Learn how to sew elastic. Sewing elastic in an elastic waistband, neck, or wrists is a really quick and easy way to make simple garments. You can use sewing elastic by either attaching the elastic to the edge or creating a casing and threading it through. Gentle gathers are better suited to the attachment method and fuller gathers are better created with elastic threaded through a casing.
Sewing Elastic Tutorial
In this tutorial, I will show you 2 easy ways of sewing elastic. These are the most commonly used methods.
- Sewing Elastic to an Edge
- Creating a Casing and Threading the Elastic Through
Method 1 - Sewing Elastic to an Edge
This method of sewing elastic in an elastic waistband is perfect for wider elastics where a gentle gather is required.
BEST FOR - This method is commonly used on knit fabrics and in leotard patterns where elastic needs to be attached to the neck, waistband or legs. Sewing elastic to an edge is rarely used in woven fabric patterns.
BEST NEEDLES - Because you will be stitching directly on to the elastic, you will need ballpoint or stretch sewing needles. Some elastics may be sewn with universal sewing needles but if you find that your stitches are skipping, switch to one designed for stretch.
BEST FOOT - Most sewing elastics can be sewn on with a regular all-purpose sewing foot but if you are still getting skipped or irregular stitches even with a stretch needle, try a Teflon sewing foot. The Teflon foot glides over the elastic and keeps the stitches moving evenly.
BEST THREAD - When sewing elastic to an edge, use a good quality polyester thread. Cheap threads are likely to break halfway through your stitching and cause you frustration.
BEST TYPE OF ELASTIC - Use knit elastic or woven elastic when sewing elastic to an edge. These types of elastic do not narrow when stretched and are fairly stable to sew on top of without stretching out of shape. Swimwear elastic is great for leotards and swimwear as it has the added bonus of not rotting with chemicals or sweat.
How to Sew Elastic Edges
Step 1: Fold your elastic into a loop and overlap the ends by ½ inch (12mm). Stitch the ends together. I like to use 2 rows to hold the ends flat.
Step 2: Divide your elastic into quarters. Mark with a removable pen or chalk.
Step 3: Divide the edge of the waistband or cuff into quarters. Mark with a removable pen or chalk.
Step 4: Pin the elastic on the wrong side to the edge of the waistband, matching the quarter marks. Notice how the elastic is smaller than the waistband edge.
Step 6: Stretch out the elastic between each mark and stitch along the edge with either a wide zig-zag or serger. If you use a serger, there is no need to cut the edge as this can weaken the elastic.
Step 7: On the inside of the waist, fold the elastic down by its width and pin it in place. You will need to stretch the elastic out.
Step 8: On the edge of the elastic waistband, stitch it in place stretching it flat as you go. You can use a zig-zag stitch or a straight stitch. If you are sewing this elastic waistband on a stretch garment then a zig-zag or twin needle is your best option.
And there you have it – a beautiful, gathered elastic waistband that won’t twist.
Method 2 - Sewing Elastic in a Casing
This method of sewing elastic in an elastic waistband is great for thin or thick elastic where fuller gathers are desired. As well as waistbands, it is commonly used in the neck of peasant dress patterns. I have referred to creating a casing on a waistband but this method works equally well on necks, sleeves and ankles.
BEST FOR - Woven fabric sewing patterns
BEST NEEDLES, THREAD AND FOOT - When sewing elastic in a casing, you will not be sewing directly on the elastic (except in step 5). This means you can use the best needle, thread and foot for your fabric. For woven fabric, this means a universal needle, all-purpose thread and the all-purpose foot.
BEST ELASTIC - The best elastic for casings is braided elastic. This type of elastic is soft and designed for this kind of application. (Further reading: Types of Elastic)
How to Sew Elastic Casings
Step 1: Press the top raw edge of your waistband over by ¼ inch (6mm) on the wrong side of the fabric.
Step 2: Press the top edge over again by the width of the fabric plus ¼ inch. For example:
- If your elastic is ½ inch (12mm) (then press over the casing by ¾ inch (2cm).
- If your elastic is 1 inch (2.5cm) then press it over 1 ¼ inches (3.2cm)
Step 3: Stitch around the bottom edge of the casing leaving a 1 inch (2.5cm) gap somewhere that is not noticeable. This is generally either the side or the back of the waistband. I tend to put it one side of a seam so it does not end up too bulky where the elastic will be threaded through. Backstitch either side of the gap.
Step 4: Put a safety pin through the end of your elastic and thread it all the way around the casing and through the other side. You can also purchase specialty sewing bodkins to easily thread elastic.
Step 5: Overlap the ends of the elastic by ½ inch (12mm) and stitch either with a zigzag stitch or a straight stitch sewn in a square. As you will be sewing through the elastic, it is best to use a ball point needle.
Step 6: Push the elastic back in the casing and then stitch the gap closed.
All finished! You just need to arrange the gathers evenly.
How to Sew Elastic Without Twisting
For sewing elastic with method 1, there is no danger the elastic can twist, but for method 2 using a casing, the elastic can twist around causing discomfort.
If you have already stitched your elastic into the casing before you realized that it is twisting, there is something you can do to fix it.
Stop Wide Elastic Twisting
Distribute the gathers evenly around the waist and put pins at the quarter marks. Put your skirt back in your machine, the right way up and stitch through the center of the elastic. You will need to stretch the elastic flat between the pins so you don’t get any puckers or gathers.
Stop Thin Elastic Twisting
Ensure the gathers are distributed evenly and mark the center back and sides with a pin. Simply put a vertical row of stitching at the center back and sides. Depending on the style you could put a row at the front as well.
Other Sewing Elastic Methods
There are 3 other methods of sewing elastic that are worth mentioning. These are
- Fold-over elastic
- Shirring elastic
- Lingerie elastic
- Clear elastic
Fold Over Elastic
Fold over elastic has a groove down the center and is used on the edge of knit fabric sewing patterns on items such as underwear and leotards.
Read More About Fold Over Elastic
Read the full tutorial on how to sew fold over elastic.
Shirring Elastic (Sewing Elastic Thread)
Shirring elastic is sometimes called elastic thread and is used to create rows of elastic to form a band generally at the waist. The elastic thread is hand-wound on the bobbin and sewn with your sewing machine. The machine will be threaded with regular thread on top and the elastic thread in the bobbin.
Learn More about Elastic Thread
Read the full tutorial on how to sew elastic thread
Sewing Elastic for Lingerie
Lingerie elastic or picot elastic is commonly found on the edge of lingerie and underwear. It is sewn in a similar manner to the method used for sewing elastic to fabric edges. The main difference is that the elastic is folded over slightly differently at the end.
Learn More About Lingerie Elastic
Read the full tutorial on how to sew lingerie elastic
Sewing Clear Elastic
Clear elastic is used to gather knit fabric rather than for casings or the edges of fabric. Using it as a gathering method is important for sewing stretch fabric where the waistband of the dress needs to stretch in order to get over the body.
Learn More About Gathering Elastic
Read the full tutorial on how to gather with elastic
Sewing Elastic FAQs
Which Stitch Do You Use to Sew Elastic?
The best stitch to sew elastic is a zig-zag stitch. When sewing elastic to the fabric, use a wide zig-zag stitch of a medium length. If you are sewing the ends of elastic together a zig-zag stitch or straight stitch can be used. For a straight stitch, overlap the ends of the elastic and sew a square. Make sure you backstitch well.
Do You Stretch Elastic When Sewing?
It is common to stretch elastic when you sew it to elastic. The elastic will typically be smaller than the raw edge of the fabric to which you will be sewing it. The amount it is stretched will depend on the type of elastic and the length of the fabric that you are sewing. Elastic is normally 1 to 2 inches than a waist measurement.
Do You Need Special Thread to Sew Elastic
When sewing elastic, use a good quality polyester thread. Choose a quality brand such as Rasant, Coates, or Gutermann. A quality thread is less likely to snap or result in skipped stitches.
How Do You Join Two Pieces of Elastic Together?
To join the ends of elastic, overlap the ends by ½ to 1 inch then stitch through both layers with either a zig-zag stitch or a straight stitch. If using a straight stitch, you can sew 2 vertical lines or a square shape. This will prevent the elastic from coming unstitched.
Can You Sew Elastic With a Straight Stitch?
You can sew the ends of elastic with a straight stitch but when sewing elastic to a fabric edge, a zig-zag stitch will give better results. Straight stitches on stretch fabric or elastic tend to pop when stretched out.
Why Won't My Sewing Machine Sew Over Elastic
If your machine doesn't like sewing elastic, it is most likely one of 3 issues. The most common problem is using the wrong needles. Elastic needs to be sewn with ballpoint or stretch needles. Using a universal needle can lead to skipped stitches. Make sure your thread is of good smooth quality for both the top and bobbin. And lastly, it can help to switch to a Teflon or walking foot.
Sewing Elastic (How to Sew Elastic)
- Stretch Needles
- Strong Polyester Thread
- Knit or Woven Elastic
Sewing Elastic to Fabric
- Overlap the ends of the elastic by ½ inch (12mm) to form a loop and stitch the ends with a zig-zag stitch or straight stitch in a square.
- Divide the elastic in quarters and mark.
- Divide the fabric edge in quarters and mark.
- Pin the elastic to the wrong side of the fabric. Match the quarter marks of the elastic and fabric.
- Stretch the elastic between the marks and zig-zag.
- Fold the elastic down and zig-zag it again.
Sewing Elastic in a Casing
- Press the edge of the fabric over twice by ¼ inch (6mm), then by slightly more than the width of your elastic. For 1 inch elastic, press over ¼ inch then 1 ¼ inch.
- Stitch around the bottom of the casing leaving a gap somewhere not noticeable. The gap should be slightly wider than the elastic.
- Attach a safety pin to the end of the elastic and thread it through the casing.
- Overlap the elastic ends and stitch.
- Stitch the gap in the casing closed.
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