How to Sew a Dress With Elastic Thread

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Gather Your Materials

You can buy elastic thread gathered fabric by the inch at a fabric store or you can make your own with the fabric of your choice. The following directions will create a sundress or nightgown that will fit adult sizes small to large.

  • Fabric: 60-inch wide lightweight fabric and light- to medium-weight knits lend themselves to gathering with elastic thread. A heavy or stiff fabric will not give you good results. A sundress that will fit small to large requires one-quarter to one yard of fabric for the length of the dress. (If a larger dress is desired, you will need to "gather" the length of the fabric rather than the width. Purchase at least one and a half times the fabric of the widest body measurement.) Purchase extra fabric if straps are desired.
  • Threads: You will need thread that matches the fabric and a spool of elastic thread. Purchase new elastic thread, not elastic thread that has been in a sewing box for years. Elastic ages and loses its elasticity over time.
  • Sewing machine and two bobbins: You'll need one for regular sewing thread and one more for the elastic thread.

Prepare the Fabric

  1. Pre-shrink your fabric.
  2. Thread the sewing machine with your regular sewing thread (bobbin and upper thread).
  3. Square the fabric, making sure that both cut edges are straight.
  4. Sew a small baby hem on what will be the top edge of your ​sundress. (Turn under 1/8 to 1/4 inch, press, turn under again to enclose the raw edge. Sew the hem in place by sewing as close to the folded edge on the body of the fabric as possible.)
  5. Press.

Thread Your Sewing Machine With the Elastic Thread

  1. To sew with elastic thread, you must hand wind the bobbin. Do this without stretching the elastic thread. Wind the elastic thread on the bobbin until the bobbin is full.
  2. Thread the top of the sewing machine with your regular sewing thread.
  3. Place the bobbin in the sewing machine and thread the bobbin as you would regular sewing thread.
  4. Leave a thread tail of the elastic thread and bring the elastic thread up through the sewing machine throat plate.
  5. Always leave a couple of inches of thread tail when you stop sewing with elastic thread. ​Do not use automatic thread cutting features on your sewing machine while sewing with elastic thread. The automatic thread cutter will not leave a long enough tail, causing the end of the elastic thread to pull back into the bobbin case, requiring you to rethread the machine.
  6. Set your stitch length at 3.0 or longer. Test the set up on a scrap of fabric. The weight of the fabric and the stitch length will both impact the amount of bunching the elastic thread will create.

Create Rows of Gathering

  1. With the right side of the fabric up, beginning just under the hemmed edge, sew a row of stitching an even distance from the hem.
  2. Repeat sewing rows of stitching an even distance (approximately 1/4 inch) from each other, using your presser foot as a seam guide.
  3. Sew 2 to 12 inches of elastic bobbin rows of stitching, depending on how much gathering you desire. For a comfortable summer nightgown, 2 inches is sufficient on a very lightweight fabric. For the elasticized fabric to cover the bust area, sew 10 to 12 inches worth of rows.

Seam the Dress

  1. Rethread the sewing machine with regular thread in the bobbin and upper thread.
  2. Aligning the top edge and the selvages, pin the selvage edges together.
  3. Sew a seam that is 1/2 inch in from the selvages, on the body of the fabric.
  4. Press.
  5. Trim away the selvages.
  6. Apply a seam finish.
  7. Press.

Add Optional Tie Straps

  1. Cut two 2-inch strips the width of the fabric.
  2. Remove the selvages.
  3. Fold in 1/4 inch on each end, bringing the wrong sides of the fabric together.
  4. Press the length of the strip in half.
  5. Press each edge into the pressed line, placing the wrong sides of the fabric together.
  6. Refold and align the folded edges to match.
  7. Sew as close to the aligned edges as possible, pivoting at the ends to sew the ends closed.
  8. Fold the length of the sewn strips in half and cut on the fold.
  9. Try on the sundress and pin the ties in place so they will tie on the shoulder.
  10. Sew the ties in place on the top hem.

Hem the Dress or Nightgown

Hem a Sun Dress

  1. Try on the dress and decide the desired length.
  2. Add 2 1/2 inches to the desired finished length.
  3. Trim away any excess fabric.
  4. Turn under 1/2 inch and press.
  5. Turn under 2 inches and press in place.
  6. Hand sew or use your sewing machine blind hem to sew the hem in place.

Hem a Nightgown

  1. Try on the nightgown and decide on the desired length. (For a rough measurement, use the distance from the armpit to the knee.)
  2. Add 1 inch to the desired length and trim away any excess fabric.
  3. Turn under 1/2 inch and press.
  4. Turn under again and press in place.
  5. Sew in place, sewing as close to the fold on the body of the fabric as possible.