How to sew an elastic waistband

HelenArden Pants, Sewing Tutorials41 Comments

How to Sew and Topstitch an Elastic Waistband

Since the release of our latest pattern, the Arden Pants, I have been wanting to do a blog post about how to sew and topstitch an elastic waistband. There are so many great patterns out there at the moment that feature an elastic waist! I love this feature in pants and I really like topstitching my waistbands. I think this adds a nice, professional look to the garment and it also secures the elastic really well. No fussing with twisted or folded elastic inside the casing!

Today I will walk you through attaching the waistband on the Arden Pants, inserting the elastic, and topstitching the waistband. We also use the same topstitching technique for the Arden jogger cuffs, so you can use this post as a reference for that, too!

Arden Pants Pattern Shorts Hack Helens Closet Patterns

I am using the Arden Shorts hack we posted previously for this tutorial. As I was sewing these shorts I thought – I should do a post about this waistband! You can use this guide for any basic elastic waist garment, like shorts, skirts, pants, boxers, etc!

Let’s start by attaching our waistband to our pants or shorts. I have already sewn my pockets, inseam, and side seams. My front and back waistband pieces have been joined at the sides and pressed in half lengthwise with wrong sides together.

How to sew an elastic waistband

Pin the waistband to the garment, matching the side seams and the notches.

We need to leave a 2-3″ (5-8 cm) gap in this seam for the insertion of the waistband elastic, so I like to put a ‘double pin’ where I want my gap to start and stop so I don’t accidentally sew my gap closed. The gap should be on the back of the shorts, I put mine just to the side of the center back seam.

How to sew an elastic waistband

Sew the waistband to the pants, backstitching on either side of that gap. Your double pins will help you know where to start and stop.

How to sew an elastic waistband

Next, finish the seam using a serger or overlocker. If you do not have one, you can use a zig-zag stitch or overcast stitch instead. Start and stop at the gap the same way you did previously.

How to sew an elastic waistband

Press the seam down and the waistband up. It is much easier to press now then try to press after your elastic is inserted and the waistband is all gathered up.

Determine the length of the elastic by pulling your elastic around your body at the waist until it feels snug. You want the elastic to be tight enough to hold the pants up, especially when you have heavy items like your phone in the pockets. Keep in mind that if you plan to topstitch the elastic waistband, the topstitching will stretch out the elastic a bit and make it less tight. I like to pull it a little extra tight when I know I am going to be topstitching. Cut your elastic to length with 1″ (2.5 cm) for overlap.

Grab a large safety pin and attach it to one end of your elastic.

How to sew an elastic waistband
How to sew an elastic waistband

Insert the elastic into the waistband and begin to ‘feed’ it through the waistband casing. This ‘feeding’ motion can be tricky at first. You want to use your hands to feel for the safety pin and slide it along inside. You will be bunching the fabric up over the pin and then smoothing the fabric out over the elastic, so the pin keeps moving forward.

How to sew an elastic waistband

Be mindful of your elastic tail – you don’t want to lose it in the casing! You can safety pin it near the gap to make sure it doesn’t slip inside.

How to sew an elastic waistband

Once you have fed it all the way through (and your hands are probably exhausted) you will have both elastic tails visible. Before we join these tails is very important that we feel around the entire casing and ensure that the elastic is not twisted. This may take some time but it is necessary.

How to sew an elastic waistband

Once we are sure the elastic is not twisted and we have both our ends pinched securely in our hand with the correct sides overlapping, we can pull the tails out so we have more room to sew them. It is really important to keep hold of your tails here so you don’t have to go back and check for twists again.

How to sew an elastic waistband
How to sew an elastic waistband

At your machine, overlap the elastic by about 1″ (2.5 cm) and sew back and forth to secure. You can do a box stitch pattern here if you want to get fancy, but we just need there to be some lines of stitching to hold it in place.

How to sew an elastic waistband
How to sew an elastic waistband

Once your elastic is sewn, stretch the waistband out until the elastic is completely inside the casing. Stretch it a few times to distribute the fabric evenly along the elastic. It should be bunched up and gathered-looking.

If you realize you have a twist in your elastic, you will have to pull out the tails, cut them apart, and sew them together. When this happens to me, I just cut out my overlap and sew a new one. It makes it slightly smaller but that is usually OK.

How to sew an elastic waistband

We need to close this gap to finish our waistband. Smooth out the fabric in this area and take it to your machine.

How to sew an elastic waistband

With the needle position all the way to the left, sew the gap closed. You may want to switch to a zipper foot or other foot that allows your needle to be all the way to the side. Sew as close to the elastic as you can but do not sew on top of it! Finish this seam using the same method you did for the rest of the waistband seam.

Topstitching the Waistband

I love a topstitched elastic waistband. It looks really professional and it adds so much stability. It also ensures you will never have a twisted elastic issue when you are wearing the garment! It is worth the extra effort in my opinion.

You can choose how many lines and how far apart to make them! I am doing two evenly distributed lines.

How to sew an elastic waistband

Make sure the fabric is evenly distributed around the elastic by stretching the waistband out a few times. Place a few pins around the waistband to ensure the fabric stays nice and well-distributed.

How to sew an elastic waistband
How to sew an elastic waistband

The trick to sewing the topstitching is pulling the elastic and fabric flat as you sew. You are going to use a straight stitch and use both hands to make this happen. It gets easier with practice! I like to sew in between the pins, it divides it up nicely into sections.

If you do not pull the fabric and elastic flat, you will not be able to stretch the elastic and therefore not be able to wear the pants!

How to sew an elastic waistband

Your front hand is pulling the fabric and elastic flat, and in most cases, this tension would pull the fabric out from under the presser foot. This is why we need to also be stabilizing the fabric and elastic from the back. You do not want to pull too hard from the back because we want the sewing machine feed dogs to be moving the fabric, not our pulling. Our hands are just there to stabilize and make the surface flat so the machine can do its thing. You need to pull everything flat each time you sew a line of topstitching.

How to sew an elastic waistband

You should have a beautiful topstitched waistband! There will be a flatter spot where the elastic overlaps, this is totally normal. Don’t fret if your stitching is a bit wobbly – nobody will notice! Once you topstitch a few waistbands you will get the hang of it and get straighter and straighter lines.

Arden Pants Pattern Shorts Hack Helens Closet Patterns
These shorts were made from a 7 oz linen from Blackbird Fabrics.

You can use this method for all sorts of projects! The Donovan Skirt also has a topstitched elastic waistband with a drawstring option. If you are adding a drawstring like on Arden or Donovan, the drawstring is fed through the middle channel between the topstitching!

Ashton Top and Donovan Skirt

We also use this method for the Arden Pants jogger cuffs. The wider the elastic, the more topstitching lines you may want to sew! I love how fabrics that have been topstitched like this weather with wash and wear.

Arden Pants Sewing Pattern by Helen's Closet Patterns
Arden Pants Pattern Shorts Hack Helens Closet Patterns

You can see more of these Arden Shorts here! I go over what you need to know to turn a pants pattern into summer shorts.

Thank you for checking out this tutorial on topstitching elastic! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments!

About the author


Helen Wilkinson is the designer and founder of Helen's Closet Patterns. She also co-hosts the Love to Sew Podcast! Helen is obsessed with all things sewing and strives to share her passion and knowledge with the sewing community.

41 Comments on “How to Sew and Topstitch an Elastic Waistband”

  1. Instead of using a regular safety pin to pull my elastic through an elasticized waistband, I use what’s called a ‘diaper pin’ which has a safety lock to prevent the pin from popping open. You can find those in the sewing notions department at Walmart.

    1. That‘s a great idea! Can’t count the times the pin has popped open and I had to start over. Thanks! 🙂

  2. Thank you for this tutorial! I was literally just scouring the internet for this exact information two days ago. (I was slightly creeped out when I saw the subject line in my inbox today. In a good way…) Now I can finish my pants with confidence. Thank you!!

  3. You can prevent the flat part where the elastic overlaps by sewing the elastic to a square piece of stabilizing fabric and butting the ends of the elastic together. This secures the elastic in the round and the topstitching of the waistband reinforces it. I just learned this tip and it works great!

  4. When you topstitch what size stitch do you use? Thank you for these clear instructions. They’re very helpful! Your shorts are adorable!

  5. I love your tutorials! This may be a silly question, but I can’t tell whether you are sewing through the elastic when you are stitching? I assumed so because of how you stretched the elastic out, but just want to confirm. Thanks, and I love your patterns and directions.

  6. There is elastic called “magic elastic” that is made to sew through. Some will grow as you stitch thru them. This brand will snap back to shape if you shoot it with steam after you are done stitching. There are brands with channels for stitching- but you can’t see them once you encase the elastic. I’m just about to cut out Arden shorts.

  7. Bonjour
    Merci beaucoup pour cette idée de montage de ceinture elastiquée
    Je vais essayer
    A bientôt

  8. hey just wondering if it possible to sew elastic straight onto a thin fabric. since i really like the deign on my fabric i am using it as a decorative piece but when i try and sew on the elastic it makes my machine stop and start beeping and shaking like crazy.

    1. It sounds like you might need to try a different needle and see if that helps. A Microtex needle would help sew through the elastic and the thin fabric.

  9. Hi Helen, This is such a helpful tutorial! The waistband with the stitched lines through it looks so nice, and I also love the look of the jogger cuffs. For the waistband, about how much does the elastic grow when you sew the lines through it? Does it grow more for each line? If you make the waist elastic a little tight before sewing the lines through the elastic, do you have to worry about it being too loose after sewing the lines through the elastic?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Ellen, The waistband grows about 3-5% overall but doesn’t grow with each additional line. Hope that helps!

  10. Hey, thanks so much for your helpful tutorial. I wanted to ask for some waistband advise, I recently stitched a a fold over waistband on panties, I used a zigzag to attach the elastic – then when folded over – topstitched around the bottom edge with a 3.5 straight stitch.
    It looked beautiful but as soon as I applied some stretch to get them on – the thread snapped 🙁
    Do you have any hints at all? Thanks so much x

    1. Hi Sian,

      Oh no! That sucks. I hope you have better success with the next pair. It sounds to me like the zig-zag was not wide enough. It needs to be quite wide to withstand the stretching around the body with more fitted garments. Try again on a scrap with a few widths and see what works. You can also use a triple step zig-zag where the stitch is going in multiple times as it crosses back and forth. I hope that helps!

  11. Hi Helen can I use this technique of jogging pants for my grandson, I have encased a 25mm elastic but it keeps folding over. Would I still use a straight stitch on non stretch sweatshirt fabric? Many thanks

    1. Hi Lesley,

      Yes you can! When sewing with knits, I prefer to topstitch using a narrow zig-zag stitch, but I still pull the elastic flat as I sew.

  12. Thank you! I’ve been trying to figure this out–I wasn’t sure if I needed a “stretch” stitch. I appreciate the clarification!

  13. Thank you so much for this clear and well illustrated tutorial! I just made my first pair of shorts with a pattern I made myself, and did an elasticized, topstitched waistband like this. Your instructions and photos made it easy and much less frightening!! They turned out beautifully, thank you so much.

  14. What type of needle (sharp, universal, jersey, etc), size of needle, and type of elastic (knit, woven, etc) did you use in the waistband here? I struggle with needles breaking when I try to sew through elastic.

    1. Hi Kelly!

      We recommend trying a ‘Stretch’ needle with woven or knit elastic, not braided (because it narrows when stretched). You may also want to try a ‘Microtex’ needle because they are so fine and sharp, they might pierce through the layers better with your machine.

  15. This is great. Do you have any trouble with the elastic being narrower when stretched? I’m having trouble getting mine to work for a pair of swim shorts. It is growing so much + not pulling back to size. The elastic isn’t all the way to the bottom edge of the casing when I’m done so I feel like it’s staying stretched somehow.

    1. Hi Catherine! I recommend using a ‘knit’ or ‘woven’ elastic rather than a ‘braided’ elastic. Braided elastics get narrower when stretched vs knit or woven ones that maintain their width. If you google search ‘braided elastic vs knit elastic’ you will see photo examples. You may also enjoy this episode of the Love to Sew podcast all about Elastic: Happy sewing! -Helen

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