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how do I finish armhole on knit tank top

blingy | Posted in General Sewing Info on

After trying for a couple of years to get a pattern for  knit or woven tank top to fit I finally just traced a top I bought from K-Mart and I used that as my pattern for a knit tank top.  In doing so I have no instructions and I don’t have enough experience to know how to finish the neckline and armholes.  I tried putting bias strips made from the same fabric as the top itself, a light weight cotton interlock, but it was disaster.  Should I turn under the raw edges and stitch?  I can see the edge stretching out of shape now.  I tried a Kwik-Sew pattern once that called for facings.  Not only was a top an extremely poor fit but the facings just kept flopping out, not like a woven facing that has interfacing to give it some body.  How do the commerical garment makers put that little bit of bias on so nicely?  Please help, I am wasting a lot of nice knit fabric trying to make a $5.00 top!


  1. rekha | | #1

    You first need to staystitch the armscye and neckline.

    I would still use the bias strip as you did but it needs to be much shorter depending on the stretchability of the fabric.

    It's difficult to describe the whole technique but have a look at Marcy's techniques; they are well-illustrated.



    1. MaryinColorado | | #6

      Great resources!  Thanks "sew" much!  Mary

      1. User avater
        blingy | | #7

        Thanks to all who answered my question.  Sewelegant, the way you described is the way I have been trying.  I was not sure if it was the method or my lack of experience that was causing the problem and now I think it is my lack of experience.  To clarify, I am using bias strips made from a fairly stretchy interlock, the strips are the same fabric as the body.  I think I went wrong by not pinning after sewing the strips to the body.  Good advice!  Also, the tip about stay stitching the armholes first, another good idea I didn't think of.  I wiill give it another go with these tips in mind and I know someday I will get it!  Thanks.

        1. Crazy K | | #8

          If your fabric is very stretchy, perhaps the bias is causing your problem?????  I've had better luck cutting the self-fabric the same as I would ribbing.......just making it a smidge longer if the stretch isn't equal to ribbing.  You want it to hug, not droop.


          1. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #11

            Blingy, I agree with Kay. Cutting your binding across the width of the knits usually works best. Check for the direction with the most stretch, lengthwise or crosswise and cut your strips that way. Check the strips by pulling a sample to see how much stretch the strip has. If there is a lot of stretch, Cut the strips about 1/4 to 1/3 shorter than the neckline or armhole that is being bound. Then sew them in. I only cut bias strips on a knit that has stripes if I want to have the effect of the diagonal stripes on the neck binding. Or if it is a stable knit that has little or no stretch. Then I usually use another method or fabric for finishing the edges. Cathy

          2. User avater
            blingy | | #12

            Crazy K, can you please tell me more about what you meant by it hugging and not drooping?  Another thing I saw after I put the bias strips on is that the bottom of the armhole droopd over to the outside of the garment.  It was like the bias strips were too heavy to hold upright.  And in reading about bias V strips cut with the stretch, again I am wondering, "What was I thinking?"  I have made more Kwik-Sew tops than anyone and I know the ribbing was not bias cut!  I guess sometimes I can't see the forrest for the trees.  Thanks again everyone.

          3. Crazy K | | #13

            When I do binding of self-fabric, I go by the pattern or if no instructions are available for self-fabric, use the ribbing length and lengthen it a bit.  I know that's not a precise guide but you have to kind of judge by the amount of stretch in your fabric.  What I meant by 'hugging' not 'drooping' is that your binding just be short enough to have to stretch it slightly to fit the armhole.........just like when you attach neck binding.  Does this make sense?  Since your's is drooping at the bottom of the armhole, I would have to say, you have too much fabric in there,  If you take it off, shorten it and re-attach, it should be better..........or even take a piece of fabric cut crossgrain so the stretch goes around the opening......and try that.  See what works.  I look at sewing as 'work in progress'...........not a precise science......especially with knits which can vary so my in dregree of stretch.  

            On one of Sandra Betzina's shows she dealt with attaching self-binding and gave a guide for measuring length of binding to fit the opening...........can't remember what that is now but if you have access to any of her books, it might address it in there. 

            Hope this helps.........if not, ask more, I'll try to explain.  I'm not an expert sewist but I have worked with lots of knits since they became available back in the 70's and now even more later since the 90's with all the grandkids!


        2. sewelegant | | #9

          I think you are right about practise makes perfect.  I have done little practise pieces on extra fabric to see how much I need to stretch the bias to get the effect I want and pinning always helps to keep things in place until you get there!

  2. Crazy K | | #2

    If you're using a knit with any amount of stretch, you shouldn't need to do the strips in bias.  I have made such tops quite successfully using either ribbing or self-fabric on the straight of grain..........lengthwise with the greatest amount of stretch running around the neck/arm hole.  I'm sure this is as clear as mud but it's worked for me!


  3. starzoe | | #3

    The first site that Rekha pointed to is an excellent one, ever since it was published I use that technique almost exclusively. It tells you all you need to know for a perfect t-shirt.

  4. sewelegant | | #4

    I agree with what the others have said wholeheartedly.  It pained me when the manufacturers started not producing all the colorful stretchy bindings for knit tops but I did buy Marcy Tilton's book and have nothing but praise for it.  Self binding works as well as the manufactured variety especially if it is a stretchy knit (and it goes better with your garment!)  If your knit fabric is not very stretchy I would recommend cutting the strip on the bias... it will apply better. 

    For kids tees (and my own for that matter) I cut my bias strip 2" wide and use the 3/8" width of my regular foot (I have a Bernina) as a guide and sew the binding to the edge pulling the binding just slightly so it will cause the edge to slant toward the body when finished.  I don't usually staystich first, but it would be a good idea so as not to stretch the body of the garment as you sew.  Next, fold the binding over the seam allowance and to the back; pin it in place and stitch in the ditch from the front.  (you could press first, it would probably help to make things neater, but I usually do not.)  I like to start from the middle of the back and leave a tail so I can make a bias joining at the end before finishing, but I will not describe this.  You can start at one of the shoulder seams before sewing that shoulder seam and that would be an acceptable finish.  Start at the armhole seam for the armhole.

    After stitching in the ditch, I will just cut the binding off close to the stitching.  It has never been a problem for me with knits, now making a silkie tee would be another story.

    I am editing this because of the width I mentioned I sew the binding on... 3/8".  The width you need to make your is the width of your planned seam allowance.  I like the look of the narrower binding.

    Edited 7/22/2008 2:25 pm by sewelegant

    Edited 7/22/2008 2:29 pm by sewelegant

    1. rekha | | #5

          ... Marcy Tilton's book and have nothing but praise for it...

      I wanted to suggest it but thought the lady wanted immediate solution to her problem.

      Yes Marcy Tilton for knits/stretch work is a good reference.

  5. DONNAKAYE | | #10

    I love Marcy Tilton's book as well.  It may be helpful to note that Marcy has a great technique for figuring out exactly how long to make the binding.

    By the way, all garments should be staystitched directionally prior to any stitching.  If you need more info on this, I will do a forum search and direct you to some old postings......donna kaye

  6. DONNAKAYE | | #14

    Connie Long has a technique for figuring out exactly how long your binding should be for the opening.  I have modified the technique somewhat to come up with a foolproof solution in my sewing room.  I hope it works for you too.

    Divide the neckline (or armhole) in half, then in half again.  Mark the location of the four quarters with a pin or clip at each mark.  Walk a tape measure around one of the quarters to get 1/4 of the neckline.

    Using a piece of the actual fashion fabric being used for the garment (or the neckline quarter itself), and on the CROSSWISE GRAIN of the fashion fabric, place two pins the width apart of the quarter measure.  For example, if the neckline is 28 total length at the stitching line, then the quarter would be 7 inches; place the pins 7 inches apart on the crosswise grain.  Lay a yardstick or quilting rule (some fixed ruler as opposed to a tape measure, which are notoriously inaccurate) with the zero at one pin and the 7-inch mark on the ruler at the other pin.  Holding the pin securely to the cutting unit at the zero-inch, with your other hand stretch the fabric out past the 7-inch mark.  See how much total stretch you can get and measure that.  For example, you may be able to stretch out 1/2-inch further (for a total measurement for the quarter being 7-1/2 inches).

    If you want the binding to hug the neckline securely, with no falling out away from the body, you will REVERSE the measurements now.  What I mean by that is, make the binding 1/2 inch smaller per quarter than the neckline.  In the example given above, the binding will be cut 2 inches smaller than the neckline (don't forget to add seam allowances).

    When you cut the binding, don't stretch it.  Just cut the binding flat on the table at its natural position.

    Does this make sense?  I know it seems like it logically won't work, but it works every time for me.  Always test this process on a sample neckline in your fashion and binding fabric first.  It's worth the extra effort.

    For neckline bindings on wovens, I cut the bias fashion fabric binding the exact same length as the neckline seam, so I don't use the technique for wovens, only for knits (I think this is obvious, but I wanted to say it anyway).


    1. Crazy K | | #15

      Thank you for saying what I couldn't!!!  That's exactly what was in my head but by the time it got to my fingers, it came out differently.........well, not really different, just not precise.  Thank you for the formula which I had forgotten.  I will print your post and pin it to my peg board.


      1. Susan -homedecsewing | | #16

        don't know if this would work , but I often alter sundresses, and have simply serged the arm hole, turned under 1/4 inch and topstitched all around. Quick and easy, done.

        1. Crazy K | | #17

          I have used that method on many occasions as well.........but on some things a binding gives a more finished look..............mostly personal preference and also the type of pattern being used.  It does work better on some than others.


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