Fabrics, Notions, & Other Materials · Sew-alongs · Sewing Techniques · Skirts

Techniques: Choosing & Measuring Elastic for Waistbands

Although my Asymmetrical Skirt Sew-Along is technically finished, I did promise to show you an alternative way to finish the elastic waist. The pattern’s instructions called for cutting a separate waistband, folding this over to form a casing, into which elastic is inserted (see this post for details of this technique); in my next post, I’m going to show you how to apply elastic directly to the top of your skirt— no casing required!

Before we get to the sewing part, I want to give you some tips about choosing the type of elastic, as well as how to determine the quantity you’ll need, so let’s do that now.

Let’s start with some basic Q & A: First, what kind of elastic should I use?

A. Think about the fabric(s) used in your skirt (or pants, shorts,etc.), and the intended use: Is your garment sporty, delicate, office-appropriate, glamorous? Lightweight, sturdy, thick, drapy?

A small sampling of elastics you could use for a waistband. From top: Stretch lace, sport elastic, stretch sequins, wide elastic with decorative ruffled edges.

Let’s go through these options. Stretch lace, although most often used in lingerie, can be used for some skirts; personally, I’d only use lace with very lightweight fabrics, because anything heavier than the lace itself will pull down on the waistband. So if you’re working with light silks, chiffon, georgette, or lightweight rayon, lace might be appropriate. It does have the advantage of creating minimal bulk at the waist, but on the down side, I tend to think it can look a little cheap. If you plan to always wear something on top that will cover the waistband, or if you’re going for a deliberate innerwear-as-outerwear look, lace could work.

Sport elastic is used most for (coincidentally) sportswear: Think gym shorts, yoga pants, maybe the lower band on a crop top, that sort of thing. This type of elastic is also used for underwear waistbands. The one in the photo above, in addition to being quite stretchy and sturdy, also has a plush backing, presumably to remain comfortable even when you’re (icky word warning) perspiring. Advantages: Stretchy and strong, so it’s appropriate for a variety of fabric weights. Drawbacks: It’s fairly thick, and frankly not pretty.

Stretch sequins, on the other hand, exude glamor. This is an easy way to dress up an otherwise simple skirt. They come in a variety of widths and colors, and they also vary in the amount of stretch, so be sure to check this quality before you buy. Advantages: Gorgeous effect achieved with minimal sewing effort, lots of available options. Drawbacks: You do have to be careful when sewing sequins— it’s all too easy to break your needle. (Don’t ask me how I know this.) Take your time! Also, most stretch sequin trims are quite thick, tending to add a little bulk at the waist.

And finally, decorative elastic bands are probably the simplest way to get a beautiful finish double-quick. The one in the photo above, although it’s a bit hard to see, has narrow ruffles at top and bottom of the band. You can also find wide elastics like this that are printed with designs from polka dots to florals (these are especially fun for children’s clothing). Advantages: Wide, sturdy elastics with decorative touches look more finished and detailed than their plainer cousins, yet take no more effort to sew. Disadvantages: The wider the elastic, the more risk that it might roll when you wear it (especially true if it’s too tight). And if you’re short-waisted like me, avoid the super-wide elastics; the black elastic in the photo above is 4″ wide, and that’s just a little too much for me— it comes almost up to my bra band.

Q. How wide should the elastic be?

A. For most waistbands, you’ll want your elastic to be at least 1″ wide, for comfort as well as to control any possible rolling of the elastic. My personal preference is 1 1/2″-2″ wide.

Q. How much elastic do I need?

A. The quantity you’ll need depends on certain factors; the main thing to remember is that you will (presumably) pull the skirt on over your hips, so the elastic needs to stretch enough to accommodate that measurement.

Let’s say my waist is 30″, and hips are 40″ (hypothetically, of course). Generally, you’ll want your elastic to end up, after sewing, maybe 1″ less than your waist measurement (unstretched). In our example, the finished waist would measure 29″ around. But it needs to stretch enough to get over the hips— in this case, it would have to stretch at least 11″. That’s almost 30%! So the stretchiness of the elastic comes into play here. Test your elastic by measuring at least 4-6″, then stretching the end:

Testing stretch of elastic
Testing stretch 1: Measure 4″ of your elastic; mark with a pin. Make marks on paper at the pin and the end of the elastic.
Testing stretch of elastic
Testing stretch 2: Holding the pin end down firmly, stretch the end of the elastic as far as it will go; mark this new spot on your paper. Measure the distance between the 2 end marks.

Tip: Don’t stretch the elastic so much that it starts to roll in on itself; we don’t want that to happen when we wear it! Only pull as much as feels comfortable.

In my example, if the original 4″ had stretched an additional 2″, it would mean my elastic has 50% stretch; you can see mine actually stretched 2 3/8″, so it’s greater than 50%. I only need 30% stretch, so this elastic is more than stretchy enough.

All that’s left is to cut my elastic to the correct length: 30″ (waist measurement) – 1″ wearing ease + 1″ seam allowance = 30″. Now I’m ready to sew my elastic to the skirt!

Coming up next: In the final thrilling installment of the Asymmetrical Skirt Sew-Along, we’ll get on to the sewing part, culminating in the finishing of an applied-elastic waistband! (Finally, right? But all this prep stuff really does help.)

Questions? Problems? Comments?


Want more sewing stuff from Colormusing? Check out myBratelier (lingerie sewing, including bras!), and Changing Your Clothes, which covers everything from repairs & alterations to dyeing and remaking thrift-shop finds.

And don’t miss all my color-palette-related excitement at the  A Musing blog! (Click on the dots above to visit my mother ship, Colormusing.com.)

2 thoughts on “Techniques: Choosing & Measuring Elastic for Waistbands

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