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