Quick Guide to the Different Types of Elastic for Sewing

Are you sewing a project that calls for elastic, but aren’t sure which type of elastic to use? You’ve come to the right place! This handy guide will teach you about the different types of elastic available to sewers, and when to use them.

gathered peasant dress for girls

Photo via Sew Much Ado

Let’s take a moment to reflect on clothing without elastic — can you imagine our modern day wardrobes without it?

It really is one of those time-saving inventions that make our lives easier and more comfortable. Not sure about that? Imagine dressing a wriggling child in Victorian times with all those button, loops, ties and not a bit of stretch anywhere. For lingerie and underclothes, elastic gives them comfort and a fantastic fit. Those early swimsuits think of the styles that have evolved in part due to elastic. Athletic apparel — who wants to work out if your waistband doesn’t move with you. A selection of elastics in your supply of notions will help you make the right choice for any item.

What is elastic?

It is a narrow fabric that stretches due to its composition. Rubber or spandex cores are wrapped in a fiber such as polyester, nylon or cotton and then woven, knitted or braided to create the elastic. There are different types so it’s important to use the right elastic on your project, for comfort, garment life and ease of sewing. 

Different types of elastic 

1. Braided elastic

examples of braided elastic

Braided elastic is probably what most of us think of when picturing elastic. It has parallel ribs going along the length of the elastic and it narrows when stretched. It also looses its stretch when pierced with a needle, so it’s not the best choice for sewing through. Braided elastic is commonly used inside casings, such as the necklines shown in the dresses at the top of this post, or in sleeve hems. 

2. Knit elastic

examples of knitted elastic

Knit elastic is a good choice for a lot of garments. It’s soft against the skin, doesn’t narrow when stretched and you can sew through it with without weakening or distorting the elastic. Knit elastics are suitable for light to mid-weight fabrics.

knit elastic waistband

Knit elastic can be applied directly to the fabric as shown above, or can be used in a casing as well. Knit elastic is a great choice for pajama pants or other applications where the elastic touches the body. 

3. Woven elastic

woven elastic examples

Woven elastic is stronger than the other elastics previously mentioned and can be used on mid- to heavy-weight fabrics. Woven elastic has the distinctive vertical and horizontal ribs and is often labeled as “no-roll” elastic. It makes a great choice for casings in garments, home dec items, bags and outerwear. It doesn’t narrow when stretched and can be sewn through without weakening the elastic. 

4. Foldover elastic

fold over elastic examples

Fold-over elastic (commonly called FOE) is a great way to finish edges on stretch fabrics or garments where you want a smooth close fit that still retains the stretch. It is a great choice for underwear or athletic apparel, or even any clothing using knit fabrics. It is plushy on one side and smooth or possibly a print on the other so you can choose which side goes on the outside. It comes in a lot of colors and patterns, although some of the patterned FOE’s can be a bit scratchy against the skin — such as the metallic one shown above — so be careful where and what type of garment to use those on.

foldover elastic on underwear

It does take several steps but FOE is robust, doesn’t narrow when stretched and can be used on anything from swimwear to baby diapers.

5. Lingerie elastic 

lingerie elastic examples

Elastic for lingerie is a subcategory in the elastic world. Most commonly knit elastic, it comes in a lot of different colors and textures and is designed for bras, undies and lingerie. This elastic can have a decorative edge, possibly scalloped or with a picot trim and elevates your creation from plain to pretty. Many of these elastics have a plush side for comfort against the skin. If you’re feeling creative you could use them as a design element on the outside of a garment.

There are lots of other types of elastic as well, such as clear elastic, swimwear elastic, baby elastic, buttonhole elastic and even elastic thread!

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