“Conquering the Casing”

For years, whenever I needed to create a casing into which I needed to insert elastic, I dreaded the task.  Making the casing was not the source of the dread:  it was inserting the elastic.  I’ve used safety pins, bodkins, fishing line type products, but none seemed to make the job that much easier for me.  Since elastic has so much stretch, the casing needs to be much longer than the needed measurement over which the cased elastic must fit.  This often created so much bulk in the material through which I was weaving the elastic that my hands would cramp, especially when working with heavy materials such as coating wool.  Let’s not even talk about the frustration in trying to weave the elastic past each seam!  Not to mention that when I had finished threading the elastic through the casing and had sewn the ends of the elastic together to form a circle, my elastic would invariably be twisted.  UGH!  After getting up to walk around and calm myself, I would need to cut the elastic and start again.  Finally, I got smart and changed the way I thought about the process.  Let me share my now go-to method for encasing elastic into any material, thick or thin, without all the drama!

My example is a pair of elastic waist pants I’m making today. Once the pieces are cut out, I press the leg hems and the waist casing before any assembly begins. It’s much easier to press small flat pieces of material before they are sewn together. I press my waist casings a 1/2″ wider than my elastic so nothing binds while I’m wearing it.
I like my creases to be sharp, so I always use a wooden clapper after steaming my fabric.
After my pants have been fully assembled it is time for the elastic to be inserted into the casing at the waist. I cut the elastic and overlap it by 1″.
I like to use a zig-zag stitch to sew a square with two diagonal lines to hold my elastic together. It’s not pretty, but it holds beautifully!
Next step is to mark the quarter points on the elastic. Notice my center back is not at the elastic joint. I like to put that a little to one side of the center back seam. It’s more comfortable to wear and less bulky to sew.
I turn the elastic circle so all the quarter marks are on the inside of the circle, facing one another. (The blue at the top of the picture is just a folded piece of bias tape to mark the center back when I’m putting on the pants.) I put the top of the elastic at the folded edge of the casing, matching my quarter mark to the center back seam…
…fold the fabric over the elastic and stitch directly down the middle of the center back seam, using a simple straight stitch while sewing over the elastic. I back stitch to make sure this is secure.
I repeat this at each of the other three seams, making sure the elastic is tucked in right along the fold of the casing and sewing directly down the middle of the side seams and center front seam. Remember, I turned the marked elastic inward on itself so all the quarter markings were facing one another. I know that when I place the mark at the seam, I need to see the green mark on the elastic to make sure nothing got twisted.
It’s not very pretty yet, but my elastic is very secure at each of the seams and when I finish, I will have perfectly gathered material! Time to sew the casing closed!
I like to change from a straight stitch to a simple zig-zag stitch for this step. I like to change the length to 6.0 mm.
I put my left hand on the seam quarter behind the presser foot and I put my right hand on the upcoming seam quarter in front of the presser foot and pull firmly until my material becomes flat on the machine with my elastic touching the inside of the fold of the casing. I cannot sew over material if the needle is flexing or it will break, so, I pull the material from the front and back evenly so the needle is sewing on a flat piece of material. You must stretch your material equally between your hands and move with the machine’s feed teeth. Once you get the hang of this, you can insert elastic into a casing in about 2 to 3 minutes with no twisting or escaping from the casing.
This is how the piece looks if I take my hands away. Just remember to keep the needle sewing on flat fabric and you’ll be golden! I do not catch my elastic in this sewing. The elastic is sewn in place only at the quarter seams.
My elastic is now encased in the fabric, evenly distributed between the four seams of the waist. It will never twist and it will remain perfectly gathered for the life of the garment.
I don’t have a pants form, but I thought you might like to see how the pants look when pinned to my dress form. Perfectly even gathers!

By using this technique I have been able to reduce the time it takes me to make a pair of elastic waist pants down to less than an hour from cut out to wearing. My frustration level is much lower so I’m a happier sewer and my clothes look more professional. Happy Sewing!