Sewing a Finished Edge Rib Band to a Sweater Neckline

The most difficult part of sewing a sweater is probably the neckline. Not only is it challenging to get the band to lie flat (who wants a floppy neckband?), but it’s also the area that people see first since it’s near the face and frames the neck. To make things more complicated, it’s often hard to find ribs that match and are suitable for creating a professional looking neckband.

A complimentary fabric can always be used, as with the sweater pictured above. One of my favorite tricks when I don’t have matching ribbing is to use the opposite side of the self fabric as trim (self fabric = same fabric as used in the main part of the garment). Sometimes, if the sweater fabric is ribbed, I’ll rotate the self fabric by 90° for a different look, as I did with the Westerly sweater below.

If you've visited the shop recently or read my previous post, you know that I now carry dyed cotton sweater knit fabrics with matching rib bands. And I still have available a wonderfully, soft 2x2 100% cotton rib fabric that matches many of my natural cotton sweater knits. What’s different, and I think pretty cool, about rib bands is that one edge is finished. This means you don’t have to fold it before attaching it to the sweater.

There are a few reasons why you may want to use a rib band with a finished edge rather than making your own trim. If you’re working with a medium to heavyweight sweater knit, folded fabric trim constructed from yardage could add unwanted bulk around the neck, cuffs, or hem. True a finished edge rib band limits the possible width of the band; but the finished rib band has a more traditional look, is easier to use, and gives a neater finish.

In the video below compiled from last Saturday's Instagram Stories #OnSaturdaysWeSewSweaters, I demonstrate how to attach a finished edge rib band to a sweater neckline.

Other Resources


The Cobblestone Sweater Knit Story

Ever think about how a fabric goes from design idea to actual fabric? Sometimes the path is straight and smooth, and sometimes it's long and bumpy with a few extra turns. Most garment fabrics are made by much larger manufacturers and take a somewhat different route than mine do. Here's the story of my newest Cobblestone sweater knit fabric in pictures.


No pretty mood boards here, just inspiration from somewhat disparate sources. From the top going clockwise: one of my personal swatch/design books; Passap knitting machine stitch book Duomatic 80, Duomatic S; cobblestone image found online; page from Big Book of Knitting Stitch Patterns (The original author of this book of hand knitting isn't listed, but it was translated from Italian by Deborah Folaron and Cosimo Calabro.)


Next it's time to get to my vintage Passap knitting machine and do some knitting.

Below are two sides of one swatch where I'm testing yarns and a stitch variations. I originally machine knitted this in mustard colored wool. The final stitch pattern alternates the width of the vertical design element. I eventually worked up the pattern in a wonderfully soft, long staple cotton.

Fun fact: I originally posted pictures of this early swatch on Instagram asking "Heads or tails? Which would you use as the public side? Just curious." Tails won, 11 to 9.


After discussing the project with the people at the family-owned knitting mill I like to work with, I generate and email them the documentation for the fabric. I also snail mail a physical swatch to the mill.


Next I make arrangements with the yarn supplier of the gorgeous, dyed Supima cotton yarns to have my yarn order shipped to the knitting mill. The mill takes delivery of the yarn and sets up my job on a Stoll industrial knitting machine. (With luck and good timing, set up begins right away. Otherwise I need to wait for a machine.) When setup is complete, I get a phone call. The next day I'm able to travel to the mill to inspect the first fabric that comes off the machine and give my approval. This is one of the great advantages of working with a mill that's within commuting distance.

At Last -- Fabric!

This time the entire process has taken a few months. Sometimes it takes just a few weeks, but in the end -- sweater knit fabric!

I'm very please to introduce Cobblestone sweater knit, the first dyed cotton fabric that I've carried in the shop, currently available in three colors, cornflower blue, deep gray, and true black. Cobblestone (like 98% percent of the fabric I've carried in the shop from the beginning) is an exclusive. And now with matching rib bands, too! Each band has a finished bottom edge for neckband, hem band, or cuff.

More info at the shop.


Seam Allowances on Sewing Patterns: Yea or Nay?

Do you prefer sewing patterns with seam allowances or patterns without? I love reading the various discussions about this and seeing how strongly some sewists defend their positions. (ETA After I posted this on Instagram, I received some good answers in the comments. You can read them here.) I have strong opinions about seam allowances, too. Which side of the debate am I on? Well, both actually... so maybe this means my opinions are not that strong. They are clear, however, and I can tell you exactly why sometimes I work with a pattern that has seam allowances included and sometimes I don’t.

For context, I mainly use patterns that I draft myself based on my body block (which I also drafted). I don't consider myself a pattern maker, but I’ve had enough pattern making and draping classes and experience to draft basic knit patterns for myself or from specifications. I do, however, often test commercial patterns to see how my fabrics work with them.

The Case Against Included Seam Allowances

People ask “why would you go through the bother of using a pattern without seam allowances when you’re just going to have to add them later?” My answer is that there are so many things you can do before you add them!

If I have any question whatsoever about whether a pattern will work with a particular fabric, I trace the pattern (with thread or chalk) onto the fabric without a seam allowance and then estimate my seam allowances while cutting. This gives me wiggle room to fix fit problems.

For example, if I’m unsure of fit in a certain area, I’ll cut the seam allowance a little wider. My back, for instance, is relatively wide. If the fabric I’m using isn’t the stretchiest, I’ll sloppy cut my back armholes with a slightly wider seam allowance so I have enough fabric to play with if I need to go back in there add more width after sewing. It’s “quick and dirty” insurance, in case things seem too tight later. This all works easily, so long as the original sewing lines are marked clearly. Once I’m happy with the seam placement (and the fit), my final seam allowance will be determined by the seam finish, depending on the type of sweater knit and style.

Another advantage is that paper pattern adjustments are quick and easy to figure out if those darn seam allowances are out of the way. When using a commercial pattern, seam allowances need to be removed before adjustments are made anyway, so starting with a pattern that doesn’t have them saves a step.

I don’t sew mockups when working with sweater knits, since at this point I'm comfortable and familiar with the way many knits behave. They're generally very forgiving, though they all act a little differently. Even when a commercial pattern size is selected correctly, working with an inexpensive knit fabric to test the fit can be a waste of time. It’s extremely difficult to judge fit when using a knit that’s different from the one you’ll use in your garment -- sometimes you get a bad surprise! However you do need to make sure the pattern is close to fitting you before you cut into the “good” fabric.

Choosing the right pattern company helps. Some people find a particular company’s patterns more closely match their shape. If you’re lucky enough to find such a pattern company, it will usually decrease the number of pattern adjustments required. Sometimes, however, significant adjustments are still needed. In my upcoming online class How to Cut and Sew a Sweater I help people choose the best pattern size for a starting point. We then adjust the sewing pattern based on actual body measurements, the stretch of the particular fabric, and ease (as needed). Initial adjustments are done on the paper pattern, as many as necessary, before cutting the fabric. Seam allowances are then left wide enough for any secondary adjustments.

The Case for Included Seam Allowances

When ready-to-wear, cut and sew sweaters are made, the final pattern includes the seam allowances. If I were using a tried ‘n true pattern with a tried ‘n true fabric, no question, I want my seam allowances on that pattern! If I'm making a quick sweater, perhaps one that's decidedly slouchy or oversized, that I’m going to whip up on the serger, I want a seam allowance there as well. Basically, when I know there are no adjustments that need to be made, seam allowances on the paper pattern increase speed and accuracy.

Now remember, I’m talking strictly about sweater knits and maybe a few other types of knits. I probably would not be so carefree with a woven fabric. I said “probably”. Honestly, I don’t know, since I haven’t sewn any non-knit garments for several years now!

Commercial Sewing Patterns Without Seam Allowances

If you care to explore sewing patterns that don't include seam allowances, below are a few pattern companies outside the United States that publish such patterns. (I'm pretty sure all US based companies include seam allowances.) If you're going to sew a sweater, be sure the pattern is designed for knits.

  • BurdaStyle (Downloads and magazine patterns only. Burda patterns sold in envelopes to the US market have included seam allowances.)
  • Ottobre
  • Neue Mode
  • La Mia Boutique (In Italian, but my browser offered to translate it for me.)