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If you’ve ever stitched through a piece of braided elastic and wondered why your elastic no longer contracted afterward, then this article is for you. Since elastics are not interchangeable, knowing the different types of elastic for sewing and how to choose the right elastic for your project makes a huge difference in the final product!
I’ll start by giving an overview of each of the types of elastic, we’ll discuss defining characteristics, and then I’ll guide you through choosing the best type of elastic for your sewing project. So, let’s get started!
What is elastic and what is it used for?
Elastic is everywhere. It’s in everything from the elastic waistbands of clothes to the leg openings of underwear. There are elastic threads that you can sew with and even elastics with holes for buttons. What’s so great about elastic is it stretches a TON yet later returns to its original size.
Depending on the type of elastic, you can sew it directly onto your sewing project, or you can place it inside a casing. Just make sure when stitching over elastic that you’re using a ballpoint or stretch needle and choosing a stretch stitch for the best results!
Types of Elastic for Sewing
There are three main types of elastic (braided, knit, and woven) and more specialized types such as lingerie elastic or elastic ribbon. I’ll start with the main types of elastic and move on from there.
Braided elastic is known for its parallel horizontal ribs running the length of the elastic. When you stretch braided elastic, the elastic narrows and can roll. When you sew over braided elastic, it loses some of its stretch, which is why it’s not the best type of elastic to sew directly to fabric. Coupled with its more rough texture, it’s best placed inside casings. It stretches more than the other types of elastic, so keep this in mind when calculating how much elastic to cut for a casing.
Because it is a relatively lightweight type of elastic, it’s also not well-suited to heavyweight fabrics.
- Neckline casings (think peasant top with a gathered neckline)
- Sleeve hems
- Inside waistband casings, if not being sewn over at the base
Knit (Knitted) Elastic
Knit elastics are formed by knitted fibers. One defining characteristic of knit elastic is that they don’t narrow when stretched. Knitted elastics also retain their elasticity when sewn and are thus suitable to be stitched to fabrics in addition to being inside casings. Knitted elastic is soft against the skin and won’t rub as much as braided elastic either.
Again, because this is often a lightweight elastic, it’s not best suited for heavyweight fabrics.
- Inside casings when the elastic needs to be sewn over at the base (athletic wear, for instance)
- Sewn directly into sleeve hems or waistbands (example: flannel pajama pants)
- When stitching elastic directly to the fabric or when the elastic will touch the body
Woven elastic, or no-roll elastic, is stronger than both knit and braided elastic and works best in medium-weight or heavy-weight fabrics. As the name suggests, fibers are woven together in this type of elastic to produce a final product that also does not narrow when stretched. Like knit elastic, it will also not lose its elasticity when being stitched through.
Because it does not roll, it works great in casings where braided or knit elastic would tend to roll and turn over on itself.
Woven elastic also comes in different fun colors and is great for decorative, exposed waistbands. I’m really excited to turn the silver woven elastic below into a fun girl’s skirt soon.
- Waistbands of pants and skirts (both stitched in and used inside a casing)
- Waists for men’s underwear (can be called trunk-top elastic)
- Home decor
Other Types of Specialized Elastic
I dug through my elastic stash to find some more types of elastic to take pictures of and describe!
Lingerie elastic is a type of (usually) knit elastic used on lingerie, bras, and underwear. It’s delicate with a decorative edge (scalloped or picot, for instance). It can also have two different sides, the softer plush side intended to face the skin. Although, you can sew it however you want.
Clear elastic is stretchy and transparent. Depending on the type of clear elastic, you can get a great stretch or minimal stretch. (Good-quality clear elastic is more expensive, usually.) If you’ve ever bought a dress with a wide neckline, you might have noticed clear elastic attached to make hanging easier.
Clear elastic narrows when stretched and is best suited for lightweight or mediumweight stretch fabrics. Firmer clear elastic is great for stabilizing seams on stretchy fabrics and is used in swimwear, gathering, and even athletic wear, for instance. It also grips the body well, so you may notice it stitched in areas that are prone to slippage on ready-to-wear outfits.
Fold-Over Elastic (FOE)
Elastic ribbon, also known as fold-over elastic, is popularly used as hair ties or ponytail holders. As such, it’s available in many colors and designs.
It looks a lot like ribbon and has a small, narrow indentation or depression down the middle. This groove allows the elastic ribbon to fold in half more easily.
It has two distinct sides and folds over fabric edges to form a stretchy binding that can be sewn with no issues. When sewing FOE, it’s best to use a stretch or zigzag stitch on your sewing machine if you don’t have a coverstitch machine.
Use for encasing raw edges on:
- Sleeve and neck bindings on stretch outfits such as shirts and athletic wear
- Underwear bindings
- Children’s clothes
One other type of elastic for sewing is elastic thread. If you use elastic thread in the bobbin, with the right settings, it will gather fabric and produce a shirring effect. Make sure you’re winding the bobbin by hand, though, for best results.
Larger elastic threads, or elastic cords, are not used as bobbin thread but are nice for sewing doll clothes or making button loops, for instance. Beading elastic is specifically intended for making stretchy necklaces and other jewelry.
If you have kids, you may have noticed adjustable waistbands in their shorts or jeans. This elastic is specifically called buttonhole elastic because there are holes in the center every inch or so for attaching to buttons. It also can be used for adjustable maternity wear.
You can make your own with this tutorial here even!
Sport Elastic (Swimsuit Elastic)
Swim elastic is an extra-strong type of elastic made to withstand chlorinated water, saltwater, sweat, repeat washings, and all sorts of extreme conditions.
Baby elastic is a small, soft, thin piece of elastic especially suited for children’s clothes or doll clothes. It is super duper stretchy and will not rub against the skin.
This soft and flexible elastic is found on underwear and outerwear It provides a soft, flexible, decorative edging. It’s also common for decorative hair ties.
Waistband, or gripping, elastic is a thick elastic with rubber or silicone grips on the inside. It can be used on waistbands of pants or skirts and will help grip shirts to keep them from coming untucked.
Tips for Choosing Elastic for Your Project
Now that we know the different elastic options available, here are some final tips to help you choose the best elastic for your project.
Picking the Right Type
First, consider if you will be sewing through the elastic or placing it in a casing. Remember, braided doesn’t do as well being sewn through.
Then, consider the weight of the fabric. Knit or braided elastic is better for lighter fabrics, while woven elastic is better for heavyweight fabrics.
Don’t forget there are specialty elastics like lingerie, fold-over elastic, and baby elastic if your project has very specific requirements.
Picking the Best Size
Pick the size of the elastic based on the size of the casing or insertion area and the location on the garment the elastic will be. Neckline elastic needs to be much thinner than waistband elastic, for instance! Often your pattern will recommend the width of the elastic.
Can you cut elastic lengthwise?
As a general rule, you should not cut elastic lengthwise. If you can’t find smaller elastic or are in a pinch, some types of elastic may survive a lengthwise cut. To test, first make a small cut at the end of your larger elastic and check if it ravels. Then, try to pull the threads away from the rubber fibers, and stretch the elastic out around your test cut. If everything seems ok, try cutting a larger piece.
Certain elastics, like the knitted elastic called Fantastic Elastic, are designed to be cut lengthwise, so consider investing in some! One yard of thick elastic can amount to 5 yards of thinner elastic!
Cutting the Length
Test stretch your elastic to check how much it stretches and if it recovers well. You may need a shorter length of braided elastic to accomplish the same stretch as a knitted elastic. Also, thinner elastics stretch more than wider elastics, so take this into account when cutting your length.
Types of Elastic for Sewing – Conclusion
I hope you now can differentiate the types of elastic used in sewing and will be able to choose what’s going to complement your project the best! Anything you can think of that I missed? Happy sewing!