Monday, September 21, 2015

How to Stabilize Shoulder Seams with Clear Elastic

Almost any time I sew a shoulder seam with a knit fabric, I add clear elastic in the seam. This is one of those steps that takes very little time, but can really elevate the quality of your garment.

Knits have a tendency to stretch out over time, and those poor shoulder seams support much of the weight of the garment. Adding elastic to this seam will still allow the seam to have plenty of stretch, but it will add a great deal of stability and strength. Even after years of wearing and washing, that seam will look crisp and unstretched. And, when sewn properly, you will never even know it's there.

Here's how I sew clear elastic into a seam.

Materials Needed:

In addition to your cut pattern pieces and normal sewing supplies, you will need:

 3/8" clear elastic* (You can use 3/8" or 1/4". I prefer 1/4" when using a serger, but 3/8" may be more widely available.

 Wash Away Wonder Tape* (optional, but helpful)

Hem gauge (optional)

Preparing To Sew the Seam:

  1. Lay your front bodice piece face up.
  2. Lay your back bodice piece face down on top of the front bodice.
  3. Place the Wash Away Wonder Tape. The outside edge should be on the seam line. For example, if the seam allowance is 3/8", the outside edge of the tape will be 3/8" from the edge, and the inside edge will be 1/8" from the edge. (If I am being honest, I don't usually measure. I can eyeball it fairly well.)
  4. Remove the paper from the tape. Give the elastic a few tugs to pre-stretch it. Lay the elastic over the tape, lining up the outer edges at the seam line. Leave a few inches of extra elastic on either end. This will give you something to hold as you guide it through the machine.

Sewing the Seam

Now we can take our pieces over to the machine. Since that elastic is basted in place exactly where we want it with the Wonder Tape, we don't have to worry about it moving around. We can sew it exactly where we want it. 

Sewing the Seam with a Serger: When you sew the seam on a serger, your left needle should hit just to the left of your elastic or just at the edge. I am using that little notch on my presser foot as a guide to where the needle will stitch. If your elastic is wider than 1/4", your blade will cut off the extra width. Your serger blade should be able to cut through this, but it does wear the blade out a little faster. This is why I prefer using 1/4" elastic in the serger. With 1/4" elastic, you should be able to stitch just at the left edge of the elastic and the blade will cut just outside the elastic. 

Sewing the Seam with a Sewing Machine: The same process applies to sewing the seam with a sewing machine, but your stitch will look a little different. You will probably be using a zig zag stitch. The left edge of the zig zag will be just to the left of the elastic and there will be a little bit of extra elastic to the right within the seam allowance. 

Look at that perfectly stitched elastic!


Before you move on, make sure to press the seam. You will want to press the seam allowance towards the back bodice. Now the elastic should be entirely underneath the pressed seam allowance so that it doesn't touch the skin.

Now go try this at home and admire those crisp should seams!

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  1. I do this too! It bugs me that patterns don't mention it, actually, because it's so easy and helps a lot.Wonder tape is a good tip instead of basting it before serging!

  2. Thank you! The wonder tape is a great tip. I have used it for basting hems before cover stitching them, but it never occurred to me to use it for basting clear elastic.