Sewing 201: Knit Binding Tutorial
It’s been ages since we’ve had a Sewing 201 post, hasn’t it? Well I’ve been sewing lots of knit binding on little knit tee shirts and dresses lately so I thought I’d show my process.
You can sew knit binding if your pattern calls for it, or as a substitute for facing or a typical ribbed neckline. If you are substituting it for a different edge finish, trim away the seam allowance.
This is a process that you can adjust according to your personal taste, the fabric you are working with, and how your sewing machine performs.
You can make a knit binding out of rib knit (like the photos above) or stretch jersey (like the photo at the very top). If you use jersey, make sure it has a bit of spandex in it. 100% cotton jersey won’t give satisfactory results. You can get away with 100% cotton rib knit, but I still prefer to use rib knits with a small amount of spandex for recovery.
One general rule of thumb is to cut your length of binding 80% of the length needed. You could refer to your pattern or measure the edge to be bound. Or you could just cut a strip of binding longer than you’ll need and cut the extra off (what I do.)
I like to cut my binding 1.5” wide (or tall). So smooth your fabric out on your cutting board, trim off the edge if it is uneven, and cut a strip 1.5” tall. Make sure the strip is cut along the direction of stretch. Not parallel to the selvage.
Bind your sleeve edges before you sew them to the top or dress. Place the right side of the binding against the right side of the sleeve edge. You can see my long strip of binding… this will be enough for both sleeves and the neckline.
This is the part that I think most people are afraid of, but with a little practice you’ll be a pro. It’s very forgiving anyway.
The key is that your binding must be stretched a little bit, but the sleeve (or neckline) must feed evenly through your machine. So careful not to stretch the bottom layer. At the same time gently pull on the binding. You’ll get a feel for how much to pull on it. If you pull hard, the edge will gather. If you don’t pull enough, it will be wavy.
Just pull a ‘comfortable’ amount. I know that sounds vague, but when you try it you will know what I mean. And like I said, it is very forgiving. After 2 tee shirts, you will be a pro!
So stitch the binding to the edge with a 3/8” seam allowance and backstitch.
Cut off the extra binding. See, you used just the amount you needed with no waste! I like this method because different binding fabrics have varying degrees of stretch and I’d rather depend on ‘feel’ than how much binding the pattern says I need.
Now wrap the binding around to the wrong side of the sleeve or neckline.
You can pin the binding around the edge if you want, but I don’t think it’s necessary.
The trick for this last step is to gently stretch all of the layers so they feed smoothly. This will also make the binding a tiny bit stretchy so the threads won’t break when the sleeve or neckline stretches.
I like to edgestitch on top of the binding about 1/8” from the edge. You could ‘stitch in the ditch’ right in the seam, but when I do that I mess up more often, not catching the binding on the back. Neatly stitching on top of the binding works best for me. 🙂
For children’s clothes I use a narrow zig zag stitch to further prevent thread breakage. I set my stitch width to 1 and length to 3. You can easily see that in the baby top cuff in the top picture of this post.
Tip: Cotton thread has no stretch so I never use it when I sew knits. I always use polyester. Use a ball-point needle too – sharp needles pierce holes in knit fabrics.
Done! This is the cuff edge of a long sleeve tee shirt for my son Connor. Just trim the extra binding away and you are ready to sew the sleeve in.
If my binding is a different color than my shirt then I’ll often sew on both the sleeve and neckline binding first (sew one shoulder seam, and then sew on neckline binding before sewing the other shoulder seam). Once my binding is done I can put the other color of thread in and not have to switch back and forth.
Here I am using a stretch jersey for a binding. Stretching just a little bit.
This is a little baby tee I made my niece Libby. It has ribbed binding all over it. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll bind everything!
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Thank you!! I’ve always feared knits. Even sewing for 40 years LOL
This is the first tutorial that’s actually worked for me! Thanks for sharing, I can finally tackle jersey/knits woohoo!
Finding a source for ribbing is difficult at least for me in the Pacific Northwest. Joann only has basic neutrals and red. Hancock says their company never sends them any anymore. Pacific Fabrics, almost an hour away, indicated by phone they have some. Do you have a source online or other recommendations?
You can use anything with stretch. Cotton/lycra jersey is a great option. Check Facebook for custom fabric groups. It can get a bit overwhelming, but the choices are much better than what you find in B&M stores. Opulent Monsters is my personal favorite. 😉
Great tutorial, thanks so very much! Can’t wait to try your way of binding. I’ve been searching "binding" online for days to try to make my bindings better. Pattern instructions always make me sew the binding’s ends together, THEN pin the 4 sides, pin to garment, etc and I’m having a very difficult time making them look right. I love how you sew it on before sewing the seams – going to try your way and I have a feeling my bindings will come out much better!
Wonderful article! I’ve always done it a different way, but I much prefer the look like this. Just a question: when you fold the binding around to the inside to sew it down, do you just leave the raw edge visible, or is there some trick to folding it under? Thanks so much! 🙂 Lisa
I buy tank tops at garage sales or thrift stores and cut them as needed for binding! Some have more stretch than others but the color choices are awesome!
Thank you!! I’ve been trying to do it like wovens and, well, ahhhhh!! I’m SO excited to try it this way!!
Marvelously! Thank you sooo so much 🙂 It’s nice that someone mentioned about this little, but immportant thing.
Great tutorial. thanks so much. You always have such great info to offer.
When I had the Husqvarna I did a lot of binding like this but now I have a Janome and do find it difficult at the very beginning of the stitching. I also have to use a walking foot for stretch fabric, and the width of the foot makes starting difficult .. I will keep trying though. But sometimes I miss my husky.
I didn’t buy a sewing machine for years under the mistaken assumption that only woven fabric would work with it.
I’m a millennial. We don’t do woven anything.
BUt this year i became obsessed with stretch velvet. I researched and found you can sew anything on a sewing machine with the right foot, yarn, and stitch.
My first project was a stretch velvet swimsuit. IT came out perfectly. At this point I’ve tailored everything in my closet. Sewing really needs to make a public service announcement about this. No more pricey store bought yoga pants for me!
What I always do when I sew on a knit binding or put elastic braid on the edge of a garment is I fold the binding or elastic in half and mark that place then fold and find each half of them both and mark the quarter places. I do the same thing on the garment edges. Then I pin the braid or elastic to the garment matching the halfway and quarter places before I sew them together. I have an easier time stretching the binding or elastic to the garment when I only need to stretch them a sort distance, one quarter of the total length four times.
I do a lot of binding, although I have a commercial coverstitch machine. Sometimes I use bought lycra binding but often I just cut 1 1/2" strips from knits Leslie Discovery Trekking Performance Fabrics
I just finished reading your post on sewing stretchy fabrics, it gave me a lot of great information but I’m wanting to know if do you have a tutorial that explains selling with knit fabric from cutting them all the way to finishing up I’ve got lots of pretty knit fabrics that I’ve tried to cut they slip and slide all over the place and I can’t wait to use them especially with Summer on the way