This easy guide will show you the different types of elastic and their purposes. When you go into any sewing shop there is a mind-boggling selection of elastic widths and types. Elastic is great to use in kids’ clothing patterns as it is easy to sew and accommodates their fast-growing bodies. If you are a beginner, a simple skirt pattern with elastic should be one of your first projects as it is so easy to do.
TYPES OF ELASTIC
There are 6 main types of elastic. All are used in different applications and serve a specific purpose. Using the right elastic means your pants or skirt will stay up and your swimwear will last through lots of seasons.
- Fold-over Elastic
What is Elastic Made from?
Most elastics are made from rubber which is covered in nylon or polyester fibres. You can also find cotton elastics made from blended cotton and rubber.
Types of Elastic Guide
Here is a table showing the different types of elastic and when you can use them.
|TYPE OF ELASTIC||DESCRIPTION||USES|
|Braided||Narrows when stretched||Casings|
|Woven||Firm, does not narrow||Waistbands|
|Knitted||Soft, does not narrow||Waistbands|
|Swimwear||Does not rot or perish||Swimwear, Leotards|
|Fold Over Elastic||Folds in half||Leotards, Underwear|
|Lingerie(Picot)||Decorate loops on side||Underwear|
|Clear||Thin and clear||Gathering Knit Fabric|
|Elastic Thread||Fine thread that stretches||Shirring|
|Baby Elastic||Soft for baby clothes||Casings|
6 Common Types of Elastic Tutorial
1. What is Braided Elastic?
Braided elastic is usually used in casings and narrows when stretched. It is great to use in peasant dress patterns for neck casings and wrist casings as it is soft. It tends to overstretch when used in waist casings so if you do use it for this purpose, you may have to cut the lengths shorter than the pattern specifies.
Braided types of elastic is not suitable for swimwear or leotard patterns as it stretches out and will not survive chlorine and sweat. You cannot zig-zag over braided elastic on legs or necks as it will stretch out of shape. When you go shopping you can identify these types of elastic by the long horizontal ribs along its length. If you look at the photo you will see these lines.
2. What is Woven Elastic? (Non-Roll Elastic)
Woven elastic is firm when stretched and unlike braided elastic, does not narrow when stretched. It is great to use in skirts and pants waistbands as it doesn’t overstretch and lose its shape. Woven elastic often comes in wider widths for a variety of uses and can be referred to as non-roll elastic.
Woven elastic can be threaded through casings or zig-zagged and then folded over for a non-twist elastic solution.
Further reading: Sewing Elastic
3. What is Knitted Elastic
Knitted types of elastic look similar to woven elastic but is designed to be soft and more comfortable. It is suitable for casings and waistbands in light to medium weight fabrics. Knitted elastic does not narrow when stretched so can be zig-zagged over. Read how to sew an elastic waistband.
4. What is Swimwear Elastic?
Swimwear elastic is usually firm and is salt and chlorine resistant. It is mostly woven in design but I have seen some swimwear elastic that is braided. Braided swimwear elastic will give the best and most consistent results.
It is also recommended for leotard patterns and swimwear patterns as it is sweat resistant and less likely to rot.
This elastic doesn’t stretch when you zig-zag over it, which is great for swim and leotard necks and legs. It generally comes in ¼ inch (6mm) or ⅜ inch (10mm) widths. Common brands include Birch and Dritz.
Some commercial swimwear and leotards use rubber types of elastic in the neck and leg openings but I don’t recommend you use this for home sewing.
Further reading: How to Sew Elastic in Leotards
5. What is Fold Over Elastic?
Fold-over elastic has a groove down the center on the underside and is used for binding raw edges on stretch garments. It comes in several widths and an amazing array of patterns and colors. You may see fold-over elastic referred to in your sewing patterns as the abbreviation FOE.
If you are using fold-over types of elastic for underwear, swimwear or leotards, non-printed plain designs are the best. The foil printing tends to reduce the amount of stretch and although it looks pretty, it can be scratchy. I always use plain fold over elastic. While fold-over elastic does come in different widths, the most common width you will purchase and sew is ⅝ inch (1.5cm).
Further reading: How to sew fold over elastic.
6. What is Lingerie Elastic
As the name suggests, lingerie elastic is a soft elastic designed for underwear. It often has a decorative edge and is soft on the skin. Lingerie elastic is generally stitched to the edge of delicate fabrics.
Another name for lingerie types of elastic is picot elastic. The widths of this elastic are usually ¼ inch (6mm) or ⅜ inch (1cm). Read how to sew lingerie elastic.
More Types of Elastic
There are three more types of elastic you might come across but these are not used as much as the ones above. They are clear elastic, elastic thread and baby elastic.
Clear elastic is transparent thin and light elastic mainly used to gather and reinforce a knit fabric. It is generally not strong enough to use in casings or waistbands as it is very stretchy and can break easily. Use clear elastic to join a skirt to a bodice. Read how to gather with elastic.
Elastic Thread (Shirring Elastic)
Elastic thread is a common type of elastic sometimes called shirring elastic. It is used in the bobbin of your sewing machine to sew multiple rows that gather into a band. It cannot be used for casings or waistbands as it is very fine and thin and is only designed for sewing. Read how to sew elastic thread.
Last on the list of types of elastic is baby elastic which is an extra soft elastic designed for baby clothing. If you are using this type of elastic you will probably need to cut the lengths shorter than the pattern specifies as it is overly stretchy. For this reason, I tend to avoid baby elastic.
Stretch Lace Elastic
Stretch lace elastic is used in lingerie. It is generally used for more decorative details rather than for the waist or leg elasticity.
Buttonhole elastic has evenly spaced buttonholes to make adjustable pants and skirts. It is popular in the waistbands of kids and maternity clothing.
Tips for Sewing Different Types of Elastic
Different types of elastics will come with individual instructions from the manufacturer, but here are some general sewing tips to help you get great results.
- Stretch before sewing – My top elastic tip is to always stretch the elastic out a few times before you cut it. A good elastic should return to the same length after it is stretched. Stretch it again after you have cut the elastic just to make sure it is the same length. Trim a little if you need to.
- Check the length – Treat elastics lengths in a sewing pattern as a guide and not as an absolute. There are so many elastics with different stretch factors that you may need to make some adjustments. If you are threading the elastic through a casing, use the safety pin to join the ends, and then try the garment on. After you are happy with the elastic, then stitch up the gap in the casing.
- Use the right needles – If you are sewing directly onto the elastic, use a ballpoint needle or stretch needle to prevent skipped stitches.
- Elastic widths – As a general rule, the wider the elastic the strong and less stretch it will have. If you are substituting a different width to that specified on your pattern, cut the length a little longer and then try the item on and adjust the elastic.
- Use a zig-zag stitch – When sewing elastic to the edge of the fabric for example a leotard leg, a zig-zag stitch or a stretch stitch maintains stretch and will stop your stitches from breaking.
For more tips, read my article on how to sew elastic
Taking Care of Elastic
Now you know the best types of elastic for your sewing projects, it is important to take care of your items with elastic.
Can you Bleach Elastic?
Bleach can damage elastic, in particular the rubber inside so should be avoided if possible. If you have a skirt or pants with elastic that you need to bleach, try leaving the elastic waistband out of the bucket while bleaching the rest of the item.
Can Elastic be Tumble Dried?
Like bleach, heat can destroy and melt the rubber in elastics. If you can’t air-dry your item, put your tumble dryer on the lowest heat possible.