How to Sew Knit Neckbands, Sleeves, and Hems

Knit Neckbands, Sleeves, and Hems Main Image

This post is a featured lesson in our free ebook, Beginner's Guide to Sewing Knit Apparel. Download it for free here!

In this lesson, we’re going to be covering how to sew a few things that many new knit sewists have a hard time with. Namely, neckbands, sleeves, and hems. These three items are asked about over and over again in the many sewing groups I’m a part of on Facebook. Which is totally understandable because without a good visual they can be tricky your first time or two. I can literally see in my mind’s eye myself trying to attach my first sleeves and I was so confused. “But this curve goes this way and that curve goes the complete opposite direction!” What the what?? But if any of these are making you crazy, have no fear! You can totally do this.

How to Sew Neckbands

Sewing neckbands is less of a trick of technique and more of a trick of precision. Making sure that your three pieces of fabric (the folded over neckband and shirt neckline) are flush with one another, is really the only thing necessary to making a neckband even. I debated on whether to make a picture tutorial for this for the ebook version of this course, but I really do feel like video does a better job illustrating the process. 

How to Modify Your Neckline

I am very picky about my necklines. I really only like three different styles at very specific heights. Yes I know…I’m a neckline snob. But that’s the super awesome part about sewing your own clothes!

Neckline hem modified.

You can make your necklines (or anything else) exactly how you want. In the picture above I have modified the neckline on my dolman style t-shirt.

Modifying your neckline is covered in the video on the previous page, but if you didn’t catch it, you’re going to go about it like this.

First, you’re going to cut the neckline on your front bodice piece however you want it. After you have constructed the main shirt pieces (the front and back bodice pieces and sleeves), you’re going to measure around the neckline of your shirt with a fabric tape measure. Then you are going to take that length and calculate 85% of it using this formula:


From this point you’re going to grab your neckband fabric and cut it like so:

New construction image

 TIPS FROM THE PROS: Jennifer Getter, from Stitch Upon A Time, recommends closer to an 89-90% calculation of the neckline length when measuring a custom neckband. I always use extremely stretchy fabrics for my neckbands so 85% has worked for me. However, I am in complete agreement with using the higher percentage if you are using a fabric that doesn’t have a lot of stretch or if it has a very firm stretch.


Sleeves image

Attaching your sleeves is really only going to confuse you the first time or two you do it. If you’ve cut your first shirt pattern out you probably laid out your sleeve next to your armscye and thought “How the heck do I sew these two pieces together?”. Once again, it just takes a little video visualization. Click on the image below to watch the video!


TIP:  There’s lots of pinning going on here. Please be so careful not to serge over your pins! Hitting a pin can break your serger knife.

Hemming Image


Hemming is a pretty straightforward process: If you’ll be hemming with a sewing machine, start by either serging your raw edge or finishing the edge with a zigzag stitch. Then, you’ll be checking your pattern to see how thick you’ll want your hem to be. Next, you’ll fold over the bottom of your garment and press, press, press!

As you press along, you’ll be pinning your hem down as frequently as you feel comfortable with. With looser knits you’ll need to pin more frequently because they won’t hold the crease as well as the more heavy-weight, stable knits. Then you’ll just be turning your garment right side out and top stitching with a good stretch stitch on your sewing or coverstitch machine.

Ironing Hemming

Penning and Hemming

Specific to Curved Hems

Curved hems are known for driving people bonkers because their curve makes it harder to keep even. There is no trick to doing curved hems other than using a lot of patience and a lot of pins. Some of my curved hems will have a pin every inch and a half. Use tons of steam, go slow, and have a good episode of Friends playing in the background. 

Curved Hems

Just, look at all these pins on my losey, goosey curved hem!

Adrianna Appl


Remember that pressing and ironing are two very different things! Whether you’re sewing with knit or woven, make sure you’re actually pressing the garment and not moving it back and forth as you would when ironing. Ironing can distort and stretch out your fabric and that’s never a good thing.

Also, my favorite secret hemming tool is a metal hem press gauge from Dritz. I got mine at my local Joanns (save your coupon!) It comes marked with measurements on all sides to help you turn up your hems the perfect amount.

– Adrianna Appl, Hey June Handmade Patterns

Troubleshooting Common Hemming Issues

With some looser and lighter knits, you may find your sewing machine trying to munch up your fabric. In this case, I would highly recommend doing one of three things.

A Walking Foot

My favorite option is to get yourself a walking foot. I talk about walking feet a ton in our tutorial, What is a Walking Foot and How to Use One. If you haven’t read that tutorial, suffice it to say that a walking foot will help move your fabric along over the sewing plate without it getting sucked under.

Tissue Paper

Another option is to just start your hem by sewing over a small piece of tissue paper at the beginning. Usually, you’re most at risk of a fabric-munching at the beginning of your stitches. So a piece of tissue paper a few inches long underneath your first stitches will help stabilize it until your machine gains some traction.

Hemming Tape

The last option I recommend is wash-away hemming tape. Wash-away hemming tape is ironed inside the fold of your hem and then washes away in the washing machine (with warm enough water). The benefits of hemming tape are that you really do get a beautifully even hem, and it stabilizes your knit fabric so that it doesn’t get sucked under.

The reason why I’m not a fan of hemming tape is because it’s more time ironing it onto my hem and in some cases, it doesn’t wash away completely and can leave the hem of my garment stiff. It’s also another added cost to my sewing projects which I’m not that big of a fan of.

But there are tons of ladies that swear by it and use it for every single project so just try it out if you think you could use it and see how you like it.

Back to blog