The Details: Folded neckband

DETAILS: How to knit a folded neckband

Any time I make anything, I make a lot of decisions along the way — some of them quite minute. The more I knit, the more comfortable I am with the basic functions of knitting, the more attention I find myself paying to little tiny tweaks or details or finishing tricks. I revel in making things as polished as possible, including on the inside. (Even though I often unapologetically leave ends hanging around inside!) I try to share as much of my thinking as I can because you never know which little detail might be exactly the thing someone was wanting to know or didn’t even know to wonder about — I always appreciate that in reading about people’s projects. But it means I wind up trying to pack too many thoughts into every FO post, and a lot gets left out. So I’m starting a new series called The Details, and my aim is to pull out (at least) one little detail per project to focus on in its own space.

I’m starting with the neckband on my fisherman sweater — or more specifically, the spot where the fold meets the pick-up ridge. This folded neckband was a little controversial in the comments the other day, but I am a big fan of a folded neckband. To me, it gives even (or especially) a simple pullover a really nice polish. It’s quite common and popular right now, but if you combine a slightly higher neckline with a folded band, it does have a bit of a retro look. This sweater comes by its retro neckband naturally — it’s a 1967 pattern — but I’ve done folded bands on my last 4 pullovers: fisherman, yoke sweater, b/w striped sweater and the purple Improv sample. It’s one of those choices you’re always free to make — if a pattern has a folded band and you hate it, don’t do it; if it has a plain band and you prefer it folded, go for it.

Over these four sweaters, I’ve been playing around with different techniques for accomplishing the same task. A folded band is just a band that’s twice the width of the plain band, folded in half and stitched down to the inside of the garment. (Although some patterns will have you knit the dead-center row on a larger needle, but I find it unnecessary.) It’s best knitted from picked-up stitches, so you have that pick-up ridge to sew it to, but beyond that there are options. Technically, you can do whatever you want, as long as you’re careful to retain some elasticity where you’re sewing the two together. (Just like binding off too tightly on a plain band can make it difficult to get over your head, you have to be careful not to stitch a folded band down so tightly that the neck hole has no give.)

Some patterns call for you to bind off all of your stitches “in pattern” and then sew the bind-off edge to the inside. Other patterns will have you knit to the intended depth and then sew through the live stitches. That saves the step of binding off, but it means if you do make it a little too tight and the seam strand breaks when you pull it over head at any point, you’ve got live stitches on the loose. So I prefer to bind off all of the stitches, but you do need to do it verrrrry loosely so there’s plenty of stretch. I work the bind-off round (and sometimes even the round before that) on a needle 2 or 3 sizes up from my ribbing needle, and then use a separate strand of yarn for the seaming. The nice thing about sewing it down is the ribbing acts as a perfect guide — make sure you’re folding each rib down onto its own back side, and everything will be perfectly aligned all the way around.

But there’s the question of how you’re binding off and how exactly you’re joining the two edges. With this fisherman sweater, I found my absolute favorite mix of all the methods I’ve experimented with. I worked the bind-off row (on a size US8 needle after working the ribbing on US6) all as knit stitches, rather than in pattern, which leaves a visible chain along the edge of your ribbing. I love the way that bind-off edge looks when laid down next to the pick-up ridge — it’s like having a lovely bit of braid overlaying a join. To keep the neatness, I joined them together by running my tapestry needle down through the bottom leg of the stitch on top and the top leg of the stitch on bottom (the adjacent legs from each edge, in other words), pulling the yarn snug but not tight, then up through the next stitch and the bottom leg of the one above it, then back down through the next pair, and so on. It’s a lot like grafting — the seam yarn is basically invisible. I stumbled onto this out of a mix of haste and curiosity and it’s the neatest inside of a handmade neckband I’ve ever done. Will be my method of choice from now on.

p.s. If you’re wondering when I’m going to shop posting pics of this sweater, the answer might be never!

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34 thoughts on “The Details: Folded neckband

  1. I see nothing but advantages to your using one (beautiful) sweater to illustrate many different design and construction elements. We have gotten to know this sweater quite well, we feel fondly familiar with it. Because of this familiarity, we can more easily appreciate the particular detail you are highlighting to illustrate a specific point without being distracted/dazzled/overwhelmed by something that’s entirely different. Besides, this one is just so terrific it’s always great to see.

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  2. I love this post, Karen! I am a lover of the finishing minutia as well. When I look back at my FOs (and my UFOs) these decisions and little perfections are what it’s all about for me.

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  3. I confess to not being a fan of the folded neckline, mainly because crew necklines don’t become me and 60-year-old neck. That said, if you’re going to do one, this is certainly a neat way of accomplishing it. I’ve done EZ’s bind off of live stitches in the past and it can be difficult to do tidily. And go ahead and show off your sweater for as long as you like. I’m currently designing and knitting an aran, and given the time that goes into making one of these things, anyone who does it is entitled to revel in their accomplishment.

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    • I’ve done EZ’s bind-off on big needles and then sewed that down, which is good. I’ve also done a version of her sewn bind-off where I grabbed the pick-up edge along with the live stitch, which was less pleasing and also risky.

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  4. I love seeing pictures of this sweater. In fact I have spent so much time admiring the cables and structure of the sweater that I finally had to cast on a cabled cardigan.
    mine is growing slowly because I am spinning the yarn as I go. But I am loving each cross of the stitches and the thick cables the yarn is making.
    keep sharing pictures because it really inspires me to take my finishing to the next level.

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  5. I can’t wait to try your bind off sewing method. I’m about to bind off a folded neckband soon. My first folded neckband was on my improv sweater and I love it. I don’t think we will ever tire of seeing your beautiful sweater. Please use as often as you like.

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  6. Thank you Karen for sharing any and all of your details on your sweaters!! I am printing these details and keeping a notebook with all of your information, even though I have been knitting for many years. This is my very favorite sweater and love seeing ALL of your photos of it!! I have to start
    it as soon as I finish up a couple of projects. Yours turned out to be fabulous!!

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  7. Sweet finish, indeed. In bottom-up folded hem sweaters, the finish is very neat – where you’ve got live stitches on two needles, fold when you’ve knitted twice the band width, and “sew” the hem with a row of knit-2-togs. I wonder if that technique could start a top down folded neck?

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    • Potentially? I’m having a hard time right this second picturing how you’d ever have live stitches at both edges … but it’s basically the same as the folded hem version where you’re joining the live stitches to the back of a row of the fabric rather than to another row of live sts.

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  8. I loved reading this post. Thanks for sharing your technique in detail. I never tire of seeing your sweater and hearing about your journey with it………there’s lots to learn from what you share.

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  9. I love how you share your projects details, I learn so much from it, and keep built up my knowledge, thanks for that.
    I like how this band looks and I will do it on my next sweater, I wished to see some pictures of the sewing part, I could quite understand how you picked up the stitches (is it like sewing two pieces on the side like mattress stitch??)??

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  10. Masterful. You are entering the world of the people who don’t sleep at night but just stay up thinking of different ways to knit different things. I love the idea of the two edges going together to form a sort of braid.

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    • I did. Partially because I don’t like starting back at the cast-on edge every time, so worked them all in tandem. And partially because I needed to see how the relative gauges were working out (between the body and the sleeves) so I could decide how much increasing I really wanted to do on the sleeves and what I would need to do the keep the raglans properly matched when it came to the decreases, since I was not following the pattern stitch counts at that point.

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  11. I love that little braid on the inside, it’s a lovely touch! I’m a fan of a folded neckline as well, so polished. Please keep the photos coming of this one… I, at least, am not at risk of becoming bored anytime soon!

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  12. I just love this sweater so much – it’s pretty much a legacy piece. The care and attention to detail you’ve put into it show in every stitch! And this neckline is no exception. Bravo!

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  13. I second, third and fourth all of the above. As an intermediate knitter, I am deeply interested in the small details that go into making a garment more polished and ‘professional’ looking. Keep posting about this sweater. I feel like it has a lot more to say.

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  14. Love, love this new Details column. Finishing and details are my favorite part of making a garment. I can’t get enough if it.

    And, great post on turned collars. Julie Hoover (on Cline) actually recommends using smaller needles as you taper in to the middle and then tapering out again to the bigger needle. This makes a beautiful collar. (I actually can’t imagine using a larger needle at the fold….seems like like that goes against the concept of a nice tapering in.)

    And Heidi Kirrmaier (on Catch of the Day) has a nice technique in which you start the topdown at the collar, using a provisional co and then folding and knitting those live sts to the last row of collar sts. So far, my favorite way is sew live sts to the last row. I know it’s riskier than binding off and then sewing, but it also seems less bulky and more elastic. But, as you point out, you really need to keep ease in mind as you sew. I sew a few stitches and then give a slight tug to the garment to stretch the already sewn stitches….sew a few more, another slight stretch ….and continue this all the way to the end.

    Hey Karen, speaking of retro details, I’m going to try a crochet buttonband on my current FO. I think I am going to love the neat sturdiness of it. We’ll see ….

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  15. YES! I am such a fan of the fold over neck band and have loved it for a while. It’s such a nice way to finish the collar and can round out the top when other collar types can end up being a bit more square shaped depending on your method of decreases for the yoke. I personally like doing stockinette stitch for the folded over/inside collar part but anyway is nice. :) I’ve also found that if I pick up stitches from the inside bottom/base of the collar and purl them together with the live stitches to decrease it makes for a super stretchy finish for easy fitting over heads.

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  16. I made this sweater, too! In the late 70’s, orly 80’s. beautiful pattern. I believe the center cable was a 36-row pattern; drove me crazy! this is a beautiful sweater, beautifully executed. I love the folded neck band and have used it on other sweaters as well – classic, simple, easy, and very long-wearing.

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  17. I am with everyone else regarding posting photos and commentary about your beautiful Fisherman pullover. It is a beautiful update and definitely an all time treasure. Think maybe it would make a wonderful bottom layer to your blog name banner. That way we will always remember it, and it will receive the notoriety it deserves. ; )

    Folded neckbands are aces! The look is polished, and the weight makes it easier (in my opinion) to pull over than those flaccid single layer ribbed neckbands. Thank you for the ‘detail’ tip on sewing the edge down. The braid is gorgeous!

    After my first utter failure at a folded collar, I found the perfect bind off for the collar and so many other bound off edges. Here’s the link: http://verypink.com/2015/03/04/simple-stretchy-bind-off/

    Absolutely love your idea of a ‘details’ series!

    I have something to share with you, since you have been so kind to share something new with me (how you sew your neckband down).

    I have ‘forms’ I use to design and/or work from. Top down, bottom up, cardigan, sweater, hat… you name it. In the forms, I include techniques for creating all the parts of garments… neck or hem cast on, shoulders, increases and decreases, sleeves, pockets, buttonbands or zipper closures. It makes it easy to select which elements will work best with the particular project being worked on. Choose as many or as few as you like… whatever strikes your fancy. The best part is, since EVERYTHING is listed, you will be hard pressed to forget something important.

    Thank you again for another great post!

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  18. Thank you for going into the details of this! I want to do a folded neckband for my next sweater (in place of a turtleneck the pattern calls for) and while I have an old knitting book that talks about this type of neckband it doesn’t include a whole lot of detail. Definitely will be referring back to this post soon.

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  19. Great idea for a new series! My first SoB project has a folded neckband. I did not like it at first, tried to take a shortcut and failed. Since it was a test knit for a most beautiful pattern, I decided to do it right, so carefully removed the neckband and did it again, this time stitching it correctly. It was so worth it. The neckline is such a visible spot, it both has to look and feel great. Thanks for sharing your details (and no one gets tired of beautiful knit pics, no worries).

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