Do you know how to sew with elastic? It’s very useful, though the process isn’t always straightforward. Fortunately, there are some tips and tricks to make sewing with elastic easier.
Why All Sewists Need to Learn How to Sew With Elastic
Sewing elastic is a wonderful tool to have in your sewing arsenal.
You can use elastic functionally, to make clothing more comfortable and easier to wear. You can also use it decoratively, to add shirring or gathering.
If that’s not enough, learning how to sew with elastic will teach you a lot about different types of materials, and will make you a better sewist.
Choosing Your Haberdashery Elastic
There are many types of elastic, and each serves a different purpose.
Here are a few of the most popular types.
Baby elastic is a lightweight braided elastic. It’s used for face masks, baby clothing, doll clothing, and sleeves.
Braided elastic is made from numerous elastic strands braided together. The braiding makes this type of elastic strong and durable. At the same time, it rolls easily and can lose stretch when you sew through it.
For this reason, braided elastic is a more common choice for use in casings rather than sewn directly to fabric.
Clear elastic is a strong, soft, transparent film. It comes in a variety of widths, including elastic cord. Clear elastic is a popular choice for beading and jewelry making, while wider varieties of clear elastic are often used in garments and swimwear.
The term “flat elastic” refers to any type of elastic that lies flat. It’s a good choice for garment making, home furnishings, general crafts, and more.
Fold-over elastic has a channel running down the middlet. You can use this channel as a fold line, and fold it over the raw edges of fabric to seal them. Swimwear is the most obvious application for this type of elastic. You’ll also see it quite often around the waistband and leg holes of underwear, as well as in the manufacture of headbands.
Knitted elastic refers to any sort of elastic where the fibres are knitted together, as opposed to woven. Knitted elastic is softer than woven elastic. It also stands up well to needles.
Lingerie elastic, or lace lingerie elastic, is a lightweight elastic that often has a pretty finish. Its main use is in lingerie.
Shirring (Elastic Thread)
Shirring means sewing multiple, closely spaced rows with elastic thread in the bobbin and regular thread in the needle. You can use shirring elastic to add a decorative touch to items, or to create a customized silhouette on garments. 
Elastic for swimwear is often made from polyurethane, rather than rubber or polyester. Polyurethane stands up better to chlorine, salt, sunlight, sunscreen, and heat.
You can tell woven elastic by its vertical and horizontal ribbing. Because woven elastic retains its width when stretched and doesn’t roll very easily, it’s a good choice for waistband casings.
Which Needle Should You Use to Sew With Elastic?
You should use a needle made for stretch fabrics when sewing with elastic. Stretch needles have a blunt point that pushes between threads rather than piercing them. Piercing elastic threads can make your elastic less stretchy.
For more on information on needles and how to select them, check out How To Identify Sewing Machine Needles once you’re done here.
What Stitch Do You Use to Sew Elastic?
There are several stitches you can use.
Many sewists like to use a zig zag stitch. A zig zag stitch is made to stretch, unlike a straight stitch. If your machine has a three-step zig zag stitch, that’s even better.
Some sewists like to use an overlock stitch, as it mimics the effect of using a serger. It’s also quite strong.
Some sewists also like to use a honeycomb stitch.
Do You Stretch Elastic When Sewing?
That depends on what you’re trying to do.
If you want to gather your fabric, as you might for a waistband, then you should cut the elastic a bit smaller than the length of the fabric edge and stretch it while sewing.
On the other hand, if you’re using clear elastic as a stabilizer, then cut it to the same length as the fabric edge and don’t stretch it.
How to Make a Casing for Elastic
A casing is a fabric tube into which elastic is inserted. The elastic is typically shorter than the length of the tube, which causes the fabric to gather. You’ll often see casings used for waistbands, gathered sleeves, and gathered trouser cuffs.
Here’s one way to make a quick, easy casing.
Step 1: Finish the Raw Edge
Finish your raw edge, either with a serger or by folding it over and stitching it with a ¼-inch (six millimeter) seam allowance.
Step 2: Fold
Fold the edge of your fabric over onto the wrong side.
If you used a serger to finish the raw edge, fold the fabric the width of your elastic plus ⅛ inch (three millimeters) for ease.
If you folded the raw edge over and stitched it down, fold the fabric the width of your elastic plus ¼ inch (six millimeters).
Now press it and pin it down.
Step 3: Stitch
Stitch the casing down close to the edge, leaving a gap through which to insert the elastic.
Step 4: Trim the Elastic
Trim your elastic to the desired length.
Step 5: Insert the Elastic
Depending on your elastic, and your fabric, this might be easier or harder. One way of making the job easier is to pin a safety pin through one end of the elastic. This will give you something solid to pull through the casing.
Step 6: Complete the Loop
The elastic should now be threaded all the way through the casing, with both ends sticking out of the hole. Place the ends one on top of the other, and use your sewing machine to stitch them together.
Step 7: Finish
Use your sewing machine to close the hole where you inserted the elastic. You could also hand stitch this part.
How to Sew Elastic With a Sewing Machine
It’s not hard, but it can be fiddly. Here’s a quick step by step.
Step 1: Cut Your Elastic
Do you want the elastic to gather your fabric? If so, then cut it a bit shorter than the length of the fabric. If you want the elastic to provide stretch without gathering, for example on the leg holes of swimwear, your elastic should measure a bit longer than the length of the fabric.
Step 2: If You’re Making a Loop
If the elastic will form a loop, for example in a waistband or around a sleeve or leg hole, stitch the ends together. You can stitch the ends one on top of the other.
Step 3: Pin
Pin your elastic to the wrong side of the fabric. You’ll be making four equally spaced anchor points.
First (for a loop) pin the seam of your elastic to the seam of your fabric. Make sure the top edge of the elastic is about ¼ inch (six millimeters) down from the edge of the fabric.
Next, find the opposite point of the elastic loop and pin it to the fabric at the corresponding point on the fabric.
Now, find the two halfway points on the elastic strips between the pins, and pin them accordingly.
Step 4: Sew
Set your machine to a zig zag stitch. A zig zag stitch can move and stretch with your elastic, and keep the thread from breaking when the elastic stretches.
Place the fabric into the sewing machine, elastic side up. Your pin should be even with the needle.
Lower the presser foot and needle. Grasp the fabric and elastic behind the needle with one hand, while holding the second pin in front of the needle with the other hand.
Stretch the elastic so that it lies flat together with the fabric.
Start sewing. When you reach the pin, stop, remove the pin, then grasp the next pin and continue.
Why Won’t My Sewing Machine Sew Through Elastic?
There are a number of reasons, including:
- Using the wrong needle
- The upper thread tension is too high
- The bobbin tension is too high
- Presser foot pressure is too high
How to Sew Elastic by Hand
Sewing elastic by hand is similar in theory to sewing it by machine. You’ll still need to join your ends, pin it to the wrong side of your fabric at four equidistant points, and stretch while sewing.
This video shows you how to make a zigzag stitch by hand.
How Do You Sew With Elastic Thread?
To sew with elastic thread, you’ll be using elastic thread in your bobbin, and regular thread for the top thread.
Can I Use Elastic Thread in My Sewing Machine?
First, wind your bobbin by hand. Don’t stretch the elastic. Insert your bobbin as usual.
Next, thread your top thread with regular thread.
Now, set your stitch length for 3 or longer. Always sew a few test rows!
Never use a sewing machine’s automatic thread trimmer to cut elastic thread, as it will cut the ends too short.
How to Sew Elastic Directly to Fabric
Make sure to cut your elastic to the right length: longer for no gathers, or shorter for more gathering. Anchor the elastic to the fabric
How Do You Sew Elastic Around Fabric?
The best way to do this is by making a casing and running the elastic through it. Check out this video to see how it’s done.
How Do You Sew Elastic to Itself?
There are two ways to connect pieces of elastic.
First, you can lay one end over the other end and stitch them together using a zigzag stitch.
Alternatively, you can connect the ends of the elastic using a piece of fabric. This creates a very strong bond, and won’t give you a lump like you might get from simply sewing the ends together.
See how it’s done in the video below.
What’s the Best Way to Sew Elastic Together?
A lot of people prefer to connect the ends using a piece of fabric, as it gives a strong, smooth finish.
How to Sew Elastic Ends Together
You can either layer one end on top of the other, or squeeze the two ends together.
Either way, it’s best to connect them with a zigzag stitch.
Knowing how to sew elastic can take your sewing to a whole new level. You can attach elastic to fabric by hand or by machine.
Now you should know how to:
- Sew a casing
- Attach elastic directly to fabric
- Join two pieces of elastic
- Sew elastic ends together
Did you enjoy this tutorial? Let us know in the comments!
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- Katie Whittle | A Guide To Shirring | https://www.seamwork.com/articles/a-guide-to-elastic-shirring