Hi, I’m Katy and I am going to talk about everything elastic!
Elastics are not all the same or interchangeable, so knowing the different types of elastics available to sew with and how to choose the right elastic for your project makes a huge difference to the finish of your final garment!
Elastic is used in everything from necklines and waistbands, to underwear and swim or gym wear. There are elastic threads that you can sew with, elastic for casings and even elastics with holes for buttons. Elastic is amazing because it stretches out but returns to its original size.
Elastic can be attached directly to a sewing project or it can be placed inside a casing; but because there are so many options available, the possibilities for its use are endless and sometimes confusing as to what type to use for a project.
I’m going to give an overview of the characteristics of different types of elastic, and how to choose the best type of elastic for your sewing project. So, let’s get started!
TYPES OF ELASTICS
Knit elastics are made with knitted fibres and its defining characteristic is that it doesn’t narrow when stretched. Knitted elastics do not lose their elasticity when sewn so they are able to be stitched to fabrics as well as being inside casings. Knitted elastic is soft and doesn’t rub against the skin. Knit elastic is a lightweight elastic and not suited for heavy fabrics
- Inside a casing when the elastic needs to be topstitched down to prevent the elastic from twisting like in a waistband
- Sewn directly onto the fabric of sleeve hems or waistbands to create a fitted garment that is comfortable to wear
Braided elastic has parallel horizontal ribs running the length of the elastic, and when stretched, the elastic narrows and may roll. When braided elastic is sewn over, it loses some of its stretch. This is why it is not suited to being sewn directly to fabric. Braided elastic has a rough texture, so it is best used inside a casing. When calculating how much elastic to use, remember to consider that braided stretches more than the other types of elastic, so you may need a shorter length for your project. Braided elastic is quite lightweight and not suited to heavyweight fabrics.
- Inside neckline casings or sleeve casings
- Inside waistband casings, if not being topstitched down
Woven Elastic or Plush Elastic
Woven elastic, or non-roll elastic have fibres that are woven together to create an elastic that does not narrow when stretched or lose its elasticity when being sewn on. It is stronger than knit or braided elastics, and works best for medium to heavyweight fabric. It usually has vertical ribs through the elastic. It works great in casings where you need a strong elastic that won’t roll or bend when worn. Woven elastic also comes in lots of colors and designs so it is perfect for exposed waistbands. Because it is such a firm elastic you may need a strong needle in your sewing machine to attach it,
- Waistbands on skirts or pants (when topstitched or used inside a casing)
- Waistbands for men’s underwear (like the Gables)
- Bands on active wear such as crop tops or leggings
- Home decor
Clear elastic is stretchy and transparent. There are varying levels of stretch available for clear elastic. Clear elastic will narrow when stretched and is best suited for lightweight or mediumweight stretch fabrics. It is most commonly used for stabilising seams in stretch/knit garments.
- Stabilising shoulder seams
- Stabilising neck seams
- Around waist seams of dresses with heavy skirts to support the bodice from stretching out when worn
- Gathering waist seams on dresses
- Providing grip to areas prone to slippage when worn like wide necklines
Swim elastic is an extra-strong type of knit elastic. Swim elastic is usually stitched to a garment and then the fabric folded over and topstitched again, so it needs to keeps its elasticity when being stitched onto multiple times. It is also designed to withstand chlorinated water, saltwater, sweat, and repeated washing because of its fibre content. It is very important to use swim elastic for sewing swimming costumes or activewear if you want your garment to last.
Lingerie or Picot Elastic
Lingerie elastic is a delicate, soft, flexible and decorative form of knit elastic often used on lingerie, bras, and underwear. You will commonly find it in a variety of colours and with a scalloped or picot edge. It usually has two different sides, with the plush side intended to be worn next to the skin. It may also used for hair ties or headbands too.
Fold Over Elastic (FOE)
Fold-over elastic or which is shortened to FOE, is also known as ribbon elastic. It is a type of woven elastic that looks like ribbon and has a narrow groove down the centre of it, to allow it to be folded in half easily. It is available in many colors and designs, and has a distinctive shiny front and plush back. It can be folded over raw fabric edges and used to create a stretchy and soft binding. Not all FOE quality are equal though, with some having better stretch recovery than others. FOE does not narrow and can be sewn over.
- Encasing raw edges
- Sleeve and neck bindings on stretch garments
- Underwear bindings
- Ponytail holders or headbands.
Quite often you will find children’s garments with adjustable waistbands using an elastic with holes in it. This is called buttonhole elastic because it features holes in the centre of the elastic approximately every inch and allows a button to be used with it. It may also be used for adjustable maternity wear to accommodate a growing waistline.
Another type of elastic used in sewing is elastic thread and as the name suggest it is thread created with elastic in it. The thinner type is also referred to as shirring elastic and it is wound onto your bobbin and used to gather fabric or produce shirring. It needs to be used on lightweight fabrics otherwise the elastic thread will not be strong enough to produce a gathered effect. Thicker elastic threads or cords, are not used as a bobbin thread, but are useful for making button loops
Tips for Choosing and Sewing Elastic
- The most important step to do every time before cutting your elastic is to exercise it. You do this by stretching out the elastic several times. This means that your elastic won’t continue to stretch and not recover, causing a saggy, ill-fitting final garment.
- Use a stretch or ball point needle to sew elastic so that the needle doesn’t pierce or break the elastic fibres when sewing it
- Set the sewing machine to long straight stitches, a stretch stitch or wide zig-zag stitch when applying the elastic to material.
- A bodkin or safety pin are useful tools to thread elastic through casings.
- When creating an elastic loop for a waistband or neckline casing you need to overlap the 2 ends of the elastic and stitch together using a wide zig zag stitch. This can be quick but bulky so another method I like to use is sewing the 2 ends of the elastic (touching but not overlapping) onto a piece of fabric using a zig zag stitch and trimming the excess fabric. This allows a smoother and thinner join which is most useful when the elastic is inserted into a casing.
- Pick the size of the elastic based on the size of the casing you have sewn or where on your garment you will be placing the elastic. For example, the neckline elastic will usually be thinner than a waistband elastic. Often the recommend the width of the elastic required is stated on the pattern.
- Test the stretch of your elastic to see how much it stretches and if it recovers well. You may need a shorter length of braided elastic to accomplish the same stretch as a knitted elastic. Also, thinner elastics stretch more than wider elastics, so take this into account when cutting your length.
- Generally, elastic cannot be cut down lengthwise (for example cutting a 1″ wide elastic down to create one that is 1/2″ wide) to make a narrower one as the fibres may fray and the elastic can lose its stretch. Buy the correct size that the pattern requires.
- Finally, when picking the right type of elastic for your project consider if it will be placed in a casing or sewn onto the garment. Consider the weight of the fabric and choose the elastic best suited. Remember there are lots of specialty elastics such as lingerie or FOE that can be used to create a special finish for your garment.
Suzette Trejo-Rivera says
Thank you for this post! I was wondering which type of elastic you recommend for making hair scrunchies. I bought one from Jo-Anns; not sure which kind it is but its kind of thin. My issue is I think it’s that type that will stretch out after a while of being used. So I want to look for a different brand.
Thank you and God bless!