Whether you’re sewing pants, skirts, dresses, or anything else that incorporates waistbands, topstitching is a great way to add an aesthetically pleasing design that will bring the garment’s look together. However, topstitching also incorporates a few practical benefits, such as keeping the elastic from twisting, smoothing out wavy seams, providing extra strength and durability to a seam, and even attaching pockets. To help you learn how to accomplish this, read this guide for how to sew and topstitch an elastic waistband.
Equipment You Will Need
Sewing and topstitching a waistband can be achieved by hand or with a sewing machine, so the method is truly up to you. But let's take a look at the materials and considerations that you should make before you engage in your project.
Braided Elastic Bands - As there are a few different types of elastics, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. Braided elastics are best for necklines, sleeves, and—most importantly for this guide—waistbands. The braided elastic has parallel ribs that run the length of the band and become narrower as it stretches. When the elastic is sewn or pierced, it will lose its ability to stretch and reshape.
- Thread – When considering what thread to use, it’s a good idea to match the weight of the thread to the weight of the fabric you intend to topstitch. An all-purpose thread will do the trick for medium weighted fabrics, while heavier fabrics such as denim will require a more substantial topstitching thread.
- Topstitch Needle – As the name suggests, this needle is made with topstitching in mind. Sporting a layer of titanium nitride, these needles are more resistant to abrasions and will last six times longer than a normal needle.
With these three specifications in mind, the rest of your typical sewing kit will function just fine as you learn how to sew and topstitch an elastic waistband.
Sewing the Waistband
First, you need to create your waistband. Sewing an elastic waistband is actually one of the simpler tasks, so don’t fret if you’re still a beginner. Elastic waistbands typically fall into two categories: fold-down casings and applied casings. Casings are the fabric “tunnel” that encloses the elastic. For our purposes, we’ll be using a basic fold-down casing for topstitching.
- No matter what size your elastic band is, your casing should always be 1/4" wider than the band. So, for example, if you have a 1” elastic band, you’ll simply add another 1/4" in addition to your usual seam allowances of 3/8”.
- In total, your casing pattern should measure up to 1 5/8” from the waistline, which is where you will draw a new line above the original waistline. You’ll then follow these same steps to create the pattern for the back piece. Once you have designed both patterns, you can cut out the pieces and sew the garment side seams together.
- Next, press the raw edge or usual seam allowance to the wrong side.
- Press the width of the elastic again, including the extra 1/4", and use a pin to keep the press in place.
- Now you can stitch around the lower edge of the casing 1/8” from the edge. This will leave roughly a 2” wide opening through which you will insert your braided elastic, and you should backstitch both ends.
- Attach a pin to the elastic at one end of the casing and pull it through the casing.
- Lap one of the elastic’s ends over the over and anchor edges with several lines of stitching through all the layers—the stitching should create a box. By overlapping, the elastic ends’ bulk will be reduced, and the elastic will be less likely to rip at the seam.
- Pull the waistband fabric so the joined elastic ends are tucked inside the casing and distribute the gathers evenly.
- Finally, sew the opening closed with the same seam allowance you used before, but be careful not to sew into the elastic itself.
Topstitching the Waistband
Alright, now that you’ve made your elastic waistband, let's move on to the process of topstitching. This will make your homemade clothes look and function as well as professional store-bought clothes.
- The first step is to sink your needle into wherever you want the stitch line to be. It doesn’t really matter where you make your stitch line, but this is where you’ll need to whip out your handy dandy topstitch needle.
- This next step is very important. You need to stretch the elastic as you’re stitching. You can stretch it out fully, which is why some people recommend using a sewing machine when topstitching, but you can still do this by hand. Stretching the elastic avoids placing any stress on the needle, presser foot, or feed dog and ensures the feed dog can feed the fabric as intended.
- If you’re using a machine, make sure your needle is down during this process so the fabric or elastic doesn’t accidentally shift. When you go to stitch the fabric, work in sections of 2 to 3 inches at a time, and release the elastic to ensure it doesn’t lose its elasticity from being stretched out. Repeat this process until the fabric is completely stitched. There are typically two or three lines of stitching that go around the waist.
Afterward, you should have a completed product! This is the process of topstitching but let us also explain a few hot tips that will ensure your topstitching is as high quality as possible.
For example, if you’re using a sewing machine, make sure it’s not set on low tension settings. Otherwise, you’ll have loose stitching on the wrong side. Furthermore, adjust your stitch length depending on the weight of a fabric. If you’re using a medium weight fabric, you should use a stitch length of three. Heavier fabrics, however, perform better with a stitch length of three and a half to four. A longer stitch will help the topstitch look neat and uncluttered. Lastly, remember that you don’t need to backstitch when topstitching, as the visible stitch is part of the decoration. If you do backstitch, your garment could end up looking bulky and awkward. Instead, to avoid messy thread nests, hold onto the thread tails when you begin stitching.