Renfrew hack - boat neck!

One of the things I love most about sewing is imagining just want I want in my minds eye, and then the stars aligning and being able to achieve exactly what I want (and what nobody else has!). And that happened with my latest Renfrew. I've gone a little crazy making Renfrews the last few weeks, mostly because my wardrobe was in desperate need of some longer sleeved tops with winter approaching, and Me Made May was also looming - it was time to get cracking. I've made both the scoop neck and the cowl neck versions and really like them, but my absolute favourite neckline for a winter top is the boat or bateau neck line. I know its not for everyone - its not flattering for those with a generous bust, and I know some people don't like the wide neck because it can flash one's bra straps. I think its just so chic, whether its a striped breton bateau or a single colour or polka dot - I can't go past one. I was devastated late last year when I split balsamic vinegar on a white stripe of my favourite RTW striped boat-neck, (right in the front!) and vowed I'd somehow work out how to replace it!

One of the reasons I decided to purchase Sew U Home Stretch by Wendy Mullin was that it contained a basic tee pattern block that included very simple instructions on how to turn it into a variety of tee styles including....... a boat neck! Yay!

So my original plan was to use the pattern from this book and alter it according to the instructions. Then I bought the Renfrew and kind of forgot about it until the other day when I tried (AGAIN!) to remove my vinegar stain from my beloved striped bateau and remembered my Sew U book. A little reading of the book and research on the net revealed the block tee pattern wasn't very fitted through the waist, and most ladies who had made the Sew U tee hadn't liked the wider sleeves and had had to taper in the waist. That put me off a little, but I thought I could use the basic alteration principles on the Renfrew to hopefully achieve a similar a result.


 Voila! C'est chic, non?

I am just so very pleased with how this has turned out. If you're interested in how I did it, I've a bit of a basic step-by-step tutorial below..... Of course this will work with any basic tee pattern, Renfrew or otherwise!

Gather one's helpers and moral support (optional)
Trace off your original front piece - I also added some length to the bottom of mine as I wanted to try a Renfrew without bands
Measure 1-2 inches from outer shoulder edge - I went with 1 inch which made a very wide bateau - it's perhaps a little too wide. Measure up desired distance from centre front to the height you want your tee to be - because the Renfrew is very scooped I added 4 inches. Use a french curve to connect these two points and draw a nice smooth new neckline (Ignore the squiggly line - this is recycled tracing paper and that is an old grainline!)

Trace off your original back piece

Mark the same distance on the back shoulder as you did the front (remember mine was 1 inch) and lower the back centre a little too - I did 1 inch on the back. Make a new neckline with a french curve joining these points.

Cut out your new pieces on the fold. Neckline looking good! 

From here on I had to wing it a bit. Sew U says to serge/overlock the raw edges of the neckline then turn under and topstitch. Firstly I don't have an overlocker, and secondly I wasn't convinced this would give me the nice tight flat boatneck that I wanted. I've made enough crappy knits now to know that if you don't stabilise the neckline with some sort of stretchy something that is SHORTER than the length of your finished neckline it will be loose, sloppy and look very handmade. I figured I could use some sort of fold over elastic (which I'm not sure is even available in Australia - I've no idea what it looks like) or I  could just make a binding using the same fabric and top stitch it. I chose to bind the neckline BEFORE any of the rest of the construction because I wasn't sure whether that sharp angle that is made at the shoulder seam on the neckline would behave with a traditional neck band applied once the shoulder seams were sewn up - I have another RTW boat neck that I think had the neckline finished before the shoulders were sewn....

I had a scrap left over that was a bit shorter than the neckline - I cut it down the middle to make 2 long pieces, and attached them to the necklines separately, right sides together, with a shallow zig zag. I made sure that I just sewed about an inch at a time, all the time pulling on the binding so it was quite stretched out (but NOT stretching the neckline) In retrospect one long piece would have been easier - I could have just trimmed it at the end of each piece - next time! 
Don't worry about it wrinkling up - it's meant to because the binding has been sewn under tension and is now relaxing back.....

 Press the seam open, and then apply some Steam A Seam to the tee below the seam, and fold the binding over, and press in place. I do this on all the seams of the knits that I want to twin-needle top stitch - it helps to reduce that 'ridge' effect twin needling can create. 
From the right side 
And the wrong side - when I twin needle the raw edge will (hopefully!) be caught in the stitches. 

Do this for both the front and back pieces then construct the knit as instructed - shoulder seams, sleeves, side seams etc. I added 3 inches to my Renfrew length so I could avoid the hem band, and used the long sleeve pattern as I wanted 3/4 sleeves again without the hem bands. I finished my hems and the neckline with my twin needle in neon pink!

Next version I will make the neckline slightly less wide and a little lower, to sit just below the collar bone. It only just covers my bra straps, and as I am a cold fish I usually a singlet or tank in winter, and would want those straps covered too. I raised the neckline by 4 inches - next time I will just do 3 or maybe 3/12 inches, and probably make the shoulder seams 2 inches wide - if the front is too low I think there will a be a risk of it drooping. The tension of the neckline binding is pretty good on the front, and perhaps slightly loose on the back, but for a first attempt I'm really pleased. If anyone has  a better suggestion for finishing the neckline (both in materials and order) please let me know!

As for making the Renfrew without bands - easy! The long sleeve pattern piece gave me a 3 inch seam allowance to play with - I ended up chopping 2 inches off before hemming with my double needle, and the hemline with the extra 3 inches was pretty spot on. Whoohoo!


  1. This is very generous of you to add this tutorial on adapting the Renfrew to a boat neck. I love boat necks so I will be making this adaption to my Renfrew pattern. I think your boat neck Renfrew looks great on you and I am sure you will be happier with your next one.

  2. Thankyou! Hope it's some help to you! :)

  3. Looks fantastic! I'm planning a few Renfrews so this is really helpful, thanks :)

  4. Hi!
    I saw your cool Renfrew mod and was wondering if you'd give me permission to feature it on my blog? I'm a fan of Sewaholic and Renfrew since I've made a few. I really enjoy seeing what stuff people have been able to do with it!
    My blog is just a personal hobby blog, not commercial or anything, so I wouldn't be making any money off you!

    Look forward to hearing from you. And it's okay if you say no :)
    Sorry to put this in your comments section but I can't find an email address for you...

    1. Hi thanks for coming by - left you a message on your blog - but share away! :)

  5. I have a question about your neckline finish- you call it a binding, but it appears to be all folded under to the wrong side? Therefore is it a facing? I've been trying to study your pics to see how you did it! It must be cut on the crosswise grain right? Very interested to hear your advice on this :)

    1. Hmmm! I suppose you could call it a facing but when I think of facings i think of a neckline or armhole finish only attached at one seam, turned under to the wrong side and then annoyingly loose and flappy! I'd still describe this as a binding because it is stitched down a second time to trap the raw edge - but I think either description would work. So it is attached to the neckline with both right sides together, then flipped over and pressed and top stitched down. You could always do a traditional neck band too - I just didn't want extra width there. Yes it needs to be cut across the grain with maximum stretch, just like the normal Renfrew scoop binding. I think I winged it a bit when I worked out the length but generally when I do knit neckline bindings I make them 15-20% shorter than the finished opening. Hope that helps, let me know if I've answered your question properly!

    2. Yeah, I think I have a clear understanding of what you've done here. Your binding/facing isn't cut folded like the Renfrew, just in a single layer of crosswise fabric, so therefore it adds less bulk too. I love how many options there are to do things, but it can be overwhelming too! I'm going to have a go at a different technique when I attempt a boatneck, it should be interesting, heh. Thanks for your reply! :)

    3. No prob, I look forward to seeing yours!

    4. I put my boatneck post up! :) I ended up using clear elastic which seemed to work :)


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