The Details: How I sew elastic waistbands

The Details: How to sew an elastic waistband

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.

How to sew an elastic waistbands

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.

How to sew an elastic waistbands

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.

How to sew an elastic waistbands

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.

How to sew an elastic waistbands

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.

How to sew an elastic waistbands

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!


PREVIOUSLY: Hipster painter pants

Hipster painter pants (2018 FO-12)

Hipster painter pants (2018 FO-12)

If you feel like you’ve seen these pants before, you have and you haven’t. These are the replacements for the previous natural pair that sadly shrank in the wash.* I’d been sorely missing having them to lean on all spring, and am thrilled to have a version back in my closet! They are both better and worse than the originals, in various ways. There’s no match for the incredible Huston Textile Union Cloth the originals were made of: Woven in California on a smaller loom, that cloth is chunkier and airier at the same time, and the fiber was CA-grown, climate-beneficial wool and organic cotton. Exquisite stuff. The ones above, on the other hand, are in some generic undyed canvas I bought at Elizabeth Suzann’s garage sale last summer for $2/pound (meaning these pants cost me about a buck), and it wears and hangs completely differently than the Huston cloth did. I feel great about the fact they’re 100% cotton remnant fabric, and even better about how genuinely not precious these are. I had said that I was not going to treat the originals as precious, and I’m saying the same about this pair, but it’s easier to feel that way when the fabric is, in fact, not precious! What I love about these pants in natural canvas is they’re like stylish painter’s pants, so that’s how I’ll be treating them.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how I modified and sewed my waistbands on all of these “toddler pants” of mine, since I don’t use the Robbie waistband (or pockets). So I’ll do a write-up on my waistband method for The Details. After which, I’ll show you this sweater, as soon as I can get it written up! Details on the ikat tank are here.

By the way, happy #memademay! Are you participating in any way? I’m at a point where every month is me-made month, in a sense, so I’ll probably be pretty loose about how I chime in. Definitely, absolutely not taking 30 selfies. ;)

Pattern: Robbie Pant by Tessuti (reuse No. 5)
Modifications: self-drafted pockets, assorted tweaks, modified 2″ waistband
Fabric: remnant/unknown, 100% cotton natural/undyed canvas

*The fabric had been washed in hot water before it was given to me; I did not re-prewash, and I paid the price. And yes, I washed the finished pants on cool/delicates and air dried, despite their prewash. They shrank anyway — these things happen sometimes! The world carries on.

Q for You: What’s your go-to yarn?

Q for You: What's your go-to yarn?

When I was in design school, the professor who had the most influence over my taste in typography* used to say you really only need about 5 fonts. (And this was before the digital explosion of font libraries.) In his Swiss-trained mind, if you had two good sans serif families (those being the Helveticas and the Futuras), and one to two classic serif faces, you might ocassionally find use for one or two more style- or era-specific fonts based on circumstance. But mostly you should be able to do what you need to do with the basics, relying on creative design skills and not flashy typefaces to make you stand out. Of course, he was known to shift even on his own dogma. I recall one phase, for example, where he was all about Gill Sans. Anyway, I think of this often in regard to yarn, as I’m a knitter who tends to use the same tried-and-true yarns over and over again. And sometimes I find myself idly trying to figure out what would the Helvetica vs the Times Roman of the yarn world. The decorative fonts are easier to find yarn equivalents for, but I won’t go there!

This is on my mind again as I wrap up an O-Wool Balance sweater (my sixth, I think?) and contemplate two more in the coming months, starting with the sketch above left that I considered for Summer of Basics last year and am longing for again, along with my marlisle proposal. Balance would seem to be my favorite sweater yarn, judging simply by how often I’ve used it, and that makes sense: It’s my preferred gauge, slightly heathered, earth-friendly, a pragmatic blend of cotton and wool, and helpfully machine washable (but not superwash). It’s a very sensible, versatile yarn. If Balance then is my Helvetica, I guess Shelter and Arranmore are my Times Roman and Garamond, being more traditional tweeds, also relied on regularly and repeatedly, and lending themselves to a wide variety of applications. That rotating “fifth” slot for me tends to go to small-batch farm yarns or other special things (like my Clever Camel cardigan), and I have the notion that I’m more likely to use new and different yarns for accessories while sticking more to reliable old friends for garments, but I’d have to do a study to be sure! I clearly do audition new yarns each year, and when I find one I like to knit and to wear, I’m highly likely to repeat it. But within all of that, I always come back to Balance.

So that’s my Q for You: What is your go-to yarn or yarns? Do you stick to a few favorites, or is every cast-on a new yarn adventure?

*Which is not all that evident from the design of Fringe!


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Do you keep a knitting journal?

Get planning! Summer of Basics 2018 is coming!

Get planning! Summer of Basics is coming!

Last summer, we did one of my all-time favorite make-alongs in the history of the blog, and I’m thrilled that so many of you have been imploring me to host it again. Of course, I’m talking about Summer of Basics! Wherein we each made 3 high-closet-value garments in the space of 3 months, either knitted, sewn, or any combination of the two. It was a season of so much camaraderie, so many people stretching their skills, so many fantastic garments! So yes, by all means, let’s do it again. Same time period as last year: June 1 through August 31.

I’ll have more to say at kickoff — will there be co-conspirators? prizes? tune in to find out! — but for the moment, I just want to make it official that it’s happening, and to re-clarify two things about the event:

It’s called Summer of Basics simply because that’s when it happens. It isn’t about making summer clothes specifically. You may make whatever you want/need the most, for whichever season! (Last year, I made pants, a button-up shirt and a wool fisherman’s sweater.) And there’s no getting around the fact that it’s winter for our friends in AUS/NZ, sorry!, but please don’t let that deter you from participating!

This is shorthand for “clothes your overall wardrobe will greatly benefit from” — workhorses, building blocks, go-to’s, whatever you want to call them. Things that make it easier to get dressed in the morning. Fundamental pieces your closet is lacking and that you will get a lot of wear out of. Don’t let anyone — least of all me — define what is a “basic” for you! We are all very different people, and that is the beauty of life on this planet. If you will get tremendous mileage out of a rainbow cardigan, please make that! If what you need is a pair of simple black pants, knock yourself out. If you want suggestions for straightforward but highly adaptable patterns — jumping-off points, if you will — see my Make Your Own Basics series. (It might be easiest to browse it on Pinterest.)

So that’s it: The only parameter for this is 3 hardworking garments, made between June 1 and August 31.

Use hashtag #summerofbasics to start sharing your plans on Instagram. And I highly recommend using this an opportunity to push yourself out of your comfort zone, while you’re surrounded by cheerleaders. My clothes-making life was completely changed by last year’s makes, and I know I’m far from alone in that.

SHOP NEWS: We’ve been adding small batches of the rereleased Toffee Field Bag back to the shop as they are completed. (Thank you so much for your enthusiasm!) So if you’ve run into a sold-out situation at any point, please check again! We’ve also got a few copies of the new Helga Isager book K (Knit) back in stock, as well as all of the colors of sashiko thread — among all the other lovelies (including the Porter Bin pictured up top)!

Happy weekend, everyone! See you next week—


New Favorites: Baby cardigans

New Favorites: Baby cardigans

You guys, I’ve still never knitted a baby sweater, despite lots of babies being born and adopted in my world recently, and there have been two super cute cardigan patterns published lately:

TOP: Cockleshell Cardigan by Amy Christoffers is quick, adorable and clever, from the newest MDK Field Guide: Transparency

BOTTOM: Knit Layette from Purl Soho, by comparison, is a fine-gauge little beauty with an heirloom quality about it, and the pattern also includes a hat and booties


PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Blanket temptations

Belated FOs: The plaid tee and black puff sleeve

Belated FOs: The plaid tee and black puff sleeve

Someday soon I’ll be ready to do some spring-into-summer wardrobe planning, and am imagining once again including this little plaid top in my closet inventory with the words “never blogged,” followed by all the natural questions about it. So instead I thought Gee, Karen, what if you blogged it! And actually there are two of them from the same pattern, neither one ever properly recorded, so I’m here today to correct the record.

Both of these tops were sewn from a now out-of-print Cynthia Rowley for Simplicity pattern #2472. I can be that specific because I have this 6-year-old blog that has a much better memory than I do. Having just tripped back through a search, I can report that when I got the urge to take up sewing again after learning to knit, the first thing I sewed was this crosshatchy quilting cotton version after seeing this one on Make Something. I’ve made several of them over the years, always tampering with this simplest of patterns, but the two above are the ones that have stuck around and been worn.

The black one (from early 2014, just before I left Berkeley) is in a chambray I had left over from another project, just barely enough to squeak out a cropped version, which I love. With those gathered sleeves, it’s probably the girliest thing in my closet! But it looks great with wide-leg pants, and can be worn in just about any setting, so even though I wouldn’t want you to see the inside of it, it’s a keeper.

The plaid one is sewn from a translucently thin cotton plaid I bought from Drygoods Design in early 2015. All I did with this one is adjust the length, shorten the sleeves and hem them — no gathers. It was the last thing I ever sewed on my old machine, after the *#@!er acted up while I was topstitching the neck on this beloved and delicate fabric. It’s also wonky because the fabric has biased considerably over time. So it’s another case of something that might not pass muster with any scrutinizing sewers, and the fit is not quite as intended, but it has nonetheless proved to be a useful member of my closet for three years now.

I had some of the plaid fabric left over, and bought a couple more yards from Fancy Tiger not long after, and have been hoarding it. Despite the biasing, I absolutely adore this plaid. It’s hard to see in a photo but it’s black and grey and golden-tan, and the grey reads almost as lilac or pale blue depending what you put it up against. It’s just lovely. But given how thin it is and how it behaves, I have yet to figure out the ideal use for the yardage that remains.

RE the pattern, though, you can easily replicate this with the Fen top or Shirt No. 1. Just tinker with the length as you like, make the sleeve flaps elbow length, then gather them to your liking and finish with bias trim.


PREVIOUSLY in FOs: My first sweatshirt

Knit the Look: The Crown’s cardigans

Knit the Look: The Crown's cardigans

I’ve heard it said that Neflix’s spectacular “The Crown” has the biggest budget of any TV series in history, and it’s easy to believe — the sheer number of extras, sets, locations, costumes. It often seems you’ve seen an entire movie’s worth of people and outfits before the opening credits begin.  And gosh, the young Queen Elizabeth’s cardigans alone — a truly dizzying array of them (pink, black, peacock, khaki …) — must have cost a pretty penny! It leaves me wondering whether she really spent nearly every day of her life in one, and how many there were in her royal closet. (Just a few on repeat? She seems so sensible.) But if it leaves you wondering how to knit a similar one for yourself, I’d recommend Churchmouse’s Quintessential Cardigan pattern, which is written for lace-weight yarn held double and knitted on 5s for a nice light fabric (though not as ultra-fine-gauge as the machine-knit costume ones), and which also includes details on how to customize the length of both the body and sleeves. One of the recommended yarns is Rowan’s Kidsilk Haze, and while I don’t think I’ve seen the Queen wear a mohair sweater, it was certainly all the rage in the ’50s. Kidsilk Haze comes in several of the show’s colors, including “Drab,” which looks about like the one she’s wearing above. The other recommended yarn is Shibui’s Lunar (pictured), a luxurious merino-silk blend that might suit Her Majesty. Or of course, there’s always cashmere.

Does anyone here know, seriously, what the Queen might have preferred?


PREVIOUSLY in Knit the Look: Marthe Wiggers’ vintage-chic pullover