How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps

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How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Sure, you may know how to sew an elastic casing or how to install a zipper, but do you WANT to? Sometimes you just want to do things the fastest and easiest way. And sometimes you just don’t have enough fabric to do so. This is when you can resort to the easiest waistband method ever: the exposed elastic waistband!

This waistband is exactly what it sounds like: exposed elastic, which is sewn directly onto the top edge of your garment as a stretchy waistband. I’ve started using this solution a lot when refashioning because sometimes I’m just too lazy to pick out the old over-stretched elastic and just cut it off, or because I’m on the tall side and often need to add a little bit of length to my garment, and this method allows you to actually add on length instead of removing it to sew in a casing.

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

For example, when I totally screwed up a pair of leggings, which ended up too tight and too short, I added an exposed elastic waistband to avoid making an elastic casing that would end up halfway down my bum. A perfect fix!

Today, as part of my Learn to Machine Sew series, I’m going to show you how to sew an exposed elastic waistband in just five steps! You can practice this technique on any tube of fabric or do as I did, and add it on to a skirt (or pair of pants, shorts or leggings) that has an old elastic that needs to be replaced. Then in the next tutorial on Cucicucicoo, I’ll show you how to sew a skirt from scratch with this type of easy waistband.

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Are you ready? Let’s start!

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Step 1: Prepare the garment’s top edge

In this lesson, I’m using an old skirt that my daughter loves and wears constantly despite its being way too short for her. Last year the elastic had also gotten totally stretched out, so this was a perfect candidate for an exposed elastic waistband.

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Normally I would be lazy and just cut off the elastic waistband. However this skirt was so short that I couldn’t afford to waste any fabric. So I used a seam ripper* to open up the casing and remove the original elastic.

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Iron the fabric very well to flatten out the creasing from the original waistband. Sew around the fabric edge with an overlock or zig zag stitch to avoid fraying, unless of course the fabric will not fray.

Step 2: Prepare the elastic band

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Do not use the standard 2.5 cm (1″) elastic that is generally used in waistband casings. For this type of waistband, you need wide elastic that is relatively rigid. I like woven elastic anywhere from 4-8 cm (1.5 – 3″) wide. I usually use white or black because it’s what I can find the easiest, but the best is when you can find cool colored elastic.

Measure around the waist of the person who will wear the garment. If it will be worn on the high/natural waist, measure there. If it will be worn low on the hips, measure there. Subtract 2 cm (3/4 inch) and cut the elastic that long. So in my case, Sofia’s low waist measured 56 cm, so I cut a 54-cm length of elastic.

Fold the elastic in half, right sides facing, aligning the two cut edges, and sew them together with a 1 cm (3/8″) seam allowance (top picture above.) Then fold each seam allowance to the side and sew them both down (bottom picture above).

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

There’s the elastic band that will become your waistband. Notice how the raw edges of the elastic are on the wrong (back) side of the elastic.

The loop of elastic will now be 4 cm (1.5″) shorter than the original waist measurement. The elastic needs to be slightly snug on the waist to avoid slipping down. Try it on the wearer before attaching it to the garment just to double check that it is comfortably snug.

Step 3: Divide the elastic and the waist into quarters

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

This step is essential to sewing the elastic onto the waistline evenly. Basically we are going to mark each quarter of the way around both parts.

Let’s start with the elastic. Place a pin at the seam (#1 above). Flatten out the elastic band with the seam and pin #1 to one side, and place another pin (#2) at the other end, opposite pin #1.

(Note: it’s best to use ball point pins* to avoid ripping the elastic thread.)

Now flatten the elastic band with pins #1 and #2 meeting in the middle, and place pins #3 and #4 on the folded ends.

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Do the same thing with the garment waistline. Always start with seams. If there’s one back seam, do the same thing as we did with the elastic band. If there are two side seams, as in my case, place pins on those, then flatten the garment waistline with those pins meeting, and place pins #3 and #4 on the folded ends.

Step 4: Join the fourths

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Now we will join the elastic and the garment waist. Match up the pins marking the seam on the elastic and the back of the garment waist, right sides facing, and pin them together. I use one pin on either side of the elastic seam, as seen above, just to keep it better in place.

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Arrange the elastic so that it is on the outside of the garment and not twisted. Then match up the remaining pins and pin the elastic to the garment waist in those points.

Notice that the circumference of the garment waist is much wider than that of the elastic band. That is absolutely necessary in order for the elastic to be able to stretch.

Step 5: Sew the elastic to the garment

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Position the back seam of the elastic wrong side up (so that the right side of the skirt is facing up) under the needle with a 1 cm (3/8″) seam allowance. Sew across the band’s folded seam allowances with a straight stitch and stop with the needle lowered.

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Grasp the fabric and elastic behind the needle with your left hand. Hold on to the next pin joining the elastic and the fabric with your right hand and gently stretch the elastic until it is as long as the segment of fabric. (I was holding the camera in my right hand for these pictures, so I had to use my left hand to stretch the elastic.)

Note that you do NOT want to stretch the fabric, just the elastic. If you’re using non-stretchy woven fabric, this will not be a problem, but if using knits or any other stretchy fabric, make sure that you do not stretch it in this step. (Find out more about how to sew stretchy knit fabric here.)

Keeping the elastic stretched, sew until you get close to the next pin. You might want to sew each quarter segment bit by bit, taking pauses to adjust the fabric and your hold on it, so make sure that the needle is lowered whenever you stop and/or release the elastic/fabric.

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Repeat this step for each quarter segment until you’ve sewn all the way around the waistband. Backstitch at the end, over the folded seam allowances of the elastic.

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Flip the elastic band up, and you’re done! See how the elastic creates little gathers in the skirt fabric?

If you want, you can also topstitch about 5 mm (1/4″) below the edge of the fabric (indicated by the arrows) to hold it better in place, but I don’t usually do it, myself. If you do, remember to stretch the elastic the same way that you did when sewing the elastic onto the waist edge and be VERY careful to hold the fabric out straight to the left to keep it from bunching under the presser foot. This is one case in which I highly suggest basting. (And I generally avoid basting like the plague, so you know that I’m serious here!)

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

And there you have it! A super easy way to create a quick stretchy waistband!

How to Sew an Exposed Elastic Waistband in 5 steps: an easy alternative to fussy zippers and elastic casings! Learn how on www.cucicucicoo.com

Did you enjoy this tutorial on how to sew an exposed elastic waistband? Then check out the other lessons in the Cucicucicoo beginner’s sewing course “Learn to Machine Sew” and don’t forget to come back next week for the tutorial on sewing a skirt with an exposed elastic waistband!Learn to Machine Sew with Cucicucicoo: a free sewing course for beginners

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for this clear and detailed tutorial! I’ve been sewing for a while now and I keep avoiding exposed elastic waistbands because I can’t seems to get the right kind of stitch (you’d be surprised how often I have issues with what kind of stitch to use!) and you actually mentioned that I needed to use a straight stitch!! Thank you, thank you!!

    • Hi Nellie, I’m so glad that this is useful for you! You can use other stitches, too. The zig zag is super stretchy, so that way you wouldn’t have to worry about the elastic stretching too far for the fabric. However for this type of waistband, I find that the straight stitch is usually fine. Let me know how it goes!

  2. I usually make a casing because no matter what I do, I can never seem to make this method work. It makes me sad! I usually end up with bit of fabric that didn’t get attached. 🙁

    • Amanda, I usually sew a casing, too, just because that way it’s easier to exchange the elastic if it gets stretched out or too tight, but sometimes this way is pretty convenient. If you end up with fabric that separates from the elastic, you are probably not lining up the edges of the fabric and elastic while stretching the elastic. You might want to try sewing around the circumference in shorter segments so that you can be sure to sew both layers together. If you give it a try, let me know how it goes!

      • Thank you I think maybe making adult size is too much for me at first I will try making one in my daughter’s size like the one in your tutorial. Maybe that will be better for me to get the hang of the stretching

  3. You are a miracle with these instructions. I sew so much by hand making stage costumes and more medieval pieces, so having exposed elastic is never in my repertoire. However, the need finally arose and I was clueless as to how to approach this. Thank you so much for this. I can now face this project with more confidence!!

    • Wow, Mindy, medieval costumes must be so much work to make! If you can handle making those, this should be a cinch for you to master! It’s actually very simple once you get the hang of stretching the elastic to match the garment fabric as you sew it. Let me know how it goes!

  4. Hi,
    Thank you so much for this post!
    I am a beginner sewer, making costumes for my tap dancing class for a show and you have (pretty much literally) saved us from going on stage half dressed!! Without this tutorial, I would not have been able to attach my costume bits together (non stretchy polyester petticoat to a super stretchy jersey skirt).
    Amazing!
    Can’t wait to read more of your posts!

    • Wow, Cathy! I am so thrilled to hear that this tutorial saved your show! I would LOVE to see pictures of the costumes! Any chance you could send me one or two to lisa @ cucicucicoo.com? Yay! 🙂

  5. Thanks for the great tutorial. Question: Why do you straight stitch the elastic band on rather than a zigzag or multi-stitch zigzag? Thank you.

    • That’s a great question, Margaret! Actually, it would be better to use a stretchy stitch. In this case, because the fabric was woven and not stretchy, there was no way that the elastic could get stretched any further, but really I will admit that you’re totally right, that one of those stitches would’ve been better!

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