Can anything ruin a day faster than too-tight or too-loose jeans? (Answer: Yes, of course, other things are worse, but badly fitting pants are pretty awful!) Either they cut into your tummy when you sit, causing bloating, discomfort, or “muffin top”… or they stretch out through the day and you have to pull them up every 5 minutes!
That, my friends, is why I love elastic-waist pants. Pants with an elastic waist stay in place all day and are always comfortable. They create a smooth waistline with no lumps, bumps, or fly buttons poking out. Sure, you might prefer a traditional waistband if you are gong to tuck your top in or wear a crop top, but most of the time our waistband stays hidden. Why not be comfortable?
(Some of my many pairs of Style Arc Elle elastic-waist pants!)
Any pants made with a stretch woven can be easily adapted into an elastic waist style. Most recently I’ve enjoyed adapting Closet Case Files’ Ginger Jeans pattern to have an elastic waist, so those are the pants I’m using to show you how I do it.
– resilient, stretchy elastic (I use 1″ wide woven ribbed non-roll elastic, as you can see above. Your elastic should stretch easily, but needs enough heft to stand the test of time.)
– high-waisted pants, sewn in fabric with at least 10% stretch, finished except for the waistband. Skip the zipper and sew straight up the front crotch, or do a faux fly without any zip. (Personally, I prefer 30% stretch fabric so I can get a snug fit and still have enough ease to get the pants up over my hips. In my experience these pants stay in place best if they fit right at the natural waist, but feel free to experiment.)
– a strip of the fabric you used for the pants, at least 3-4″ high and wide enough to go around your waist (I ran out of my denim, so I used a contrast fabric instead. Let’s call it intentional.)
– a sewing machine and a serger (If you don’t have a serger, you could probably zig zag the stretchy waistband on, but I’ve never done it myself. Sorry!)
1. Check the width of your elastic. Cut a long rectangle of your fabric that is about 3 or 4 times the height of your elastic. In the photo above, I’ve folded my 4″ band in half and put the 1″ elastic on top. When you sew the band onto the pants you don’t want to have to go through the elastic as well.
2. Measure the band against your jeans. For a smooth waistband it should be the same circumference as the top of your nearly-finished jeans. (For a demonstration of what goes wrong when you attach a band that is longer than the waist of the jeans, wait till my later pictures! Oops. Do as I say, not as I do.)
3. Sew the short ends of the waistband together to make a loop. Fold in half lengthways and iron.
4. Wrap the elastic around your waist snugly, and cut to the desired length, remembering to add an extra inch or so to join it together. Sew the short ends of the elastic together to make a loop.
5. Use a wide zigzag stitch to sew the elastic to the waistband, stretching the elastic gently to fit the waistband. Now that the elastic is sewn in, it will never roll or flip around inside your waistband! Yay. Re-fold the long edge of the waistband.
6. With your pants inside out, pin the folded waistband to the pants. The zigzag seam should be facing out (away from the pants), so that it will be hidden on the inside of your finished pants. I use about 8 pins, but you can use more or less if you choose! (If you want to get fancy here, you can play with where the waistband is stretched more or less. I pull my waistband tighter in the back so that it doesn’t gape over my booty when I sit, and stretch it less in the front because I have a big belly, but your body type might need difference adjustments. Or you can just pin it evenly all around, and it’ll be fine!)
7. Serge, baby, serge! With all three raw edges lined up, serge the waistband onto the pants. (If you don’t have a serger, play around with using a zigzag stitch instead. I’d start with perhaps a 2.5 length and width, to allow for enough stretch as you pull them on? Narrower and shorter could work too.) Press the seam down, away from the waistband.
8. Ta-da! You have a stretch waistband! Easy peasy. (Now, see how mine is wrinkly and not smooth? That’s because my fabric band was too long compared to my pants. Luckily it won’t ever show when I wear them!)
Here’s what my jeans look like on. Super comfy when sitting or standing, and nice and smooth even under this bamboo jersey top.
As sewists, you know there is always more than one way to do things, so here are a few more methods for a stretchy waistband!
Left: These RTW jeans have a curved waistband and facing, without any elastic. They also have a faux fly, if you prefer that look!
Centre: These are Style Arc Tori pants, which is designed to have the elastic serged on at the top then folded over to the inside. Style Arc has lots of great pull-on elasticated styles, if you want a pattern that doesn’t need adapting!
Right: Here’s a band attached the same was as in my tutorial above, but with a band the same circumference as the pants. Much smoother!
And that’s it! I hope it gives you some inspiration to try out elastic-waisted pants. Go forth and sew – and if you have any questions or other methods to suggest, I’d love to hear from you!