I love elastic. It is a great way to make quick and easy, not to mention flexible, waistbands - essential for babies and small children, who grow so fast - but you can also add really interesting effects by using it for shirring or gathering, around necklines, busts, hips, tops of bags, etc.
Elastic is made by binding threads around an inner rubber core. The threads are bound either by weaving (=> woven elastic), braiding (=> braided elastic), or knitting (=> knitted elastic), and either polyester, cotton or nylon threads are used.
Braided elastic is the cheapest type of elastic, and is great for some uses but loses its stretch when it is sewn straight on to fabric, and it becomes narrower when stretched.
Bad for: sewing directly on to fabric, as it will lose its stretch this way.
Woven elastic is the strongest and thickest type of elastic, and does not narrow when stretched.
Good for: Sewing directly on to clothes or craft projects, as it will retain the stretch when sewn directly on to fabric. It is also good for casings. Waistbands usually come out best using woven rather than braided elastic; and because of its strength, it is essential when sewing with heavier weight fabrics.
Knitted elastic has a much more natural handle to it, and is softer than both woven and braided elastic. It is also very versatile as it doesn't lose its stretch when sewn on to fabric, so it can be used both for that and for casings.
Good for: Sewing straight on to clothes and using in casings. Because of the softness, knitted elastic works brilliantly on lightweight fabrics.
Shirring elastic is essentially elasticated thread. I don't know how it is made, so if anyone has any ideas I'd be really interested to hear! It is used instead of normal thread and when sewn in rows on to fabric, creates a smocked effect. I won't mention any more about shirring elastic here as the queen of shirring, Birgitta Designs, has written an excellent tutorial with step by step instructions and great pictures on her blog.
Cotton, Polyester or Nylon elastic?
Polyester elastic is the most versatile and can be machine washed or dry cleaned. Cotton elastic is likely to shrink a bit, and it cannot be drycleaned. Nylon elastic is suitable for swimwear and lingerie.
Elastic is usually applied either by sewing it directly on to fabric, or by sewing a 'casing' (a hollow tube) and threading elastic through it. In each case, the first step is to determine how much elastic is required. This does to an extent depend on what you will be using the elastic for; but in all cases you want the elastic to be snug enough to be secure and not droopy, but not so tight that it is uncomfortable and cuts in to the skin.
As a general guesstimate of how much elastic is required, measure around the waist / arm / leg or whatever body part or fabric piece you are going to be elasticating, and then deduct 2.5cm from that.
Some general tips on sewing with elastic:
• A ball-point needle works best. Ball-point needles have rounded tips, allowing the needle to pierce through closely woven fibres without cutting them
• When cutting the elastic, remember to cut a length equal to the length required, plus spare for finishing / sewing the ends together. Usually 2-3cm is enough.
• If you are sewing the elastic straight on to fabric, use a stretch or zigzag stitch.
• If you are threading elastic in to a casing, pin or baste one end of the elastic to the end of the casing to prevent the end of the elastic getting lost inside the casing. At the other end, attach a safety pin to the elastic and feed it through the casing.
I was looking for good tutorials on applying elastic to link to, and really struggled (except for Birgitta's tutorial on shirring - see above), so I hope to be able to add my own tutorial in the next couple of weeks, when I make my baby girl some new trousers (there'll also be a fantastic baby-related competition coming up, so watch this space!). If you know of any good tutorials please contact me and I'll add a link in this article.
Brought to you by Leah Taylor at Sewbox http://www.sewbox.co.uk/. Sewbox is an online sewing boutique for the stylish sewer, stocking Hot Patterns, Colette Patterns, Serendipity Studio, Kwik Sew, John Kaldor fabrics, handmade ceramic buttons, and more.