All About Using and Buying Sewing Elastic


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The most common use of elastic is in the waistband of pants, shorts, and skirts. It's a comfortable solution for growing children and weight-fluctuating adults. It also is one of the easiest sewing methods for fitting and garment construction.

The most common issue is the elastic curling and ending up fitting like a tourniquet. Using non-roll elastic and being sure you have enough ease in the elastic will solve that problem.

Follow Pattern Directions

When you are sewing a garment from scratch, most patterns call for a casing to hold the elastic. You must follow the pattern directions and use the width of elastic that is called for in the sewing notions for the pattern.

Most commercial patterns include an "elastic guide" in the pattern pieces which tell you what length to cut the piece of elastic. In most cases, the piece of elastic is cut 2 to 4 inches smaller than the waist.

Practice Makes Perfect

It may take some time and practice to find what is comfortable for you. Experiment by starting with an elastic casing and the elastic cut to the waist measurement. Guide the elastic through the casing and experiment to find when the elastic is comfortable for you. Don't be surprised to find that your experiment will need to be repeated when you use the exact same pattern but a different type of fabric or elastic.

Match the Elastic to the Fabric Weight

Loosely woven elastic is not going to hold up to a denim fabric and stiff, tightly woven elastic will cause a blouse-weight cotton fabric to be stiff and unyielding. In most cases, you will want an elastic that is appropriate for the weight of fabric you are sewing.

Where to Find Elastic

Packaged elastic is available where sewing notions are sold and the labels will guide you to know if the elastic in that package is suitable for the job at hand.

A well-stocked sewing fabric store also may have elastic by the yard on spools. This is often the only way to find elastic in various colors and unusual designs.

Visiting a garment district is the best way to find a vast assortment of colors and types of elastic. Before you decide to stock up on elastic to have in your stash, remember that elastic does age and can lose its elasticity.

Sport Elastic

Ready-made garments usually have rows of stitching holding the elastic in place. This type of sewing method uses elastic that is designed for rows of stitching through it. Sport Elastic is available to the home sewer which has rows that are unbraided for you to stitch in the un-braided row.

Underwear, Pajama and Lingerie Elastic

The placement of undergarment elastic is important for the wearer to be comfortable. This elastic must breath to allow perspiration to escape and dry so skin problems do not happen. 

Undergarment, underwear, lingerie, hosiery and pajama elastic are all common names for the type of elastic you will need for a garment when the elastic will have direct contact with the skin.

Underwear, Pajama and Lingerie Elastic
Debbie Colgrove

Pajama Elastic

Pajamas, boxers, and many other undergarments usually have elastic that is stitched directly to the fabric and the elastic is worn against the skin. This is not an opportunity for using "any old elastic." You want pajama elastic that is constructed for this purpose so that it will stretch and return to its original size and shape for it to be comfortably worn.

Plush Elastic

Plush elastic is another option when the elastic will have direct contact with the skin. Plush elastic can be stitched directly to the fabric with the plush or fuzzy side being exposed to contact with the body. Plush elastic is not suitable for swimwear. Baby elastic also is a soft option.

Baby Elastic

Baby elastic is available in 1/4-inch and 1/8-inch widths. It is a lightweight elastic ideal for baby and doll clothing. When stretched, the elastic narrows. This elastic can be used in a casing or sewn directly to the fabric. 

Baby Elastic
Debbie Colgrove

Swimwear Elastic

Sewing swimwear requires you to read the label on any elastic you are going to use. The elastic you use should be labeled safe for saltwater, chlorine and suntan oil.

Temperature endurance may not seem like an important consideration but a trip to one hot tub or spa will prove its importance. Using the wrong type of elastic can lead to embarrassing moments. The incorrect elastic may stretch out of shape and lose its elasticity when it is wet.

Lightweight, clear elastic is not labeled as swimwear elastic but does meet the needs of swimwear. Reading the small print will let you know that the product you are about to purchase is intended for swimwear. It is a thin, soft, stretchy elastic that stretches three to four times its original length.

Swimwear Elastic
Debbie Colgrove

Braided and Knitted Elastics

As you approach a notions counter, you will notice different labels on the elastic. Understanding the labels is the first step to knowing the difference in the kinds of elastic. Look at the weight or thickness of the elastic and relate it to the project at hand.

A heavy denim fabric, for example, is going to require a heavier and stiffer elastic than a T-shirt-weight fabric.

The widest variety of widths of elastic will have packages labeled knit or braided.

Braided Elastic

Braided elastic is lightweight and it narrows or curls when it is stretched. It can be inserted in a casing or sewn directly to the wrong side of the fabric.

Knitted Elastic

Knitted elastic resists curling when stretched but it is not a non-roll elastic. Knitted elastic is a soft and comfortable option. This elastic may be suitable for swimwear. Always check the information on the packaging.

Braided, Knitted, Shopping for Elastic
Debbie Colgrove

Cord Elastic

Cord elastic is commonly available in black and white. It is comfortable against the skin and has optimal give. It is small in size making it superior for doll clothes and baby sewing.

Even though this elastic has great stretchability, be sure to fit it properly so there is no tourniquet-effect when the garment is worn. It is commonly used to make loops as buttonholes which allow some give in the button-fitting area.

Many jewelry-supply counters will have ​a fine elastic cord. This is not the type of elastic that is designed for the rigors of sewing or laundering.

Cord Elastic
Debbie Colgrove

Buttonhole Elastic

Buttonhole elastic is relatively new. It is an elastic product that has buttonholes woven into the elastic. The buttonholes allow you to adjust the fit of the elastic but do require an opening in an elastic casing for accessibility to the elastic and a button outside the casing to hold the elastic.

The fitting adjustment that buttonhole elastic allows is excellent for children's clothing and maternity clothing. The end of the elastic needs to be turned under and stitched, serged or zigzagged to prevent the elastic from unraveling.

Buttonhole elastic.
Debbie Colgrove

Drawstring Elastic

Drawstring elastic is a soft, comfortable elastic that has a built-in drawstring. The drawstring can expand to twice the length of the elastic. The elastic is inserted into a casing and a buttonhole is used to pull the drawstring to the inside or outside of the garment.

Drawstring Elastic
Debbie Colgrove

Elastic Tips and Care

Fitting issues do happen with elastic. Following the pattern directions should give you accurate results but you may discover that after you wear the garment for a bit, the elastic becomes too loose.

You can solve this problem by stretching the elastic a couple of times before you make a final measurement to cut the elastic. By stretching it and allowing it to relax you will have a more accurate fit to start with, then cutting the elastic that may have sat untouched for an extended length of time.

Elastic Tips and Care
Debbie Colgrove

Laundering and Drying Garments with Elastic

How hot your hot water is, or how hot the "sanitize" mode on your washer gets, can be adjusted before you wash items with elastic. 

Almost all elastic will say that it will withstand temperatures to 200 degrees but anyone who has invested in expensive lingerie will say that they do not machine dry their lingerie, believing that the heat of the dryer will shorten the life of the elastic.

Machine drying your items with elastic in them, is a decision only you can make but just as a dryer filter fills with lint from the clothing, there are high temperatures that may affect the life of the elastic.

Use the Right Needle

Sewing machines vary and so does their performance when sewing directly on elastic. Even when you are using a woven fabric, you may need to use a ballpoint needle when sewing the elastic onto the fabric.

If your thread is knotting and bunching, you may need to change to a sharp needle, even on knit fabric.

Use the Right Stitch

When sewing elastic to fabric, use a stretch stitch or narrow zigzag stitch so the stitching will stretch with the elastic.

Storing Elastic

Store your elastic out of direct light, especially sunlight, and in a cool location. Extended light and heat will affect the lifespan of your elastic stash.

Many people wrap elastic around cardboard rolls such as paper towel or toilet paper rolls. Do not stretch the elastic or use tension as you wrap it on the rolls.

How Wide Should Elastic Be?

Here are some rules of thumb to follow:

  • Waistbands: 3/4 to 1 inch for most garments, 1/2 inch may be wide enough on lightweight children's clothing
  • Necklines: 1/8 to 1/4 inch
  • Sleeves: 1/8 to 1/2 inch
  • Swimwear: 1/4 to 3/4 inch