Neckbands: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

If you’ve been around these parts for a while there’s a pretty good chance, at some point, you’ve had some calamitous results on a neckband or two. Here I’m gonna spill the beans about the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to neckbands and what you can do about it, pardner.

{Cue the western showdown music}

The Material Showdown

So why do some neckbands look fantastic while others look like a drunken snake that got lost on its way to the outhouse? Let me tell ya, a lot of that has to do with the material you’re using.

The start of a great neckband is great stretch and great recovery. Stretch and recovery are achieved in two ways. Materially and mechanically.

When I started my sewing journey I got a bee in my bonnet that I only wanted to use 100% organic cotton, I was sure that it was the most eco-friendly and healthiest option available. So, I jumped on the sewing bandwagon and I went and bought a bunch of rib knit. But every time I sewed a neckband it looked great until I pulled it over my kid’s head. Then, it stretched out into the aforementioned snake and never quite looked as fabulous as it had straight off my machine. 

Fast forward a few years and add a little spandex into the mix, and now my neckbands have mechanical stretch due to the rib knit and great recovery because of the stretchy nature of spandex.

So here’s what you need to know: having spandex in your rib knit is like having boots on your feet. You could go without it, but it won’t be pretty.

Speaking of stretch - Mind if I call you Stretch?

Any cowboy worth his salt will tell you that having a good saddle doesn’t make a great rider. And having the right material isn’t the only important factor in the making of a great neckband. You gotta have a neckband that sits right. Can you imagine a cowboy sitting cockeyed in his saddle? It’d be uncomfortable and, let’s face it, downright silly.

Let’s make sure your neckbands don’t go the way of the cockeyed cowboy.

The trick to getting that neckband sitting correctly is to quarter and clip, then do it some more.

Here’s how I quarter: After you’ve sewn the two short ends of your neckband together to form a loop, fold it in half lengthwise so you're looking at something that resembles a neckband. Next, clip the seam wrong sides together at the raw edges. Now, hold the clipped seam in your right hand and pull your index finger through the loop until it stops. Pinch the raw edges together there and clip right where your fingers are. Next, put your neckband down on a table with one clip laying on the table and the other directly on top. Pull the neckband out at both sides and run your finger inside the neckband from the middle to the right side. Clip there. Repeat for the left side. You now have 4 beautifully equal quarters!

Clipping the neckline of the top itself is basically the same except that you’ll need to use the center front or center back as your starting point. Listen buckaroo, never assume the shoulder seams are going to be quarter marks, because they almost never are.

Now that you have everything neatly sorted, go ahead and consolidate the four clips on your neckband to the four clips on your neckline. You’ll need to stretch the neckband to make them all line up which is perfect because that is part of what makes a neckband lie flat. And while you’re at it, make sure to line that neckband seam up on one of the sides toward the back.

Once you have your neckband and neckline all quartered and matched up you’ll need to stretch between the clips you’ve already placed and clip some more.

If you’re a visual learner go ahead and mosey over to this video tutorial.

And remember, good cowboys never run out of clips.


Go ahead and horse around

Want to avoid that wavy look? This next part takes practice.

Focus on just stretching the neckband and not the neckline while you’re sewing. This can be tricky but it’s well worth some practice. I find it easiest to do when I sew with the thing I’m stretching - in this case a neckband - on top and the thing I am trying not to stretch on the bottom.

You can remember which piece to put on top if you remember that Stretch is riding on top of his horse. Giddy-yup!

Working on a lick and a promise

Now I know some of you crazy cowpokes are thinking - what if I don’t want to use rib knit? Well there’s good news and bad news. Good news is, it can be done! Bad news is, not always successfully.

Here’s my 2 best tips for making a non-rib knit neckband less cattywampus:

Adjust the length - By shortening the length of the neckband you are essentially tightening the curve it has to go around and that can help your neckband lay flatter, however, be careful because it can also affect a lot of other things. If you tighten it too much I’ll bet you my 10 gallon hat you won’t get it over their noggin.

Cut on the bias - Cutting your neckband diagonally actually gives you a sort of mechanical advantage which is that, instead of the grain running perpendicularly, directly into the curve, it’s now running diagonally and tangentially around the curve. Bully for you, this is a good thing. However, you’ll still have an issue with stretch so be mindful, and maybe do a test run on your little cowpoke before you actually sew it on.

Okay, here’s my third best tip - if you have to use something other than rib knit, consider binding your neckline instead of using a neckband. Not every cowboy wears a Stetson, ya know?

Catch a weasel asleep

Okee dokey. As promised I’ve given you the lowdown on the good, the bad and the ugly of neckbands. Hopefully there’s some information you found useful but I’ve undoubtedly missed some things. There’s always more to learn and any good cowboy would tell you it’s not over ‘til the cows come home so, let’s keep this discussion going. Share your best tips for a perfect neckband in the comments below or join the discussion in our Facebook group! 

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