Tutorial: Stabilizing and gathering knits with clear elastic
Elastics and knit fabrics go together like peanut butter and jelly. Because elastics are designed for stretch, they will have no problem moving with your garment. They can be put to all kinds of interesting uses, from stabilizing seams to creating shirring.
Clear elastic has many uses, but can be a little tricky to handle. When using it at home, allow yourself some patience while you get the positioning correct.
If you find the elastic is sticking to your presser foot, try using a special Teflon-coated foot.
When clear elastic is installed in commercial manufacturing, it is done with a feeder foot, so the machine operator doesn’t have to worry about keeping the correct tension or the elastic slipping. So if you become envious when you see that “perfect” elastic on a garment purchased from a large store, remember that it was installed without a hand touching it and a lot of help from special equipment.
Stabilizing with clear elastic
Clear elastic can be used to stabilize seams such as shoulders and necklines to prevent them from stretching out. I also put it in dresses that have waistlines that are tapered and will be stretched over shoulders and busts when put on.
If you have a seam that will be stretched a lot and needs to maintain its shape, clear elastic will do the job. For this purpose, the elastic is installed in a 1:1 ratio with the fabric.
- When purchasing clear elastic you should always buy more than you need. If a seam needs to be torn out it’s better to start with a fresh piece. Clear elastic is neither knit or woven, so if you put a needle through it, it actually punctures the elastic. When sewing, leave excess on either end of the seam. Cutting the elastic the same length as the seam you are installing it to makes it very hard to handle at the beginning and end.
- If you’re installing clear elastic in a body seam it is not necessary to sew it in first and then sew the seam together. It is better to have less thread bulk and not stretch a seam by stitching on it more times than necessary. Arrange your sewing so that the clear elastic is either on the top of the fabric, or sandwiched between two layers. The important thing is to avoid contact between the elastic and the feed dogs.
- Sew your seam, stitching over the clear elastic to secure it in the seam allowance. Sew as if it is one with the fabric, without stretching. If you are sewing a seam that is not closed on the ends make sure to leave some excess elastic behind the presser foot beyond the beginning of your seam.
- Leave the excess at the end. Once you have sewn the seam and removed the piece, trim away excess elastic.
Gathering with clear elastic
Clear elastic can also be used to gather fabric in places where you want a bit of shirring, much like any other elastic. There are two methods you can use for this.
Method 1: Gather first
- If you are using clear elastic to gather as well stabilize, it is a good idea to gather first, and then stabilize. Use your sewing machine to create two rows of basting stitches. Pull the bobbin threads and adjust the fabric to create even gathers.
- After gathering, install the clear elastic along the seam when putting the garment together, following the instructions above. As always, if you sew a gathered seam to a non-gathered seam, make sure the non-gathered seam is against the feed dogs while sewing. This is a great method for shirring and gathering perfectionists because you can see your distribution of gathers before committing to the seam. After you sew the seam with the clear elastic, remove your basting stitches, as they may pop when stretched.
Method 2: Stretch as you sew
- This method allows you to stretch as you sew (the elastic, not the fabric!). Mark the final length on the elastic with a marker. Leave a few inches of excess at the beginning and end of the elastic; this will provide you with something to hold on to as you are sewing.
- Align the first marked point with the edge of the fabric, or the place you would like the gathers to begin. Begin sewing a few stitches to secure.
- Stretch the elastic as you sew, so that the second marked point aligns with the other edge of fabric, or the place you would like the gathers to end. For a proportionate distribution of gathers, do not let the tension on the elastic waver as you sew. If done correctly, the gathers will be even and your seam will be stabilized as well.
Have you ever worked with clear elastic before? Have you used it for stabilizing, gathering, or both?