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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