Sewing Elastic - Does it really make a difference what kind you use?

You tell me....

How about the sewing elastic that bunched up inside that skirt you made, so you never wear it. How about the underwear with the stretched out elastic waistband? And the bathing suit that lasted only a few months because the rubber is popping out of the elastic? So yeah, it does make a difference.

What you don’t know about elastic can ruin a garment you’ve spent hours on….

When a pattern calls for elastic, it usually will state how much you need, and how wide. But rarely does it tell you which package to choose out of all those available on the notions rack. So often, the home sewer will choose the one she always uses, or the one on sale, or not buy any at all because you know you’ve got some at home from the project you made three years ago. And that’s where the problems begin.

Sewing elastic comes in many different types, thicknesses and widths. It is hard to know exactly which one to buy for a specific project. Each type of elastic has specific characteristics and can be used for some projects, but not all sewing projects. For example, not all sewing elastics should be used when making baby diapers or swimsuits, and some elastic can’t be dry-cleaned.

How Sewing Elastic is made

Elastic starts with a core of rubber. Rubber is made from Latex, a naturally stretchy substance in the bark of rubber trees grown in Southeast Asia and Africa. During World War I, rubber was difficult to get, and that’s when synthetic rubber was developed. About three quarters of the rubber used today is synthetic - made from crude oil. To make elastic, the rubber core is bound (knit, woven, or braided) with polyester, nylon, or cotton.

There are many ways that elastic is manufactured. Below is a description of four major ways sewing elastic is made, and the which type you might want to use for your project:

Woven Elastics are very strong, and slightly thicker than the other elastics. They also retain their width when stretched, and don’t lose their stretch if they are sewn directly onto a garment. If you have a heavier weight fabric, this is the elastic to use.

Braided Elastics get narrower when stretched. If you have a casing to make on your garment, braided elastic would work well.

Best not to sew braided elastic directly to the garment though, because it will lose its stretch. Most people use this lighter weight elastic for waistbands, around leg openings and sleeve edges.

Non-Roll Elastic is especially appropriate for use in waistbands, because it stays flat when stretched.

Knit Elastics are softer than other elastics, and very appropriate if you are going to stitch the elastic directly to the garment, although it can be used in a casing also. Most of your lightweight fabrics will look best with this type of elastic. Some knitted elastics also have sewing guidelines (the sewing line doesn’t have elastic in it, so the elastic is much easier to sew to the garment).

Clear Elastic is very light, stretches up to 4 times its length and maintains its original size when not being stretched. It is manufactured polyurethane (does not contain rubber), so it could be used for garments for babies and those allergic to latex. It is used to stabilize lightweight knits and other fabrics – especially in areas that might lose stretch, such as shirt bottoms, shoulder seams and necklines. You wouldn’t want to use it in a casing, because it will roll over on itself easily.

When elastic is manufactured, it is usually combined with polyester, cotton or nylon. Which one is best?

If you’ve got a cotton garment, you might grab the elastic made with cotton, because it can be washed in the same way as the cotton fabric. It will shrink a little when washed, so make sure you wash it if you’ve washed your cotton fabric before sewing (which you should almost always do!). Just don’t use cotton elastic if you are going to dry clean the garment.

Elastic made with Nylon is really made for lingerie, and some swimwear. Most lingerie won’t be washed and dried on high heat, and neither should nylon elastic.

Polyester Elastic is all purpose. It’s an easy choice for most projects, can be washed or dry-cleaned, and can be used in swimwear.

Special garments might need a special elastic, and there are many types available – such as Lingerie Elastic, Buttonhole Elastic,, Drawcord Elastic,
or Elastic Sewing Thread.