink number is made from a cotton baby rib, and is super soft and yummy. And I Just.Love.Petal.Pink! LOVE it!

I stuck with the same narrow armhole bindings as the organic cotton T, but I did make sure the binding was shorter than the armhole length. The neck binding? I put that sucker on 3 times! The first mistake was that even a 3:4 ratio is too big on a stretchy rib knit. And the narrow binding that looked great on the interlock looked weird on ribbing. Yes, I ripped out serger stitches. The second attempt I cut a shorter and wider binding, and also made sure to apply the binding so the join was in the center front instead of center back. GRRRRRR! Bad words were uttered, and I ripped out serger stitches a second time. Note to self: Do.Not.Sew.Late.At.Night. Thankfully, the third time was the charm. Wider band and less than even a 3:4 ratio made sure the neckline was not gappy.

Sewing knit tops by Sew Maris

I had enough of the pale pink ribbing to also make a long-sleeved Tee. I even managed to apply my lessons from the tank neckline to the Tee neckline, and it was right the first time. But you can be sure I checked where that seam join was before I started serging. Twice. 😉

I noticed something on a RTW Tee belonging to my granddaughter. The binding on the armholes is applied before the side seams are stitched up, and then the side seam is stitched down with a straight stitch on a regular sewing machine. This straight stitching is only about 1 inch long, and is right at the armhole so it doesn’t show at all. That 1 inch of stitching really neatens up the serged seam at the armhole edge, and keeps everything tucked into place. Super easy and effective RTW technique combined with an easier/faster armhole binding process. You’re welcome!

Sewing knit tops by Sew Maris

Now, shall we talk about hemming knits. Specifically, coverstitch hemming? Actually, that is a whole ‘nother post. Maybe a tute. Because I have lots to say about that process.

Happy sewing!



7 Responses to How DO You Make Knit Tees Look RTW?

  1. I do my bindings by feel. I learned it from the woman that owned the Famous Labels Fabric store by South Center. I leave long ends and start stitching about an inch or so from where I want to join the binding. I might stretch the binding a little more in places I want to hug. Once its right I join the ends and stitch the rest.

  2. Oh you make me laugh because I did the same stupid join at the front mistake on a dress a week or two ago, after having removed attempt number one! I tend to do binding in the flat, for the very reason of unpredictability in different knits…. But I like the rtw idea of not overlocking the entire seam to the edge….

    • Good thing no one was in the sewing studio when I discovered my “joining” error! It’s funny NOW, right? 😉

      There is definitely an unpredictability factor with knits, isn’t there? I always think of knit garments being so simple that I tend to sew on autopilot, instead of thinking potential problems through. This is my summer resolution: be a bit more intentional when sewing knits!

  3. Thanks, Maris. Your timing is perfect as always. I am going to work on some “T’s” this week and the reminder about binding is helpful. It got me to thinking about the learning opportunities I’ve had in the past.

  4. I do as Sally does, by feel. Each different fabric seems to send a message to the fingers, telling them how much to stretch.

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