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How to Sew Exposed Elastic to An Opening


Elastic is stretchy strips of rubber, poly, nylon or cotton that are used to draw in fullness of garments while keeping them stretchy and moveable. Elastic can be applied so it’s visible or hidden. Stretch lace works as visible elastic, for example, as wide lace bands on underwear. Elastic thread can be used in the bobbin of a sewing machine to sew stretchy rows of stitching. Several rows of elastic stitching sewn across parts of a garment are called shirring. Elastic comes in white or black in a variety of widths. You may also find colored elastic, clear elastic and even novelty elastic with metallic thread.

Elastic and elastic thread

Elastic and elastic thread

Elastic waistline in Saltspring Dress

Elastic waistline in Saltspring Dress


Elastic works well in waistlines and waistbands, cuffs and necklines, and in stretch apparel like swimwear and lingerie. Add elastic to garments to fit narrow parts of the body, while still allowing the garment to stretch to its full width. For garments that are cut much wider than the body, the elastic draws the fabric closer.

Elastic is used to add shaping to waistlines on dresses and jackets, or to add movement and stretch in cuffs, the top edges of garments, necklines and waistbands on skirts and pants. Casings (page link) are used to hide elastic and to protect skin from the rubber. You can also intentionally leave the elastic visible.

Fold-over elastic (referred to as FOE) can be used to finish the edges of a garment while still allowing the edges to stretch. This type of elastic is softer against the skin and comes in a variety of colors.


This is an easy way to apply elastic to a garment opening, for example on sleeve hems and wide necklines, or on swimwear and lingerie.

How to sew exposed elastic to an opening (1)

Finish the top edge of the fabric opening, and divide the opening into quarters. For placing elastic in the middle of a garment, such as the waistline, mark the elastic placement line and divide it into quarters.

How to sew exposed elastic to an opening (2)

Match the elastic dividing points to the fabric dividing points. If there is too much space between the pins, divide the points between the pins in half, and match the halfway points of the fabric and elastic.

How to sew exposed elastic to an opening (3)

Zigzag the elastic to the fabric with the elastic side up, and stretch the elastic as you sew. Place one hand in front of the needle and one hand behind, and stretch the elastic as much as it will stretch.

How to sew exposed elastic to an opening (4)

For a clean finish, turn the edge of the garment to the inside along the edge of the elastic, and zigzag to hold it in place.


To apply fold-over elastic, you don’t need to finish the edge of the garment. The elastic will cover the raw edge completely. Divide the fabric edge into quarters, and divide the elastic into quarters, as well. Match the dividing points of the elastic and fabric, and wrap the fold-over elastic over the edge, pinning or basting (page link) it in place. Sew with a stretch stitch or zigzag, stretching slightly as you sew.

Sewing fold-over elastic

Sewing fold-over elastic


Before you begin, check your machine’s manual as requirements may vary. In many cases, you will wind the elastic thread around a bobbin by hand, stretching it very slightly, and use regular thread in the top of the machine. Sew several rows of stitching, equally spaced, with the right side of the fabric up. Without touching the iron to the fabric, steam above the elastic stitching. The piece will shrink! Sew rows over an entire piece of fabric to create a stretchy, elasticized piece. This is called shirring. This technique is great for children’s wear and sundresses or for creating a snug fit on many garments.

Sewing with elastic thread

Sewing with elastic thread

Tips + Notes

  • When sewing elastic, always sew with a zigzag or other stretchy stitch. The exception is when you’re sewing elastic into a circle and sewing over the overlapping ends.
  • See (page link) for sewing elastic in a casing.
  • Elastic can break down over time or with repeated washing and wearing. You may find that the elastic is no longer stretchy and the opening has grown as the elastic has worn out. If it’s in a casing, it’s easy to replace by removing the old elastic and threading new elastic through.

Source : The Sewtionary An A to Z Guide to 101 Sewing Techniques + Definitions
About the Author : Tasia ST. Germaine