Elastic waistbands are tricky, let’s face it: They can look great or utterly disastrous depending on the type of fabric, the amount of fabric piled up on the elastic, and most of all in my view, the width. To me, a wider band will always look better, and it definitely lays flatter. If you get the variables right, an elastic waist can be perfectly flattering and even chic. As noted yesterday, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how I do the waistbands on my modified Robbie pants, so here’s a rough how-to for you. I’m using photos I snapped while sewing the denim pair last year, and apologize for the photo quality and not reshooting them when doing the latest pair, but I think it’s easier to see what’s going on (even though the photos are so messy!) since the denim has a visible right and wrong side.
This is a method I learned sometime in my youth and have always preferred and used when making the assorted elastic-waist skirt or whatever. This is a totally different width and attachment approach than what you’ll find in the Robbie Pant pattern, and you can use this method with basically any waistband that is just a rectangle formed into a loop.
STEP 1: Cut a wide waistband
I like 2″ elastic. For that, your waistband piece needs to be 4″ tall, plus seam allowance on top and bottom, plus a smidge for wiggle room. And the width of your piece (the circumference) should be as it is in the original pattern, to match the pieces it attaches to. With the Robbie pants, I’m pretty sure I simply doubled the height of the waistband pattern piece to get the piece I’ve been using. Robbie is 1/2″ seam allowance, so that’s 5″ plus a smidge.
STEP 2: Sew the ends to form a ring
Line up the two short ends, right sides together, and mark the center point. Using 1/2″ SA — or whatever your pattern calls for — stitch from one edge to the center point or just a hair beyond, and backtack firmly. (This point will undergo some stress.) Press the seam allowance open. Note that only half of it is actually stitched together, so fold and press the rest of open at the exact same width as if it were sewn all the way.
STEP 3: Edge-stitch the seam allowance
I don’t like for there to be any flap of fabric inside the casing for my elastic to get stuck under when I’m inserting it, so I like to stitch down the seam allowance, as close as possible to the edges.
STEP 4: Press the waistband in half
Now fold the waistband in half with wrong sides together and press along the fold. At this point, you have a prepared waistband ready to attach. On the outside (the right side, or public facing side) it’s a continuous ring, seamed at the join (aka the center back). On the inside (which is now officially the wrong side), there’s a gap at the seam, which is where you’re going to feed the elastic when the time comes. Lay the band on your ironing board with the seam at one side and press or mark the opposite side — that’s your center front. Now bring the seam (center back) and center front together, lay it flat again, and mark the fold at each side for aligning with the side seams.
STEP 5: Attach the waistband
With your pants right side out, pin the waistband all the way around the outside, right sides together, lining up the opening in the waistband with the center back, and matching up the center front and side seams as noted. Seam the band onto the pants using the specified SA (which for Robbie, again, is 1/2″). I like to then serge the seam allowance, but you can zigzag, pink, or finish as you like. Press the seam allowance toward the pants and top-stitch in place. Again, this way there is no loose seam allowance inside the waistband to fight with your elastic.
STEP 6: Insert the elastic
You can now feed the elastic through the opening in the inside of the waistband. It’s a torturous process, but I do it the old-fashioned way: with a large safety pin threaded into the leading end of the elastic. I also like to pin the loose end to the pants just inside the opening, so there’s no chance of it accidentally disappearing into the casing while I work.
When you’ve got it all the way through, overlap the two ends of your elastic and pin them firmly. Pull them out as far as possible so you can get them under the foot of your machine, and zigzag across them to secure. You can now put on your pants (or skirt) and see how you did!
I like this method, among other reasons, because I still have access to the elastic and can adjust the overlap however many times I might need to get the snugness exactly right. Once you’re sure you have it how you want it, you can either hand-stitch the opening closed (in case you ever want to get back in there) or pin the layers in place and top-stitch along both sides of the opening, which will permanently secure it and keep the elastic from trying to fold or twist. If you like, you can also anchor it at the front and/or sides.
And that’s it! I also prefer to work with stiffer elastic, which I find easier to insert and less likely to misbehave once it’s in there. It lays nice and flat, and that’s my whole objective!
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