This easy guide will show you the different types of elastic and their purposes. When you go into any sewing shop there is a mind-boggling selection of elastic widths and types. Elastic is great to use in kids clothing patterns as it is easy to sew and accommodates their fast-growing bodies. If you are a beginner, a simple skirt with elastic should be one of your first projects as it is so easy to do.
TYPES OF ELASTIC
There are 5 main types of elastic. All are used in different applications and serve a specific purpose. Using the right elastic means your pants or skirt will stay up and your swimwear will last through lots of seasons.
- Fold-over Elastic
What is Elastic Made from?
Most elastics are made from rubber which is covered in nylon or polyester fibers.
|TYPE OF ELASTIC||DESCRIPTION||USES|
|Braided||Narrows when stretched||Casings|
|Woven||Firm, does not narrow||Waistbands|
|Knitted||Softer, does not narrow||Waistbands|
|Swimwear||Does not rot or perish||Swimwear, Leotards|
|Fold Over Elastic||Folds in half||Leotards, Underwear|
|Lingerie(Picot)||Decorate loops on side||Underwear|
|Clear||Thin and clear||Gathering Knit Fabric|
|Elastic Thread||Fine thread that stretches||Shirring|
|Baby Elastic||Soft for baby clothes||Casings|
What is Braided Elastic?
Braided elastic is usually used in casings and narrows when stretched. It is great to use in peasant dress patterns for neck casings and wrist casings as it is soft.
It tends to overstretch when used in waist casings so if you do use it for this purpose, you may have to cut the lengths shorter than the pattern specifies.
Braided elastic is not suitable for swimwear or leotard patterns as it stretches out and will not survive chlorine and sweat. You cannot zig-zag over braided elastic on legs or necks as it will stretch out of shape.
When you go shopping you can identify these types of elastic by the long ribbed channels along its length. If you look at the photo you will see these lines.
What is Woven Elastic?
Woven elastic is firm when stretched and unlike braided elastic, does not narrow when stretched.
It is great to use in skirt and pants waistbands as it doesn’t overstretch and lose its shape. Woven elastic often comes in wider widths for a variety of uses.
Woven elastic can be threaded through casings or zig-zagged and then folded over for a non-twist elastic solution.
Further Reading: Sewing Elastic
What is Knitted Elastic
Knitted elastic looks similar to woven elastic but is designed to be soft and more comfortable. It is suitable for casings and waistbands. Knitted elastic does not narrow when stretched so can be zig-zagged over.
What is Swimwear Elastic?
Swimwear elastic is usually firm and is salt and chlorine resistant. It is mostly woven in design but I have seen some swimwear elastic that is braided. Braided swimwear elastic will give the best and most consistent results.
This elastic doesn’t stretch when you zig-zag over it, which is great for swim and leotard necks and legs. It generally comes in 1/4 inch (6mm) or 3/8 inch (10mm) widths. Common brands include Birch and Dritz.
Some commercial swimwear and leotards use rubber elastic in the neck and leg openings but I don’t recommend you using this for home sewing.
Further Reading: How to Sew Elastic in Leotards
What is Fold Over Elastic?
Fold-over elastic has a groove down the center on the underside and is used for binding raw edges on stretch garments. It comes in several widths and an amazing array of patterns and colors. You may see fold-over elastic referred to in your sewing patterns as the abbreviation FOE.
If you are using fold-over elastic for underwear, swimwear or leotards, non-printed plain designs are the best. The foil printing tends to reduce the amount of stretch and although it looks pretty, it can be scratchy. I always use plain fold over elastic.
While fold-over elastic does come in different widths, the most common width you will purchase and sew is 5/8 inch (1.5cm).
Further Reading: How to sew fold over elastic.
What is Lingerie Elastic
As the name suggests, lingerie elastic is a soft elastic designed for underwear. It often has a decorative edge and is soft on the skin. Lingerie elastic is generally stitched to the edge of delicate fabrics.
Another name for lingerie elastic is picot elastic. The widths of this elastic is usually 1/4 inch (6mm) or 3/8 inch (1cm).
More Types of Elastic
There are three more types of elastic you might come across but these are not used as much as the ones above. They are clear elastic, elastic thread and baby elastic.
What is Clear Elastic?
Clear elastic is transparent thin and light elastic mainly used to gather and reinforce knit fabric. It is generally not strong enough to use in casings or waistbands as it is very stretchy and can break easily.
What is Elastic Thread?
Elastic thread is sometimes called shirring elastic and is used in the bobbin of your sewing machine to sew multiple rows that gather into a band. It cannot be used for casings or waistbands as it is very fine and thin and is only designed for sewing.
What is Baby Elastic?
Last on the list of types of elastic is baby elastic which is an extra soft elastic designed for baby clothing. If you are using this type of elastic you will probably need to cut the lengths shorter than the pattern specifies as it is overly stretchy. For this reason, I tend to avoid baby elastic.
Types of Elastic | Tips
Stretch before sewing – My top elastic tip is to always stretch the elastic out a few times before you cut it. A good elastic should return to the same length after it is stretched. Stretch it again after you have cut the elastic just to make sure it is the same length. Trim a little if you need to.
Check the length – Treat elastics lengths in a sewing pattern as a guide and not an absolute. There are so many elastics with different stretch factors that you may need to make some adjustments. If you are threading the elastic through a casing, use the safety pin to join the ends and then try the garment on. After you are happy with the elastic, then stitch up the gap in the casing.
Use the right needles – If you are sewing directly onto the elastic, use a ballpoint or stretch needle to prevent skipped stitches.
Elastic Widths – As a general rule, the wider the elastic the strong and less stretch it will have. If you are substituting a different width to that specified on your pattern, cut the length a little longer and then try the item on and adjust the elastic.
Why not try some woven elastic in the skirt of this FREE girls skirt sewing pattern?