9 types of Elastic Waistbands (& How to sew them)

Step-by-step instructions, tips, and techniques to help you to sew different types of elastic waistbands successfully for your skirts, dresses and pants - like exposed, fold over, turned under and separate waist bands
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elastic waistbands

For me, an elastic waistband used to be at once a convenience and a horror. They are easy to sew and very comfortable to wear. It was a horror only because of my clumsiness and carelessness. If not done right, it can turn around and twist around inside the casing making you feel frustrated. You now know what happened with me.

There is not just one way to make these waistbands – you can choose from the 7 ways. One of them will end up being your favourite which you will use again and again on your dresses, shorts, skirts and pants. But the real choice is between one in a casing and one which is directly attached.

Choose your elastic with care. Read about the 17 different types of elastics used in sewing. Most people prefer a wide elastic tape with width ranging from 3/4 inch to 1-1/2 inches for waistbands.

The 9 types of elastic waistbands are

  • Turn under elastic waistband
  • Bias tape
  • Front flat elastic waistband
  • Separate elastic waistband
  • Fold over waistband
  • Exposed waistband
  • Shirred waistband
  • Channel waistband
  • Paperbag waistband. 

How to sew Elastic waistbands

  • Cut the elastic slightly shorter than the waist measurement to allow for a snug fit.
  • After you have made the casing, sew the ends of the elastic together securely using a zigzag stitch or a straight stitch. You do not want the end seams to come apart when stretched!
  • Stitch in the ditch along the side seams after attaching the elastic – this will prevent the elastic from rolling.
  • Mark the center front and back of the fabric and the elastic, before sewing – this ensures an aligned and symmetrical waistband. 


Turn under elastic waistband

a simple turn under elastic waistband on a skirt

This is the most easiest of all waistbands. You just turn under the top edge twice and stitch; insert elastic – ta da, you have a waistband. 

How to sew a turn under elastic waistband

You maynot need me to outline this process. You probably know all the steps. But anyways, here it is.

Step 1

When you cut the fabric for the garment you will have to add extra fabric at the top edge which is twice the width of the elastic + 1/8-1/4 inch ease + 1/2 inch seam allowance.

Step 2

Cut the elastic.Try the elastic on the waist (where you will be resting the skirt) and fit it snugly. Add 1 inch seam allowance.

One method I have read is to take the elastic to the measure of your waist round minus 3 to 5 inches. If the elastic is wide you can minus 3 inch and if it is thin minus 5 inches.

Step 3

Join the skirt seams to make the tube, or if it is a pair of pants, finish every seam.

Press the upper fabric edge of the garment  1/2 inch to the inside with an iron.

Step 4

Mark the folding line accurately for the casing – ie the upper edge of the garment. That is 1/4 inch + width of the elastic.
Fold the fabric at the folding line to the inside.

Step 5

Stitch the folded edge to the inside of the garment. Leave 2 inch unstitched (for inserting elastic)

Step 6
Insert the elastic with a pin or an elastic inserter (plastic bodkin) ensuring that the elastic is not twisted anywhere.

threading elastic with a plastic bodkin
Join the ends of the elastic by stitching them together overlapping the edges. Make an X on the overlapped edge to make the stitching strong.

Alternatively you can join the ends of the elastic into a tube and then keep it inside the casing and stitch.

Step 7
Stitch the opening closed.

Step 8
Arrange the gathers evenly throughout the waistband. To prevent bunching up of fabric at places, I always sew vertically across the elastic at all seam joints. You can also use a hand needle and thread and sew tack stitches at seam joints.

Bias tape elastic waistband

In this case a bias tape is sewn to the top edge and turned to the back and stitched there to make a casing for the elastic.

elastic waistband made using bias tape

Checkout the tutorial to sew this easy gathered skirt with a bias tape elastic waistband.

easy skirt pattern

Front-Flat elastic waistband

Checkout this tutorial for making a mermaid skirt where the elastic waistband is only on the back and the elastic is stitched with tabs so that the gathers do not bunch near the side seams. You have a flat waist at the front and the elastic is only on the back. I love it.

mermaid skirt pattern

You can check out the tutorial to make culottes for a detailed explanation of making this type of separate waistband for shorts, skirts and pants- this one has a flat front waistband and an elastic back waistband.

culottes sewing pattern

Separate elastic waistband


elastic waistband made with a seperate piece of fabric

Ideally, you need a fabric with some stretch to make this method effective.

Step 1
Cut the fabric strip for the waistband from the crosswise grain of the fabric
Measure the waist edge of the skirt and add 1 inch seam allowance. The width of this strip should be 4 inch for inserting a 1″ elastic. Join the ends of the fabric strip to form a tube (with a 1/2 inch seam allowance)

Step 2
Join the waistband to the skirt top edge with a 1/2 inch seam allowance.

Step 3
Try the elastic on the waist (where you will be resting the skirt) and fit it snugly. Add 1 inch seam allowance.
Stitch the ends of the elastic piece together making an elastic tube. Make an X in your stitching to make sure the stitching is strong enough.

Step 4

Divide the waistband/top edge and elastic into four sections. Make marks with a pencil or chalk.

Step 5.

Pin the elastic tube over the waistband fabric edge (the edge of waistband) matching the marks you have earlier made at half and 1/4 portions

Step 6
Change the stitch to zig zag stitch in your machine. Stitch the elastic along the seamline (do not extend over the seam edge); You will have to stretch the elastic to adjust the elastic to the fabric.

Step 7
Flip the waistband fabric strip over the elastic to the inside of the garment.

Step 8
From the rightside of the garment, stitch in the ditch, along the bottom edge of the elastic , catching the turned under waistband on the inside.

Step 9
Clip any excess fabric in the waistband outside of the seam in the inside. Because it is a knit fabric it will not fray or look unattractive.

The seperate waistband is attached to the skirt


Fold over elastic waistband

It is very easy to sew a fold over elastic waistband – actually, this decorative elastic can make the dress making very simple and quick. No folding over of fabric or cutting out separate fabric strips, or inserting elastic through a narrow casing with a small pin. You can read about using fold over elastic here.

This video from JoAnn.com tells you how to do it very simply and nicely.

Exposed Elastic waistband

exposed elastic waistband

A 2 or 3 inch wide elastic which you get in many different colours is used to make this waistband.This is very similar to the fold over elastic waistband. This is usually used in kids clothing. 

Sewing the wide elastic to the skirt is very easy. Make a tube of the elastic by sewing the edges together. Sew with a tight zig zag stitch for strength. Sew the skirt tube. Divide the skirt waist edge and elastic tube into four sections and mark with a pin or pencil. Keep the elastic and skirt tube right sides together. (The skirt inside the elastic tube)  Pin in place, matching the marks you have made. Stitch the elastic and skirt together with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, Stretching the elastic as you sew to match the skirt waist edge

Another method of using a wide elastic with a skirt is shown in this tutorial for making a full reversible skirt.

Shirred elastic waistband

shirred waistband made with elastic thread

Shirred fabric looks as if smocking is done on it. On top of it  shirring makes the fabric super stretchy. You can make this beautiful decorative waistband with simple elastic thread winded on the bobbin and sewing machine.

Shirring nicely gathers the fabric ; infact very prettily gathers fabric. It is very much suited for reducing baggy fabric in oversize dresses. I really love to use a shirred waistband to create empire waistline on dresses. This waistband can be used for tunics, skirts, pants, shorts. But as a waistband for skirts and pants, it may not have the strength of thicker elastic and may become looser after one or two washes. As a decorative waistband, there is nothing like shirred waistband.

waist band

How to shirr fabric to make the waistband 

On the fabric you are going to shirr make parallel lines 1/4 inch apart. Atleast 5 lines should be done closely for the shirring to work on a waistband.

Wind a bobbin with thin elastic thread ; ensure that you are not stretching it as you wind. Gently and slowly wind the elastic thread on the bobbin. The thread on the upper pin should be the regular machine thread

Stitch along the parallel lines; Use the elastic thread like the regular bobbin thread ; Back stitch to anchor thread at start and finish of stitching (It is a good idea to try this on a scrap fabric if you are doing it for the first time.)

Steam press the shirred portion after stitching is done. Do not skip this step because the steam pressing will magically shrink up the elastic thread and make it look

Checkout this tutorial for shirring for more details or the tutorial to make easy belly dance pants which has a shirred waist


Channel elastic waistband 

waistband with chanels made between elastic

This is my favourite way to add an elastic waist to my dresses or tunics which are baggy. The thin elastic is fed through a channel made between two fabric and two rows of parallel stitching lines.

On a dress, You have to make this waistband before sewing the side seams (or unpick the side seams if you are making waistband for a readymade dress) 

Step 1

Cut the fabric strip – The size of the fabric strip should be width of the elastic + 1.5 inch. Finish the fabric edges with a zig zag stitch.

Step 2

Mark two parallel lines from the center of the strip the width of the elastic + 1/4 inch ease .

Step 3

Pin this strip of fabric under the area where you want the waistband. Sew the strip to the garment along the parallel lines you have drawn. Now you have a thin channel in between the fabric to insert the elastic.

Step 4

Insert elastic with a pin. Stitch the elastic secure at both sides. Do this for back and front bodice. Stitch the side seams. 

To sew a channeled waistband for the pants and skirts, make 3 or more such channels on a turned under casing. Insert 1/4 inch elastic through each of the three casing that you have made. Sew up the  opening closed after the elastic ends are stitched securely together.

You can add a drawstring in the middle channel for a different style.

Another way is to get an effect of this channelled waistband with top stitching. You can sew over the elastic using a ballpoint needle – stitch parallel rows of topstitching through the fabric and the elastic – this top stitching looks attractive, and securely attaches the elastic.

You can see the tutorial for a long flared skirt for a detailed explanation of this type of elastic waistband. 

long flared skirt sewing pattern

Paperbag waistband

waistband with a paper bag waist on a skirt

A paperbag waistband is a channel elastic waistband or a straight waistband which clinches around the waist just like a paper bag, a little down from the upper edge. There is an upper lip of fabric (which may be ruffled or pleated) above the waistband. The upper edge end up looking a little frilly and the waist is usually accented with a belt or tie. 

To make an easy gathered paper bag waistband, you will have to increase the width of the elastic casing and sew parallel to the top edge to create a channel for the elastic below.

Ensure that you are leaving enough ease (1/4 inch)+ width of the elastic when sewing the casing. The upper edge will automatically gather like a frill when you insert the elastic.

The sewing pattern for a Sundress has an elastic waistband which is made by sewing elastic inside near the waist edge.Check it out for more details. 

summer dress pattern

Checkout this tutorial for all other waistbands you could sew for your dresses ; How to sew a straight waistband on a skirt ; How to finish the skirt waistline with zipper – 3 ways


And finally, to prevent the twisting and turning of elastic inside waistbands, be mindful as you insert the elastic – this is something which happens to me, all too often, because of my carelessness. I miss the twist inside and sew the edges closed and the opening is also closed – then I find out that the elastic is twisted inside. The frustration you get then is completely unavoidable with some care and attention.

Another thing to do is to sew a few stitches vertically at places to anchor the elastic – do this, after taking care that the gathers are all evenly distributed. You can sew these stitches on the seam lines (stitch in the ditch) so that the stitches are unobtrusive.

Related posts : Different types of skirts ; Different types of pants and their names


kaftan dress

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

1 thought on “9 types of Elastic Waistbands (& How to sew them)”

  1. Good Afternoon,

    I want to upcycle an old chunky sweater and make it into a skirt with an elastic waist. Do you recommend lining the skirt to stop it clinging? Do you sell white stretch lining?

    Many thanks

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