Learn how to sew an elastic waistband in the four easiest ways for beginners. Sewing elastic is one of the easiest ways to finish a great skirt, shorts, or pants pattern. It is so comfortable to wear and has minimal fit issues since it is so easy to adjust.
Sewing elastic waistbands are really easy and are mostly a matter of sewing a casing and threading some elastic through. This tutorial will lead you step by step so you will be able to achieve a smooth, professionally sewn waistband.
How to Sew an Elastic Waistband Tutorial
Here I will show you the 4 best methods of how to sew an elastic waistband. Which is best for your sewing project will depend on whether you are sewing stretch or woven fabric and the amount of volume in your garment. This article will also show you how to stop elastic twisting in the casing.
Supplies for Sewing Elastic Waistbands
Here is what you need for the different techniques for sewing elastic waistbands:
- Elastic - The type will depend on the method you are using. If possible, always look for non-twist elastic. It can be a little more expensive but it is worth the extra.
- Stretch Needles - If you use universal sewing needles for elastic, you can get skipped stitches. Stretch needles or ball point needles are better for sewing elastic.
- Sewing Basics - Regular sewing machine (you don't need a serger), iron, ironing board, markers, measuring tape
Types of Elastic Waistbands in Sewing
Here are the 4 types of elasticated waistbands and the basic techniques:
- FOLDED WITH ZIG-ZAG OR SERGER - Best for stretch fabric items that are tight to the body, like leggings and tight skirts.
- ELASTIC CASING - Best for woven fabrics and can be used to create wide skirts in woven fabric. Creates a gathered-looking waistband.
- SEPARATE WAISTBAND - Can be used on stretch or woven fabric. In a stretch fabric, it creates a smooth waistband and in woven the waistband will look slightly gathered. Separate casings are good when the waist needs a bit of a curve for example at the top of circle skirts.
- WIDE ATTACHED ELASTIC - Best for stretch fabric or woven fabric that is not too wide. Woven fabric cannot be wider than how far the elastic stretches out. Great for underwear.
If you are not sure which type of waistband method to use, I suggest trying the elastic casing. It is by far the easiest and the most flexible, suiting most waistband types. The casing method is my personal preference.
|METHOD||BEST FOR||CLOTHING TYPE|
|Zig-Zag or Serger||Stretch||Tight to body eg leggings, tight skirts|
|Elastic Casing||Stretch or Woven||Loose or tight clothing eg skirts, pants, anything for beginners|
|Separate Waistband||Stretch or Woven||Tight or medium width clothing eg narrow or medium width skirts and pants|
|Wide Attached Elastic||Stretch Woven||Tight or medium width clothing eg underwear, medium width skirts and pants|
How Long to Cut Elastic for a Waistband
First, measure your natural waist size or the position you wish to wear the waistband. Personally, I find waistbands a little more comfortable if they are a little lower than my belly button. Don't pull the tape measure too tight. Cut your elastic to that width with ½ inch (12mm) extra for the overlap you will sew.
Double-check how this feels around your waist. The elastic length should be firm but not tight. The amount of stretch in different types of elastic can vary enormously. Trim any off if necessary - don't forget the extra for the overlap. As a very general rule, you will probably need to trim about 2 inches (5cm) off for thin elastics, while 1 inch (2.5cm) for thicker elastics is normally enough.
The best way to cut elastic is with sharp scissors or a rotary cutter. Most elastics do not fray, so you should get a clean cut. Never cut elastic in half lengthwise if you need a narrower elastic. Cutting lengthwise results in the elastic fraying and stretching out. Always purchase the correct width.
Read about the different types of elastic that you can use for inserting into waistbands.
1. How to Sew an Elastic Waistband in Stretch
Sewing and folding the elastic flat gives a nice smooth look on tight skirts and leggings. It is best for knit fabrics and elastics that are ¾ inch (2cm) or 1 inch (2.5 cm) in width.
BEST TYPE OF ELASTIC TO USE: Woven Elastic
How to Sew an Elastic Waistband Directly to Fabric with a Zig-Zag:
- Prepare the pants or skirt to the point where they require a waistband and turn them the wrong way out. The side seams should be completed.
- Measure a band of elastic long enough to fit your waist. Join the elastic ends into a circle by putting the ends together, but not overlapping them. Zig-zag across the joined ends to sew them together firmly. Try the elastic band on your waist and adjust if necessary. All elastics stretch by different amounts, and some will be more comfortable than others. You may also like to wear a skirt or pants slightly above or below your belly button.
- Mark the elastic band in quarters. Mark the waistband in quarters.
- Place the elastic on the wrong side of the raw edge of fabric. Match the elastic and waistband marks and stitch along the top edge of the fabric with a serger or narrow zigzag stitch. If you use a serger, make sure you don't cut any of the elastic.
- Fold the elastic down. Stitch the edge with a zig-zag stitch, stretch stitch or twin needle.
2. How to Sew an Elastic Waistband Casing (Simple Elastic Waistband)
Creating a casing is the easiest way to sew waistbands for lightweight fabrics. Fabulous for kids' and adult's clothing alike. You will need a safety pin to thread the elastic through the casing. Normally elastic that is used in casings is a little narrower than some of the other methods. ½ inch (12mm) or ¼ inch (6mm) is quite common. You can certainly use wider elastic, but it can become a little bulkier.
BEST TYPE OF ELASTIC TO USE: Braided Elastic
Here are the detailed instructions for how to sew an elastic into a waistband with casing:
- Make sure enough seam allowance at the top is added for the casing.
- On the wrong side of your fabric, press the top raw edge over by ¼ inch (6mm).
- Press the top edge over again for a second fold by the width of the elastic plus ¼ inch (6mm). For ¾ inch (2cm) elastic you would press the edge by 1 inch (2.5cm). This gives the elastic a little wiggle room and allows for the stitching.
- Stitch around the casing close to the bottom edge leaving a gap on one side. Try to leave the gap somewhere inconspicuous.
- Insert elastic through the gap in the casing with a large safety pin.
- Overlap the ends of the elastic edges and stitch. Before moving to the next step, try the skirt or pants on and adjust the elastic if necessary.
- Push the elastic inside the gap and stitch the gap closed with a straight line.
How to Stop a Waistband from Rolling
The biggest drawback with using the casing method of elastic waistbands is that sometimes the elastic can twist or roll over. Here are a few tips to help:
- CASING SIZE - Sew the casing with the minimum amount of space above and below the elastic. The casing should be just larger than the elastic width. If your casing is too small, this can also cause a problem, so the trick is to get it just right.
- TOPSTITCH - When the elastic is inserted in the casing and the gap stitched closed, you can stitch all the way around through the middle of the casing. You will need to stretch the elastic out as you go so that the fabric is flat under your machine foot. Use a thick and strong sewing machine needle.
- REPLACE - Replace the elastic with better quality. You can purchase non-roll elastics, and if nothing you do helps, you may be better off replacing the elastic.
How to Tighten an Elastic Waistband
If you have a store-bought skirt or pants with an elastic that is too loose, it is easy to tighten if it is in a casing. Simply unpick some of the casing stitching - about 1 inch (2.5cm) will do. Grab the elastic out through the gap and cut and resew it shorter.
3. How to Sew an Elastic Waistband Separate
Threading elastic through a separate waistband can reduce some bulk and is great for skirts or pants with a curved top. It is perfect for circular skirts and tulle skirts with lots of bulk and gathering.
If you are adding a separate waistband to woven fabric, you will still see a small amount of gathering. You can see this in the photo on the left. In the photo on the right, you can see that the waistband will sit really flat if you use a stretch fabric. This method is normally used with ¾ inch (2cm) to 1 inch (2.5cm) wide elastic.
BEST TYPE OF ELASTIC TO USE: Woven Elastic
How to Sew an Elastic Waistband that is Separate
- Cut the waistband from fabric using the following formula. For woven fabric, add ease of ¼ inch (6mm), and for stretch fabric, add ⅛ inch (3mm). Ease is added just so your elastic has a bit of wiggle room.
FORMULA FOR FABRIC WIDTH = 2 x (elastic width + seam allowance + ease)
For the length of the fabric, cut at least to your widest hip measurement so you can get the skirt or pants on by stepping into them. Stretch fabric will stretch so it can be cut a little shorter.
- Fold the waistband in half with the right sides together and stitch, leaving a gap just below the middle, which is the width of the elastic.
- Fold the waistband lengthwise with the wrong sides together. Baste the edges.
- Divide the waistband into quarters and mark. Divide the skirt into quarters and mark. For woven fabrics, the skirt may be gathered already to the width of the fabric waistband.
- Match the skirt and waistband quarters and stitch. The hole for the elastic should be facing out.
- Fold up the waistband and thread the elastic using a safety pin. Hand stitch the gap closed with an invisible stitch.
4. How to Sew a Wide Elastic Waistband
Wide elastic or fold over elastic can easily be used for a waistband. Fold-over elastic is normally ⅝ inch (1.5cm) and wide elastic can go up to 1 or 2 inches (2.5-5cm). Regardless of the elastic width, the method is the same.
Keep in mind that narrower fold-over elastic won't hold up the weight of gathered skirts and may be better for underwear, kid's clothing, or items that are light and ungathered. Wide 1 to 2 inch (2.5-5cm) elastic is great for skirts. Look how lovely these bridesmaids' skirts look with wide silver elastic.
How to Make an Elastic Waistband with Wide Elastic
- Cut the elastic to your waist measurement plus 1 inch (2.5cm). Overlap the ends by ½ inch (12mm) and pin it. Try it on your waist to see if it is comfortable and if the elastic needs to be cut shorter.
- Stitch the elastic overlap. I normally use a zig-zag to hold it flat. As this is a wider band, you may need 2 parallel lines of stitching.
- Really wide fabric skirts may need to be gathered slightly first. The gathering needs to be the widest width that you can stretch out the elastic band. A skirt like in the photo above would have had the tulle gathered first to create this double layer look.
- Divide the elastic band into quarters and mark. Divide the top of the skirt into quarters and mark.
- Match the quarter marks on the bottom of the elastic on the right side of the fabric and pin. The skirt will probably be larger than the waistband, so it will gather in between.
- Stretch out the elastic and sew the skirt edge to the elastic with a zig zag stitch. The reason you shouldn't use a straight stitch is that it won't stretch and the stitches may pop.
How to Sew an Elastic Waistband - In Conclusion
So now you know 4 ways how to sew an elastic waistband you will be all set for a variety of clothing. The beauty of elastic is that it is so comfortable and easy to sew.