• Lindsey

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.



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.




How to sew an elastic waistband

  • Stitch unpicker

  • Sewing Machine

  • General purpose thread in a matching colour

  • Marker

  • Pins

  • Elastic - use your original garment for reference on what size to use. This tutorial uses a narrow elastic, around 12mm width

  • Scissors

  • 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.

How to sew an elastic waistband
Measure your elastic by wrapping it around the waist

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.

How to sew an elastic waistband
Sew a box and cross stitch to secure the elastic in a loop

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.

How to sew an elastic waistband
Use a marker to split the elastic loop into four equal parts

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.

How to sew an elastic waistband
Pin the divided elastic at the waistband to the side seams and centre front and back

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.

How to sew an elastic waistband
Start with the needle down through the fabric and create a secure starting stitch

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.

How to sew an elastic waistband
Using both hands, pull the elastic flat to the fabric at the pinned markers and slowly feed through the machine

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!

How to sew an elastic waistband
Continue sewing a zig-zag stitch all the way around the loop between the pin markers

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.

How to sew an elastic waistband
It doesn't have to be neat as all your stitches will bunch up together when finished

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.

How to sew an elastic waistband
All the stitches will bunch together to create gathers

Et voilà, your elastic is finished and tailored to your waist!