*Note: When initially Posted, 2 parts vanished. I have since rewritten them and added them*
Elastic is a pretty amazing product. Its stretchy nature allows us so many more options in our sewing than we would have without it. Today I thought I’d offer a few tips to help when incorporating elastic into a sewing project. I apologize that I don’t have better photos to go along with this today.
1. Edge Stabilization:
When sewing knit fabrics to make tops, you can use narrow elastic to stabilize the:
- armhole edges
- or the hem.
You can use this technique in other craft projects as well. I have primarily employed this method in dance wear and 4-way stretch costumes.
When doing this, it’s important not to over stretch the elastic.
The goal is to have the edge lay flat after all is said and done. If you stretch the elastic a tiny bit then it will still lay flat when you wear the garment. You don’t want to actually stretch it enough to gather it though. Be careful also, that you don’t stretch the fabric itself. I find that just putting the slightest bit of tension on the elastic as I attach it helps to keep it straight and even and sort of holds down the edge of the fabric at the same time. If you have a serger, it would be my recommendation to use that to apply the narrow elastic (1/4″ to 3/8″ or 8 to 11mm wide) to the raw edge. If you don’t have a serger, you can always zig-zag it, or use the longest stitch available on your sewing machine to attach it. Lay the elastic on top of the fabric while attaching. I found that if I tried to lay the elastic underneath, I would not always notice if it slipped a little to the side. It was easier to make sure it was lining up.
When you stitch the elastic along the raw edge, take your time. Be patient, the edge of the fabric may want to curl as you go. Should you rush, the tendency is to stretch the fabric and elastic and it will not give you a good result. Also, if you go too quickly and the elastic shifts you can end up with a mess on your hands. If you are using a serger, I would encourage you to disengage the blade to avoid causing any damage to the elastic if it shifts a little to the right.
I would use a length of elastic that is a bit longer than the opening you are attaching it to, but don’t make it into a circle. Stitch it on as a long piece. When you get around,
clip it so that the ends butt up against each other.
Once you have attached it, turn the edge and topstitch it with a stretch stitch. You can keep it taut, but don’t stretch it very much as you topstitch. If you stretch it a lot, it will make the end result try to curl.
There are two main methods to make an elastic waistband. One requires a fabric channel through which the elastic is pulled; the other requires that you stitch the stretched elastic to the raw edge of the waist then turn it and top-stitch it in place.
An elastic channel is created by attaching a second layer of fabric where you want the elastic to be applied. This is stitched at top and bottom or the fabric is folded and stitched. An opening is allowed so that you can thread the elastic through. The ends of the elastic are then attached to each other, tucked up into the channel and the channel is closed. Using a channel, in many ways can be the easier of the two methods. If the fabric waist measurement is greater than what you can stretch the elastic to, then it will definitely be easier to use a channel. It doesn’t require that you stretch the elastic while you apply it. However, if you are not careful, it’s easy to accidentally pull the elastic too far and have to start over when you are pulling it through the channel. Also, you are more likely to have issues with elastic folding up or twisting inside the channel than using the alternative method. The channel method makes it simpler to change the size of the waistband if you find that you need to.
2. Tips for an easier channel style elastic waistband
Make sure that the channel is actually wide enough:
Don’t make it too wide, you don’t want it to be sloppy. The elastic should only have just enough room to sit comfortably when not stretched at all. A common mistake is to only take the width of the elastic into consideration. Elastic can be a couple millimeters thick. If you are using stiff fabric, this can make it very tight and challenging to pull the elastic through the channel. A tight channel can force the elastic to curl inside or fold in half length-wise. This doesn’t look good and can feel very uncomfortable.
Safety pins are your friend:
Before you begin pulling the elastic through the channel, use a safety pin to attach one end of the elastic to the body of the garment. Attach the largest safety pin you can comfortably use (within reason; there is no need for a kilt pin here) to the other end of the elastic and use that to guide the elastic through the channel. Once you have pulled it all the way through, use that same safety pin to attach the two ends together (the second pin is still attached to the garment). Now check along the waistband to be sure that the elastic is laying nice and flat. Remove any twists and then stitch the two ends together. Be sure that you make at least two rows of stitching across the elastic to hold the two ends together. Having the stitching come undone after you close it all up just sucks. Now it’s just a matter of closing up the opening in the channel and you are all done. Stretch out the waistband to its maximum to even up the fabric all the way around the elastic and that’s that.
Attached Elastic Waistbands certainly remove any risk of the elastic coming undone. Even if some of the stitching comes apart, there would be enough of it still in place that you won’t lose your pants.
3. Tips for attaching elastic directly to a waistband:
Because this method is a whole lot of work to change, you want to be certain that you have the right amount of elastic. I usually put the elastic around the person’s waist and have them adjust it to where it feels comfortable to them. I mark that and allow enough extra to stitch the ends together. Make sure that you don’t have any twists in the elastic and stitch the ends together. I usually serge the end together, but you can lay them flat on top of each other and stitch on a sewing machine just as well.
Divide the elastic into quarters and mark using your preferred method. I use pins. Do the same with the waistband. Now match up the pins and pin the elastic to the inside of the waistband. If the distance between the pins is large, you may want to subdivide and pin again at the middle points between the other pins.
I prefer to serge the edge. You don’t have to, you could use the largest zigzag stitch that your machine can do instead. If you are using a serger, you may want to disengage the blade for this. It is important that the elastic be stretched to match the fabric edge. Also, when you stitch this, it’s important that you are not pushing or pulling against the machine. Follow the pace of your machine as it stitches the edge. Don’t stitch over the pins if you don’t have to. The tricky thing here is to keep the elastic and the fabric edge matched up while stretching the elastic. Take your time. My preference is to have the elastic on the top. I find it easier to control that way.
Once you have attached the elastic to the edge, the next step is to turn the elastic so that the waistband fabric wraps around it and contains it. Look for where your seams line up and pin accordingly. Next you will use the longest stitch on your machine, and while stretching the waistband so that everything lays flat, top-stitch along the edge you just attached to hold everything in place.
Commercially sewn waistbands often have multiple rows of top-stitching along the elastic. You can do this if you want to but it isn’t necessary.
It is possible to use this method if your fabric is larger than the fully stretched measurement of the elastic, however, it’s a pain in the backside to do it. You would have to first gather the edge of the fabric evenly to reduce it to the maximum measurement of the elastic before attaching the elastic. Ideally, you would gather both the edge and a parallel line at the point where the elastic will be top-stitched. Yes it can be done. Yes, it’s annoying to do. If you can reduce the waist measurement in other ways, that works too. Adding a pleat over the width of the fabric that the elastic will take up can work as well. It’s definitely not ideal. This definitely works best when the elastic stretches comfortably to the full width of the waistband.
Either of these methods are very effective. Some people struggle to control the elastic if they have to stretch it as they sew it. It takes a bit of practice to get good at it.
Don’t expect to be an expert the first time you try to do it.
If you take your time and give yourself permission to have a learning curve,
you’ll do fine. 🙂