Tutorial – Narrow Knit Facing

From plain 'ol tee shirts to fancier tops, I make and wear a lot of knit tops. There are a many ways to finish the edge of the neckline, but one technique I return to over and over is a narrow exposed facing. It is so easy and foolproof and works well for most light to medium weight knits. It’s easier than sewing an actual knit binding, but on the outside it resembles exactly that. A beautiful top stitched binding.

Tee shirt with narrow exposed facing.

Tee shirt with narrow exposed facing.

What's a binding? What's a facing? What's the difference? Well, for starters, they are both edge finishing techniques. And in this example they resemble each other, at least on the out side of the garment.

A binding is an edge finish that uses a strip of fabric, typically cut on the bias for woven fabrics and on the cross grain for knits to enclose the raw edges. The seam allowance is removed from the neckline or other edge being finished with the binding strip. The finished width of the binding is the same as the seam allowances used in the application. For example, a 1/4 inch finished binding will be sewn with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. It is sewn on along the edge, wraps around the seam allowances enclosing them and is visible from both right and wrong sides of the garment.

A facing is an edge finish that is either shaped to fit, as in a scalloped hemline, or uses a strip of fabric, again bias for woven fabrics or cross grain for knits. A facing can be any width, narrow or wide or shaped. A facing will show on only one side of the garment. Typically they are pressed to the inside, but can be exposed on the right side, as in this technique, for decorative effect.

For the facing I did in this sample, I cut a crosswise strip of my knit fabric approximately 3 times the finished width of the facing. Here my strip is 1 inch wide; the fabric is a cotton lycra jersey.

"Walked" strip along neckline while stretching to figure out this was the needed length.

"Walked" strip along neckline while stretching to figure out this was the needed length.

To determine the length, I fold my neckline in half and take a rough measurement of the overall neckline length. Some will tell you to cut the facing strip 1 to 2 inches shorter than the neckline or will offer a percentage formula, something like “the band should be 85% of the neckline length. As with many sewing techniques, there aren’t really any hard and fast rules and here is where I generally follow my instincts. I’ve made enough lousy knit necklines, too tight and pucker-y or stretched out and droopy, to know that the length of the strip to use depends on the fabric. Stable knits will be need a strip that’s closer to the actual neckline measurement and super stretchy, flimsy or draped knits will need to be cut shorter. I start by cutting a strip either the actual length of the neckline or maybe 1 inch shorter, fold it in half lengthwise and walk it along my folded neckline stretching it the amount I think it will reasonably stretch without puckering too much around the curve. Then I chop off the extra, leaving roughly 1/4” seam allowance on each end. After doing this a couple of times, you will get the hang of it and guesstimate the right length most of the time.

I did not remove the seam allowance of the neckline nor did I stay stitch it. The seam allowance is needed for sewing a facing (unlike a binding, where the seam allowance is removed.) For this sample, the neckline seam allowance was 1/4”, a little bit less than 1/3 the width of my strip. The seam allowance needs to be slightly less than the width of your finished facing to allow for turning, but if it’s not, you can trim it down to size before stitching it on.

Pinned at quarter marks for stitching. Right side of facing towards wrong side of garment.

Pinned at quarter marks for stitching. Right side of facing towards wrong side of garment.

Next step is to sew the short ends together using that 1/4” seam allowance and a straight stitch. Press the seam allowance open. Then I mark the quarter points of the neckline opening and the quarter points of the facing strip. Placing the seam line of the strip at the center back, I match and pin the quarter points only, with the facing strip right side to wrong side of the garment neckline. Then, I am a bit sneaky and I move the front quarter of the strip backwards just a little maybe 1/2” or so. This is so that the front of the neckline facing will be stretched a bit more than the back as I attach it to the neckline. It will hug the front neckline better without any gaping.

Wrong side after stitching.

Wrong side after stitching.

Right side after stitching.

Right side after stitching.

I stitch it on using a medium length straight stitch or the narrowest of zig-zag stitches (1mm). The key to a nice, smooth not-stretched-out neckline is to only stretch the facing strip to fit the neckline WITHOUT stretching the garment neckline at all while you sew. It’s easier than it sounds. Just take your time and you’ll be fine. The whole thing should look a little gathered when you finish stitching. But only a little bit gathered, not a lot of tight gathers. Go back to the ironing board and give it a good press with steam. First as you’ve stitched it and then turning the facing away from the neckline. If you have a clapper, now is a good time to use it.

Pressing seam allowances towards facing after stitching. Right side of garment is up.

Pressing seam allowances towards facing after stitching. Right side of garment is up.

If you are worried that your strip is too long or too short, baste instead of stitching first. Give it a press and see what you think. If it’s OK, stitch it on again but using a regular stitch length.

A bit of trimming to the center back seam allowances will help the facing turn, wrap and lie flat.

A bit of trimming to the center back seam allowances will help the facing turn, wrap and lie flat.

At this point, I will often trim the seam allowances of the short ends of the strip, angling them a bit so they will stay out of the way when I turn the facing in. I do NOT trim the seam allowances of the facing or the neckline edge. Leaving the seam allowances intact gives me something under which to fold and tuck the facing edge.

Pressing the facing and seam allowances towards the right side.

Pressing the facing and seam allowances towards the right side.

Next step, still with the iron handy, is to turn the facing over the seam allowances to the outside and press with steam. In the photo I pulled it little extra to the front showing the seam line. This is to show that the entire facing is on the outside of the garment. Only the final stitching line will show on the inside.

Unfinished edge of facing strip gets turned under seam allowances on right side of garment.

Unfinished edge of facing strip gets turned under seam allowances on right side of garment.

Lots of pins, most of which are removed once the facing is pressed in place for stitching.

Lots of pins, most of which are removed once the facing is pressed in place for stitching.

Final step before heading back to the machine is to turn under the raw edge of the facing strip, tucking it under the seam allowances and creating a nice even facing on the right side of the garment. At this point I may use a lot of pins, at least until I have it really well pressed and ready to stitch, at which point I tend to remove most of the pins just to get them out of the way.

Edge stitching foot helps keep top stitching even along facing edge.

Edge stitching foot helps keep top stitching even along facing edge.

For the final top stitching, I lengthen my stitch length to at least 3mm. I use one of my favorite and often used presser feet, the edge stitch foot and top stitch a few millimeters away from the turned under edge. Then I give it a final press and there it is, an exposed narrow facing that looks like a binding. Ta da!

Final finished neckline!

Final finished neckline!