Confused by all the types of elastic used in all your sewing projects?
I don’t blame you. There’s a lot of different elastics and so many of them look similar. How do you pick the best elastic for your sewing? Where can you even buy good elastic in the first place?
Here you’ll learn all about different elastics for sewing and how you use each of them. I’ll point you to some good resources for where to buy elastic, and watch out for projects throughout this post that’ll help you practice using the various types of elastic.
So pull out all your unknown elastics in your stash and let’s discover all the different types of elastic.
What is elastic?
First things first, elastic is a stretchy ribbon-like material usually made from a yarn with a rubber core. It can be covered with cotton, synthetic fibers or fiber blends.
Because of it’s stretchiness, elastic can replace traditional closures like zippers and button plackets. The elastic stretches to fit over the body, so no complicated hardware is needed. Pull-on garments like pajama pants often use elastic in the waistband.
Elastic is great for holding up garments comfortably. Check out Adding elastic to a jeans waistband (buttonhole elastic tutorial).
Why elastic is confusing
The thing about elastic is that there are many many different types of elastic, and they all have specialty purposes.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can substitute one for the other. Sometimes you can get away with this, but others will leave you sorely disappointed.
Let’s break down 12 common types of elastic and where and why you would use them in your sewing projects.
12 Types of Elastic for all your sewing
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Fold-over elastic (FOE)
Fold-over elastic is a thin, flat elastic with a fold down the middle. Also called FOE, foldover elastic is excellent for binding edges on necklines, panties, and armholes. It’s soft, non-irritating surface makes FOE a favorite choice for making hair ties.
To use it, you fold over the elastic to enclose the edge you need to bind. Stitch it in place, and you’ve got a soft, stretchy finish. You can use a narrow zigzag stitch (0.5mm width, 2.5mm length) or even easier, a 3-step zigzag.
Fold-over elastic is available in a ton of solid colors and many prints. If you like showing off your elastic, FOE is a great elastic to experiment with.
It’s great for making soft loops for buttons, no-sew hair ties, or a fun decorative edge on a knit top along necklines or armholes. I’ve even used it for a waistband finish on a lightweight lace overlay skirt (in conjunction with an invisible zipper).
On the point of prints: All the fun prints of FOE are absolutely irresistible. We usually think of elastic being rather utilitarian, but when you can put a peacock print on the edge of a top vs. something plain, why not go for it?!
Knit elastic on the other hand is easy to sew and much softer.
You can sew it directly to a garment or put it inside of a casing.
Because it’s knit, you may be tempted to cut a piece of it down to a narrower width. Don’t do this! Even though it doesn’t fray (similar to knit fabric), elastic tends to lose some structural integrity when you cut it. You can buy knit elastic in widths from 1/4″ to 3 or 4″ wide. Buy the width you need.
Knit elastic is some of the most comfortable elastic around. Some elastics like braided elastics or worse, woven “no-roll” elastics can make for an elastic waistband that’s very stiff and binding.
If you’ve ever struggled with adding elastic to pants and having them feel uncomfortable, give knit elastic a try.
This is the one elastic that I buy by the 50 yard roll because I like it so much.
If you make a lot of pajama pants a big roll of 1″ knit elastic is a great thing to have in your sewing supplies.
Clear elastic can be difficult to use, but it’s a very useful elastic nonetheless.
Use clear elastic to stabilize shoulder seams on knits and to gather fabric or hold gathering stitches (called ruching).
Clear elastic can slip out of place easily, so I find it easiest to use a stitch starter when you sew with clear elastic.
Simply lay the elastic on top of a scrap of fabric, anchor your needle (75/11 stretch) in the elastic, then place your presser foot down and start stitching. When you get to the end of the scrap, but your pattern piece next to the end of your stitch starter. From there, lay the elastic in place and keep stitching. If you use this method, the elastic will not slip on you.
Good clear elastic that’s good for stabilizing seams and gathering is lighter weight than similar clear swimwear or lingerie elastics.
Braided elastic has ribs in it that run the length of the elastic. When you stretch it, the tape narrows. It’s quite firm and can be irritating if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing. This type of elastic can literally break needles when your needle hits the thick rubberized threads inside the elastic. That’s why this elastic is best inside casings where it won’t need to be sewn down.
1/8″ braided elastic is about as narrow of a width as you can get.
If you make doll clothes, 1/8″ elastic be a great way to finish waistbands. 1/8″ elastic is also excellent for gathering, ruching. It’s popular for masks as well, but if you use it for masks, you’ll find it less irritating if you cover it with a tube of fabric.
elastic thread/elastic cord
Elastic thread is often used in the bobbin of your sewing machine to create smocking. You’ll see this kind of detail on a lot of children’s clothes and summer peasant style tops and maxi dresses.
You can create a similar effect by zigzagging over thin elastic cord. I’ve done that before in one of my favorite coats. Elastic cord is a little sturdier and easier to work with than elastic thread, making it perfect for light outerwear like this coat. You can also use it to create button loops.
waistband elastic (also called jacquard elastic)
Sometimes you want to show off your elastic, in which case, waistband elastic is for you. You’ll see it in all kinds of fun colors and patterns like stripes, glittery finishes, or complicated woven jacquard designs.
Narrower 3/4″ striped waistband elastics is excellent for things like boxers.
You can also make simple belts from patterned elastic or simply sew it to the outside of a skirt for a simple waistband.
This type of elastic is much pricier per yard than others, but you may be okay with that given the custom touch it can add to your projects.
Picot elastic is a narrow elastic with a decorative edge on it. With an extremely soft edge and finish, picot elastic is perfect for lingerie and underwear.
Extra cool: like foldover elastic, you can often find picot elastic in a huge variety of fun colors. Sometimes an assortment like this one is a great way to find just the color you need.
Picot elastic is my personal favorite choice when I make my own underwear. You can check out that tutorial below:
Plush back elastic
Plush back elastic is excellent for creating straps for bras.
It has a soft backing to it than is non-irritating against skin, making it perfect for bramaking.
1/4″ braided elastic or 1/4″ knit elastic is another good all-purpose elastic to have on hand.
This width of elastic is great for projects like scrunchies, masks. You can also use 1/4″ elastic inside casings for children’s and doll clothes.
Non-roll elastic (aka woven elastic)
It’s easy to spot non-roll or woven elastic by the small rectangle patterns that run along the elastic. Woven elastic is best for waistbands inside a casing. It is quite firm and very secure.
Pants made with non-roll elastic are not falling down on you!
That being said, you might not like the feel of this elastic. I know for me it can be quite uncomfortable and leave marks on my skin. If you find that to be the case, go for knit elastic.
Buttonhole elastic is excellent for helping you make adjustable waistbands on childrens’ pants. For growing kids and especially kids who have smaller waists, buttonhole elastic is super useful.
It has little slots in the elastic that stretch around a button, creating a fit that you can adjust.
Made from rubber or neoprene and covered in cotton, good swimwear elastic is specially treated so that saltwater and chlorine won’t damage it.
If you sew your own swimwear, be sure to buy elastic that’s specifically labeled swimwear elastic. You don’t want to go through all of that work and have your elastic wear out on you.
If you have a coverstitch machine, you’ll get great results sewing with swimwear elastic. A 3 step zigzag stitch is a good substitute on a standard home sewing machine.
So that’s a whole lot of information about different types of elastic you can use in all your sewing projects. Don’t be afraid to test them all out. Armed with this information, you’ll know exactly what to look for!
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.