Everything You Need to Know About Buying Elastic for Your Handmade Underwear
If you’ve ever tried to make your own underpants, you’ve probably come across all the different options for elastics. We’re right there with you if all these choices left you feeling a little overwhelmed! Luckily, Meghann Halfmoon, the designer and creator behind the sewing pattern label Halfmoon Atelier, is here to save your panty problems! Meghann is sharing all her tips and tricks for navigating the stretchy world of elastic. After you make your first pair using just a fat quarter (this is the perfect stash-buster project!) of Cotton Spandex Jersey, you’ll be saying “sayonara” to store-bought lingerie and “hello” to me-made undergarments.
Meghann: Wearing a sustainable wardrobe became increasingly more important to me during my former career working in international development. I’ve been pretty up close and personal with people living far from the “developed world” who are directly impacted by how we spend our dollars and euros, and I have a hard time not thinking about them when I make purchases.
I’d say the most sustainable wardrobe is one that is intentional and well-worn. For me, this translates into a limited amount of clothes, all of which I wear (and mend) for many years. I do my best to only make clothing that I know will get lots of wear, and I use sustainably and ethically produced fabrics in my sewing whenever possible. Sewing underpants is a great way to use up scraps from knit sewing projects, like t-shirts and tank tops.
The truth is, though, I really started making my own underpants because I live on an island where I cannot purchase underpants (nor other clothes, for that matter). I’ve long been a thrifter and up-cycler, but my wardrobe has become nearly entirely me-made since moving here four years ago, and I’ve not purchased new clothing items since 2017 (aside from activewear and bras). Happily, this all fits within my principles of wearing and promoting sustainable sewing.
I originally designed my super basic UNDERPANTS sewing pattern simply to meet my own personal needs, but I am happy to say that it can now meet the panty needs of women in 18 different sizes!
Any panty pattern will guide you on the construction of your underpants, but sometimes the biggest hurdle is the elastic. Where do I find them? What are they called? Which work best? I’ll do my best to quell any elastic-related panty-making fear right here.
Types of Elastics
There are four types of elastics that you’ll typically see associated with underpants:
- Fold-over elastic – also referred to as FOE
- Picot elastic
- Knit elastic
Fold-over elastic, also known as FOE, does just that – it folds over the edge, nicely enclosing the raw edges of your garment. This elastic is made to be next to your skin. You can find FOE in an array of colors, sometimes with extra embellishments like dots or sparkles, which gives you lots of options to finish your underpants with both function and flare.
Sewing with FOE
To reduce bulk on FOE, just after stitching it in a circle, trim the seam allowance to a point or half circle and press open. This will also help to keep any raw edges from peeking out after folding the elastic around the edge of your underpants.
If you have the option (typically on older machines), a straight stretch stitch is a nice way to reduce visibility of the stitch, particularly when using decorative FOE or thread that doesn’t quite match.
Picot elastic has one plain edge and one scalloped edge and is sometimes referred to as lace lingerie elastic. Some picot elastic also comes with a “plush” side, which is a bit of added comfort, especially if you tend to have sensitive skin, as this will also be next to your skin.
Sewing with Picot
When attaching picot, stitch as close to the start of the scalloped edge as possible.
Meghann’s Me-Made Tip #1: The “plush” side is considered the “wrong side” of the elastic – this is important when attaching it to your panties. Picot offers a nice “peek-a-boo” detail to your panties.
Knit elastic is the most basic of these elastics. It will be enclosed, hidden from view and will not touch your skin, making the color and look of it far less important. In the photo, the top elastic is knit elastic and the bottom, off-white, elastic is braided elastic. Of these two, knit is preferable for underpants as you will be stitching through the elastic and this can hold up to being pierced by the needle. While braided elastic may not hold up as long when pierced by the needle, I’ve never personally had any issues with it and think it’s totally fine to use braided elastic if it’s what you have on hand.
In its most simple form, self-fabric just means you cut strips of the same fabric you used for your underpants to finish the leg and/or waist instead of elastic. This is a fabulous finish in more ways than one! It’s super comfortable on your skin and is more affordable (and possibly stress-reducing?) because there is no need to purchase additional notions. Perhaps best of all, it is a great way to use up scraps!
How to Make Self-Fabric
To use self-fabric, you’ll typically need the same length as with elastic. If the pattern you’re using doesn’t offer measurements for self-fabric, try this formula to calculate the width:
2x seam allowance + ½”
Once you’ve cut your fabric strip(s), stitch the short ends together, right sides touching. Trim the seams and either press them to one side and tack them down using a tight zigzag, or simply press open.
Next, fold the fabric along length, wrong sides together and raw edges matching, and press.
Unless you live near a unicorn of a fabric shop, there is a good chance you’ll be purchasing your fold-over or picot elastic online. Here are a few online shops I found with lots of options:
Meghann’s Me-Made Tip #2: Although elastic widths are pretty standard, be sure to check the required width of elastic with the pattern you’re using!
It’s totally ok to go rogue on the “required” width (I’m all for bending sewing rules!), but you’ll need to account for the width difference when cutting and constructing your underpants.
You’ll also want to consider matching or contrasting your thread with your chosen elastic (something I rarely remember when making an order). My very favorite thread to use is 100% Organic Cotton thread from Scanfil. If I don’t have a color that matches well enough, then I go to my back-up Gutermann sew-all threads. (Did you know that Gutermann also sells rPet thread from 100% recycled plastic?
Meghann’s Me-Made Tip #3: Use your discarded thread spools to keep your elastics and bias tapes organized!
Again, as any pattern will instruct you on how to attach the elastic to your underpants, I’ll focus on providing a few extra tips to quell the fear and get you started!
1. Because we all have a slightly different preference when it comes to the fit of our undergarments and all elastics are not created equal, I highly recommend marking your elastic with a pin or disappearing ink and wrapping it around yourself before cutting it to size. This way, you won’t end up with super cool underpants that are super unwearable.
2. Elastic is typically sewn onto underpants in a two step process: attaching and finishing. Personally, I like to attach the elastic to the underpants with a 1.5mm length, 3mm width zig-zag stitch. I then use a 1.5mm length, 4mm width 3-step zig-zag to finish. However, machines differ, so cut a few inches of elastic and practice stitching it to a fabric scrap before attaching your elastic to your underpants. This way you can make any adjustments to the stitch length and width or presser foot pressure (if your machine has that possibility) and reduce the likelihood of irritation with your final garment.
3. Using tissue paper between the elastic and the needle plate will help keep your machine from eating the elastic – this is especially helpful when sewing the elastic into a circle.
4. At the leg openings, point the seam of elastic in the opposite direction to the seam of panty to reduce bulk.
5. When first attaching the elastic, don’t worry about stretching it for the first 2 or 3 stitches. Just get it attached!
6. Although it’s not necessary to pin the elastic to the fabric at the second go around (finishing) it’s a good idea to do so at the seams where there will be added bulk.
Meghann Halfmoon lives and works on the small Caribbean island of Saba where she designs sewing patterns and sewing retreats for her label halfmoon ATELIER. She believes that simple design and choices can have a big impact on our lives and on the planet. Meghann’s mission is to help sewists create a more sustainable handmade wardrobe by designing simple, unique sewing patterns and facilitating their search for ethically produced fabrics, while sharing her passion for making and travel through extraordinary sewing experiences. Find even more of Meghann’s makes over on Instagram @halfmoonatelier.