In sewing and tailoring, a facing is fabric applied to a garment edge on the inside. In hand knitting, a facing can be used to reinforce a garment or to add a decorative edge. They are particularly helpful for fibers that tend to lose their elasticity/memory over time – namely vegetable fibers like cotton, synthetics and other non-animal fibers. Facings can reinforce a sagging button band, neck edge, cuff or provide stabilization to a hem that refuses to lay flat. Facings can also be used as a decorative edge to sleeve cuffs and button bands.
Pre-shrunk, grosgrain ribbon is commonly used as a facing in hand knits because it is strong, stable and comes pre-cut in various sizes. It’s helpful to select a ribbon size that is slightly smaller than the area to which it will be applied. When cutting the ribbon to size, I typically leave a ¼- ½” edge on each end to fold over for the top and bottom seams. For the knitter that also sews, fabric can be used as a facing and pre-sewn or pressed to custom fit the garment edge. You will see later that certain seaming methods work best with woven fabrics that are folded over (i.e. hemstitch).
Grosgrain ribbon can be found at any craft store but if you live in a city with a fashion district, I highly recommend you check out the trimming stores – I’ve found some incredible grosgrain ribbon in the LA Fashion District that I would have never found at a big box craft store. For me, it’s worth the time because the right facing can be the perfect finishing touch!
Before applying the facing, it’s important to wash and block the knitted garment and pre-shrink the grosgrain ribbon (or fabric) prior to attaching. To pre-shrink, soak it in hot water and then iron dry. If you are averse to ironing, you can hang the ribbon while wet and attach a clothespin to the bottom of the ribbon. The weight will help the ribbon dry wrinkle free. See Fig. 1-2 below:
While I’m a fan of a facing applied correctly, facings can be a point of contention among the finishing experts in the field. For example, The Reader’s Digest Knitter’s Handbook discourages knitters from using this technique as it can be avoided if smaller needles are used at the edgings, if the proper edging is used or if the correct gauge is met. While I agree all these points are important, it’s impossible to get it right all the time. Knowing how to properly fix a garment – especially after spending hours in knitting – is key. Also, what better way to make your hand knits unique with a peek-a-boo facing at the neck edge or button band.
The Principles of Knitting provides a great overview on the different methods for applying a facing to hand knits. Before you start, determine if you will need to double or single thread your needle based on the weight of your yarn. For lighter weight yarns (i.e. lace, sport, fingering and some dk yarns) use a single strand of thread. For heavier weight yarns (i.e. some dk, worsted, and bulky yarns), double the thread. See Fig. 3 below:
1. Blind Hemstitch (or Slip Stich): is a great method when using a facing that has a folded edge (particularly a fabric facing). It can be used to attach linings and facings of any kind to a hem or even to a button band if using a custom made facing. Hemstitch produces a nearly invisible hem.
2. Catchstitch: is good for sewing woven fabric to a knit because it is very flexible and less likely to break. However, it is fully visible. So, this method is particularly helpful when the fabric being added is for function vs. decoration.
4. Backstitch: creates an inelastic attachment between two fabrics. This is typically used for attaching zippers. But, it can be also used if you are sewing in a woven tape (like stay tape or grosgrain ribbon) to stabilize a shoulder seam or sagging neckline.
Pre-shrunk, grosgrain ribbon
Needle & thread in matching color (I use a contrast color for this demo)
Hard, flat surface
With WS of garment facing, place pre-shrunk, grosgrain ribbon along garment edge just in from the knitted edge of the garment. Use sewing pins to tack the ribbon in place. See Fig. 4 below:
Thread your needle (single or double according to your yarn weight). Choose the method that works best for your project (hemstitch, catchstitch, blindstitch or backstitch).
The key to sewing fabric onto hand knits is to keep your sewed stitches close together. I try to keep my stitches to 1/4” maximum. Some instructions say to go into a portion of the knitted stitch when you sew (vs. going under a leg of the closest knitted stitch). However, be mindful of the yarn that you are using. Some fibers may become compromised and weakened if you go into just a portion of the knitted stitch. For instance, I’m knitting with a mink fingering weight (Lotus Yarn’s Mimi) and would never grab a portion of the stitch because the yarn would fray. Generally, I bring my needle under a leg of the stitch when I sew and do not go into the knitted stitch itself unless it is a heavier weight yarn (worsted, chunky, bulky and some DK).
So, have fun with it, try the different methods of sewing based on your project and let me know which method you prefer!
Hiatt Hemmons, June. The Principles of Knitting. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.
Stanley, Montse. Reader’s Digest Knitter’s Handbook. Pleasantville, NY: The Reader’s
Digest Association, 2001.