Hey y’all, in keeping with this month’s theme of “what’s underneath?” today we’re going to talk about types of elastic. Being confronted with a wall of elastic or hundreds of online choices can be intimidating for a beginner, so today’s post is meant to demystify those choices.
Elastic for Masks
It seems a lot people are landing on this post searching for what to use instead of 1/4″ elastic which has become hard to find. As a result, many people are asking if they can cut elastic lengthwise – i.e. “Can I cut 1/2″ elastic in half to make 1/4″ elastic?” I do not recommend cutting elastic in half lengthwise, it almost always makes the elastic fray and/or lose integrity. Instead, I’d suggest using jersey knit fabric to make mask ties. As for which elastic is the best for masks, it depends on many factors, including what you can get and what mask pattern you’re using, so this post does not have an answer to that question. In general, you can make any of the types of elastic work as long as they’re the right width, though you might have to modify your sewing techniques or elastic lengths, and those questions are beyond the scope of this post.
Types of Elastic
There are three basic types of elastic: braided, woven and knitted. These refer to how the yarns are put together, and the different methods of construction give the resulting elastics different properties.
Let’s look at them more closely.
Braided elastic has lengthwise, parallel ridges. Those ridges make this elastic have more “grip” but they also mean that braided elastic tends to narrow as it is stretched. Braided elastic also rolls more easily than woven or knitted elastics, and tends to lose stretch if it is sewn through. For this reason braided elastic is typically recommended for use in casings, not for sewing directly to fabric. But in some casings (like waists) braided elastic isn’t the best choice because of its tendency toward rolling. It’s better in sleeves, necklines, or other areas where rolling isn’t a big issue.
Knitted elastic is made by knitting the fibers together. Knitted elastic tends to be softer than braided or woven elastic, and it retains its width when stretched. It also works well even when pierced by needles, so it’s a good choice for sew on applications. It rolls more than woven elastic, but less than braided elastic. Since this elastic is softer, it’s suitable for light to midweight fabrics, but doesn’t have the grip needed for heavier fabrics. With knit elastic, I may cut the elastic slightly shorter than the finished measurement in order to have it grip properly, particularly when I use it for waistbands or bra bands.
Also referred to as non-roll elastic, woven elastic is usually the firmest of the three basic elastic types. It retains width as it is stretched, and is suitable for sew on applications as well as use in casings. Because it tends to be very firm, it is also suitable for heavier weight fabrics. I generally don’t cut woven elastic with much negative ease, because it will pull too much. In other words, if I’m using it in a waistband, I’ll cut the elastic to the body measurement where the waist hits, not any less.
Special Types of Elastic
Here are some of the specialty elastics you might find or use. Note that I have a video and project demonstrating use of lace lingerie and fold over elastic here.
Lace Lingerie Elastic
This elastic is used in lingerie, as the name implies. It’s soft with pretty finish details that are meant to show on the right side of the project.
Fold Over Elastic
This type of elastic is meant to fold over a raw edge to finish it. It is used both on underwear and outer garments. It’s also a popular type of elastic for headbands and hair ties.
This type of elastic is mostly used in waistbands. It has buttonholes in it, so that the tightness of a waist can be adjusted by looping a different buttonhole over an interior button.
Clear elastic has two main uses – it is often used to stabilize or gather knits, and it is often used to help an area of a garment stay in place on the body. It can be stitched on, and is used in swimwear and lingerie to keep bands in place, because it has more friction with the body than the fabric-like elastic types.
Plush Backed Elastic
This is a knitted elastic, typically used in lingerie, that has a plush backing to be extra soft against the skin. I used it in this project.
In general, elastic is made of polyester and rubber. These materials are suitable for most uses EXCEPT swimwear because the polyester tends to break down when exposed to excessive chlorine, heat, sunscreen and salt. Clear elastic is polyurethane based and generally works for swimwear. You can also find cotton elastic for swimwear, which is a cotton/rubber blend and will withstand more heat than poly blends, as well as hold up longer with chlorine exposure.
The other important thing to consider with elastic is the width. Elastics come in all kinds of widths, from 1/4 inch to 3 inch and up. Your pattern will typically specify which width of elastic to use, but in general thinner elastics are used for things like swimwear and necklines, while wider elastic is used for waistbands for skirts and pants.