Sewing Basics - How to Sew in an Elastic Waistband
Welcome to the next edition of Stylecamp's #sewingbasics series, here to help you learn how to make small repairs and alterations to your wardrobe in the spirit of #slowfashion, as well as providing some sewing therapy during the lockdown!
Over the last few weeks, my easy sewing tutorials How to Sew on a Button and basic Hand Stitches You Need to Know have showcased the skills you need to get started making basic repairs. It's best to get to grips with these techniques first, as this edition focusses on sewing elastic waistbands which are a more advanced technique.
I've chosen this as a subject as it's a repair or adjustment you're quite likely to encounter somewhere down the line, especially in vintage clothing. Elastic, a rubberised material, is usually one of the first things to perish with washing and general use, so it's a great idea to learn how to replace elastic in your favourite clothes to make them last longer. It's also a great method for altering a dress or top that's a little baggy to give more of a silhouette.
TYPES OF ELASTIC WAISTBAND
Depending on how your elastic was sewn in in the first place, there are several methods you can use to fix waistband elastic. The most common applications are either sewn directly to the fabric in a loop; gathered up with an elastic chainstitch (also known as shirring); or threaded through a channel, exactly like a drawstring.
We're going to look at two of these methods, sewing elastic in as a loop and also within a channel, as these fixes require very little skill, just a little patience! You'll also need a sewing machine.
SEWING ELASTIC AS A LOOP
YOU WILL NEED:
General purpose thread in a matching colour
Elastic - use your original garment for reference on what size to use. This tutorial uses a narrow elastic, around 12mm width
Hand-sewing needle (optional)
Start by carefully removing any old elastic using a stitch unpicker. The garment I'm showing in this example originally had its elastic applied as a chainstich, but I've chosen to replace it with this loop method as I find it a simple and effective way of achieving the same effect. In this case, I'm also going using the original stitch lines as a guide so I will remove the original elastic later.
Take your elastic and wrap it comfortably around your natural waist without stretching it. It shouldn't be too tight or too loose. Pinch the area with your thumb to get the length of elastic before cutting.
Overlap the ends of the elastic by around 1cm, ensuring it is not twisted, and sew a box and cross securing stitch to create a complete loop. It helps to lower the needle through the elastic into the starting corner of your stitch first to hold everything in place while you line the edges up neatly.
We need to make sure that the elastic will be evenly distributed between the side seams and front and back of the garment, so divide the elastic loop into quarters using a marker. As the elastic loop will be smaller than the waistband of the garment you'll be sewing it into, you'll also need to find these 4 equal positions at the side seams and centre front and back of your garment.
Working inside the garment at the waistband, pin opposite ends of the elastic to the side seams and pin the remaining opposite ends to the centre front and back. If it's not obvious where these points are (i.e if there isn't a seam at the centre point of your garment), you can match up the side seams and fold the garment flat, the outermost folds will show you where the centres are.
The elastic is now correctly positioned but will force the garment to create folds of excess fabric between the pins. It's advisable to add more interim points between these first 4 pins, simply by stretching the elastic between two pin points until it the underlying fabric lays flat, and pinning in place at the centre.
The more you do, the easier it will be when it comes to sewing. You can also use a basting stitch (also known as a running stitch as discussed in my last tutorial) whilst the elastic is stretched out to really secure the elastic in place before sewing - this can be easily removed later.
Now it's time to sew! With your garment inside out so that you're sewing in a loop, set the needle down through the starting point, piercing the elastic and fabric, and create a locking stitch to hold everything in place. I find the side seam at the back of the garment to be the most discreet place to start.
Set your sewing maching to the widest zig zag (and longer stitch length for a stretch stitch refer to your machine instructions) and pull the elastic and fabric completely flat between your first two pin markers. You may need to grip the elastic just behind the needle at the starting point with one hand, while pulling the next pin marker towards you with your other hand, to create an even tension. Don't over-stretch it!
It's a fiddly sensation working with two hands like this, but go slow and trust the machine to do its work! Stop at each marker point and carefully remove the pin before continuing, making sure the fabric is smooth as you go. It really doesn't have to be neat as when the elastic relaxes, all your stitches will bunch up together.
Once you reach the end you can finish with a locking stitch to secure your stitches and remove any basting stitches if you have used them. In my example, I then use a stitch unpicker at this point to remove the original perished elastic for a neat finish, but depending on your garment, you may have already done this at the first step.
Et voilà, your elastic is finished and tailored to your waist!
REPLACING ELASTIC THROUGH A CHANNEL
You may find on your particular garment that your elastic is threaded through a channel, as is often done with wider elastics. This is an even simpler fix!
Find a discreet spot around the side seam or the centre back and unpick a few of the stitches from the inside of your garment to open up the channel and reveal the elastic.
Cut the old elastic and remove it completely from the channel. Thread through new elastic of the same width, using a safety pin pinned to the end to easily guide it through. Don't allow the other end to get pulled through the channel, otherwise you'll be going round in circles.
Once you've reached the beginning, grab the two ends and overlap them before stitching with the secure box and cross stitch as shown above - ensure the elastic has not twisted as you feed it through.
Now that you've made the loop, allow the elastic to slip fully into the channel and close up the hole you made, either using the sewing machine, or you can hand stitch it for speed using a backstitch. The elastic moves freely through the channel rather than being stitched down as in the previous example, but the effect is the same.