A Renfrew with an experiment and an unintentionally funny fitting issue

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Admiring my overgrown lawn and weeds. In a Renfrew.

So. Well.

Guess that FBA wasn't quite F enough
Guess that FBA wasn’t quite F enough

Yeah.

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I guess I know what I need to fix for the next one. Plus a wedge taken out of the centre back.

Lines, lines, everywhere lines.
Lines, lines, everywhere lines.

Anyway. This post is less about the Renfrew, which poses obvious challenges to those of us not a pear-shape, than it is about what I used it to experiment with on my cover-stitch machine, which is: covering the back neck and shoulder seams!

neck binding-24-12

Hey?

This all started years ago, when Frances would complain bitterly and endlessly that the seams on the knit shirts and pajamas I made her were itchy.

I top-stitched the serged seams down and they were still itchy. I replaced regular serger thread with woolly nylon and they were still itchy.

So I looked at her store-bought t-shirts. They all had fully enclosed neck-back and shoulder seams. And so did mine, when I went to look.

Inside of a casual shirt--straight stitch
Inside of a casual shirt–straight stitch
Outside of a casual shirt--chain stitch. This means that the outside of the shirt was facing down.
Outside of a casual shirt–chain stitch.

Casual t-shirts, dressy t-shirts, workout t-shirts, all those seams enclosed–usually with a strip of self-fabric.

Inside of a dressy t-shirt--two lines of straight stitching, incredibly parallel
Inside of a dressy t-shirt–two lines of straight stitching, incredibly parallel
Outside of the dressy t-shirt. Itty bitty wobblies, also straight stitches, not chains.
Outside of the dressy t-shirt. Itty bitty wobblies, also straight stitches, not chains.
Exercise shirt--straight stitch on the inside. Outside of this one is chain-stitched as well, but I'll spare you more photos.
Exercise shirt–straight stitch on the inside. Outside of this one is chain-stitched as well, but I’ll spare you more photos.

I spent a few months squinting at different kinds of bound seams.

Some had a double-row of chain-stitching. Some appeared to be sewn on with a regular straight stitch, or a narrow zig-zag. Some had only one visible row of stitching on the outside, indicating that they’d been sewn on in the ditch and then flipped over like a quilt binding. And some, where they were only sewn over the neck-back seam and not the shoulder seam, appeared to have been serged in when the neck binding was sewn on, and then flipped over the seam and stitched down afterwards.

Generally, the casual and workout t-shirts are the ones where the binding extends through the shoulder seams. Dressy, drapey shirts tend only to bind the back neck seam. The casual shirts are also more likely to use a chainstitch rather than (what looks like) a straight stitch.

Guess what, Dear Readers? Coverstitch machines can do chain stitches when you use only two needles.

A series of Frances-shirts with bound seams. The top one is inside-out so you can see it extending over the shoulders.
A series of Frances-shirts with bound seams. The top one is inside-out so you can see it extending over the shoulders. Yes, they are messy.

Anyway. I’ve now experimented on half a dozen t-shirts for myself, Frances, and Mysterious Others, and I’ve found the following very helpful:

1. Cut an on-grain strip of self-fabric about 1″ wide.

2. Pin it so that the bulk of the strip faces away from the seam allowance to be covered.

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Here it is, lined up with the edge of the serged seam.

3. Using the chain stitch, stitch in the ditch on the inside. So make sure the looper thread matches the fabric, because it’ll show.

4. Trim if you want.

5. Fold the edge, then flip over to cover the serged (or other) seam. Pin excessively.

Showing the folded edge. Sort of. Squint, it's there.
Showing the folded edge. Sort of. Squint, it’s there.
Then flipped over the seam allowance and pinned in place
Then flipped over the seam allowance and pinned in place

6. Stitch as close to the edge as possible, trying to keep an even distance from the first seam.

Why did I take this one? Well, what the hell, Dear Readers. I'll bet you couldn't have figured this part out for yourselves.
Why did I take this one? Well, what the hell, Dear Readers. I’ll bet you couldn’t have figured this part out for yourselves.

It’s best if you do this right after attaching the neck binding and before attaching the sleeves, so you can bind the shoulder seams right up to the edge and neaten the ends up when the sleeves are sewn/serged on.

Holy cow that seam is wobbly. But from the outside it looks basically fine.
Holy cow that seam is wobbly. But from the outside it looks basically fine.
See?
See?

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the factories have special machines that do double rows of these stitches at once so there’s less room for error. The store-bought ones are remarkably even, though they do occasionally wobble (I’ve squinted at a lot of these seams by now). But thanks to long hair and personal laziness, I’ve decided I’m ok with the odd more-than-wobble on my own neck and shoulder seams–it’s not that obvious. Best of all, Frances does not complain about itchy seams on these shirts.

And they do look nicer when you’re not wearing them, don’t you agree?

Renfrew outside from the back.
Renfrew outside from the back.

I know! It’s a tutorial, kind of! I’m appropriately ashamed. In my own defence, I did a bit of half-hearted googling and I couldn’t find this elsewhere, so may it be useful to you, and may you soon exceed my limited skills and be producing bound neck-back-and-shoulder seams of great evenness and beauty.

8 thoughts on “A Renfrew with an experiment and an unintentionally funny fitting issue”

    1. It is very very fiddly, and they must have some gizmo that does this–I can’t imagine them spending the kind of time I have been folding and pinning strips of jersey for a $10 t-shirt!

      I haven’t seen one for sewing machines before, but I’ve looked at the ones for cover-stitch machines and yeah, they are all kinds of crazy (not in a bad way, except for the cost, which is 25% of the cover-stitch machine price).

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