In this article, I’m going to explain how to accomplish a perfect bound edge for a knit project. As I ventured out into teaching, I realized that most of the major pattern companies do not provide very reliable methods for this finishing technique. For the most part, if you have followed instructions in any of the big four (vogue, McCall, simplicity, butterick), you probably got a wonky mess and are not keen to try again anytime soon.
Let me tell you … It’s not you! It’s those bad instructions! Here’s the two common ones I see, and their associated uses (and non-uses)
- the double fold binding:
- method: fold a strip in half and sew 5/8″ seam. Trim, fold over and stitch down
- pros: fairly straightforward and strong when you manage to get it right
- cons: usually winds up bulky and distorted. Sometimes uneven if you don’t trim down precisely.
- when to use: I’ve never found a good use for this one
- the turn under and top stitch down:
- method: turn the edge under twice and top stitch down in a double row of stitching
- pros: this is very lightweight and fast to accomplish with a cover stitch. Works great for areas that do not need structural support
- cons: also prone to distortion and can result in stretched out necklines because the edges will not likely all be perpendicular (crosswise) to the grain.
- when to use: this is a great finish for armholes and hems
ok, so you’re thinking … “Ugh, that’s right! I screw up every neckline! I hate knits! I give up!”
NOT SO FAST! Hang in there, I’m gonna help you out of this frustration. Let’s first discuss WHY these are failing so that we can solve the problem FOREVER. The first reason that your neckline is likely stretching out is because of the amount of recovery and stability in the knit itself. A beefy knit (double knit, heavier jersey, ponte) is less likely to distort because it has more structure, but a sweater knit or lightweight ITY will stretch out and distort once you start stitching if you haven’t made pattern adjustments to account for the lack of recovery. This is where the edge binding method I’m about to explain is very useful. It can compensate for the lack of recovery and/or structure in just about any fabric.
Lets start with at few basic tips on machine setup and accessories.
- Thread: the thread doesn’t matter very much, as long as it’s not a heavy or bulky thread
- Needles: I almost always stick to Schmetz 70/10 stretch or Schmetz 70/10 microtex needles. The choice depends on the fabric, but I’ve had consistent results with both
- Feet: this depends on whether you have a dual feed model machine or not … If you have a dual feed machine I recommend a 1/4″ quilting foot and a stitch in the ditch foot. If you do not have a dual feed, a walking foot is an improvement, but not required
- Throat plate: a straight stitch plate will make a big difference. It will prevent the fabric from getting pulled under the plate and minimize spring action in the fabric
- Tension: sometimes I’ll do a few practice tests to determine if I need to adjust tension. I usually wind up relaxing the tension
- Stitch setting: a barely noticeable zig zag. This also helps with the tension and prevents stitches from breaking during wear
So now you’re all set up and ready to start! Let’s now make a few tweaks to our garment, cut a binding strip, and get it done!
- Cut your seam allowance on the edge you are binding to 1/4″. That means, if your original seam allowance is 5/8″, cut off 3/8″. I use a rotary cutter to stay precise.
- Measure your neckline at the desired finished edge. You’re going to cut a 1″ wide strip of this length, minus 1/2″, of the binding knit fabric. If your garment is a highly unstructured fabric, like a hatchi, then you should consider using a scrap of Lycra for the binding. If you are going with something with less recovery than Lycra, cut another 1″ off of the length of your binding strip
now we start assembly. First you need to decide if you want the binding to show on the right side or not. This method gives you the option to go either way (visible or invisible). My photos show a visible contrast band at the neckline. For visible, you will stitch the right side of the binding to the wrong side of the garment. For invisible, you will stitch right sides together.
Lets start sewing!
- with right sides together, sew the ends of the binding strip with a 1/4″ seam allowance
- pin the band to the edge, evenly distributing the ease. I usually anchor with four pins: center back, center front, and halfway between both on each side
- with the straight stitch plate and 1/4″ foot (if you have it), stitch all the way around
- (this is a little tricky to describe, please look at the photo) now, fold the binding around the seam, and then fold it over once more do that the seam you just stitched is at the edge
- carefully pin in place all the way around the edge
- change to a wide zig zag plate and stitch in the ditch/edge stitch foot. Adjust your needle two or three stops off center to catch the binding
- stitch all the way around using the edge of the pinned binding as a guide
- Using an iron and press cloth, steam and shrink out any ripples from the fished edge. Flatten it with a tailors clapper (if you have one)
- step back and admire your professional looking bound edge!