Tuesday, August 26, 2014


With practice, adding elastic to your project can be very easy, and the benefits are huge! You can use elastic in a number of different ways, but most commonly, you will find it in the waistband of skirts, pants, and shorts.

There are two ways to add elastic: make a casing, or sew it directly on your fabric.

Make a casing:
To make a casing, fold down the edge of your fabric 1/4" to 1/2", and iron. Then fold it down again, making it slightly larger than the width of your elastic.

You want space for the elastic to sit properly in the casing, plus a little bit of space for it to move, and to sew your casing. For example, if you have 1" wide elastic, you will want to have at least 1 1/4" of a fold. You can do more, especially if this is your first attempt at elastic, but too much space in the casing makes it easy for your elastic to roll.

Sew your casing down close to the bottom edge of your fold, making sure you leave an opening. Sometimes this is the end of your casing tube, but if you're making a waistband, you will leave a gap, preferably somewhere unnoticeable, like towards a side seam. Make sure to backstitch on either side of that gap, to secure your threads.

Cut the elastic down to the length you need. Commercial patterns that use elastic often have an elastic guide, which will help with that. Or, you can leave the elastic long, and trim to size after fitting.

To get the elastic in your casing, there are specialty tools you can buy, like a bodkin or these elastic threaders.

But it's hard to beat old faithful: the safety pin. Pierce the end of your elastic with your safety pin, and feed it into the casing.

Bunch up the fabric of the casing, and push the safety pin through. By inching the safety pin along, you thread the casing with your elastic.

Once your elastic is through, make sure there are no twists. Overlap the ends of your elastic, sew together with some zig-zag stitches, then close up that gap.

I prefer to use non-roll elastic to put into waistband casings; it bothers me when I get weird fold in my clothes because my elastic has started twisting. But non-rolling elastic is stiffer and can feel too tough. You can use knit elastic instead, which can roll more easily, but is much softer and more flexible.

Direct application (flat elastic):
To attach elastic directly to your fabric, cut the length that you need. If your elastic frays easily, zig zag the edge to keep it from coming apart.

Pin your elastic to one end of the space it needs to be. Then pin the other end. Stretching the elastic gently, pin it down evenly to the rest of the fabric.

Use a ballpoint or jersey needle in your machine. You can use a straight stitch or a zig-zag stitch. Straight stitches look nicer, but zig-zag stitches will have a little more stretch.

Sew the elastic down slowly, gently stretching the elastic in front and behind the presser foot, and back-stitching at the top and bottom to secure your stitches.

For larger elastics, you may want to do both edges, rather than going down the middle. Either way, test your elastic, and you've done some elastic ruching.

If you decide to sew your elastic directly on your fabric, you will want to use knit elastic, since it does not narrow when stretched, as braid elastic does. Underwear elastic is also a good choice (you don't only have to use it for undergarments).

Direct application (elastic thread):
Flat elastic isn't the only type of elastic out there. Cords can be sewn on to make stretchy loops for button closures, and very fine elastic cords can be used as thread. Shirring is done with elastic thread, for example.

Mark your fabric where you want to sew the elastic. Here I've put in three guidelines.

To do this, wind some elastic thread around an empty bobbin by hand. Take care not to stretch the elastic as you wind, but make sure it isn't too loose and hanging off, either. Elastic thread is much thicker than normal sewing thread, so hand-winding doesn't take too long. If your bobbin has small holes, thread the end through a hole before you start, to give yourself an anchor. Once you've wound your bobbin, stretch that end sticking out, and cut it off.

Place the bobbin into your casing, just like you would normally.

Set your machine for a long stitch. A longer stitch will let your elastic have more give, and make it stretchier. Test your settings with your fabric, to find the right amount of stretch for your project.

Pull out enough thread and elastic to have a long tail, and start sewing normally, but do not backstitch at the beginning or end.

At the end, cut off enough for a long tail. You should have two long pieces of thread and elastic on either end of your sewing. Tie a knot on either side. If you want to really secure it, use some fabric glue. But if you sew all three lines, you should get some gathering happening.

By leaving the elastic as it was sewn, you should have a very stretchy bit of shirring.

For any of these elastic applications, snip the thread on the right side, close to the fabric.

Then pull the longer, untrimmed thread towards the wrong side. You should end up with two small scraps of thread, and a professional, finished look on the right side.

Like most things in sewing, adding elastic requires lots of practice. Test out different methods before you work on your final project, and you'll be much happier with your results!

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