Alternative Elastic Finishes for the Children's Knickers Pattern #NJ201

Helen Cloke beginner advice how to apply elastic lingerie elastic nelliejoans201

In this tutorial, I'll cover a variety of alternative elastic finishes you could use for the waist and leg holes of the Children's Knicker Pattern #NJ201.

Some of these elastics will involve making minor changes to the pattern so you'll need to decide which elastic finish you'll be using BEFORE you cut out the pattern pieces and fabric.

What I'm detailing below is my preferred method of applying the different types of elastic but of course there are many different methods, none of them wrong, it just depends on what works best for you.

I'll be adding to this tutorial as I make up more samples so be sure to check back in regularly!

Alternative Method One ~ Picot Elastic:

Description: Picot elastic is a commonly found elastic that has little loops (picots) along one edge while the other edge is straight. It can come in many different widths but the one I recommend for this pattern is 10mm.

showing close up of picot elastic

Pattern Changes:  You will need to make small adjustments to the pattern to accommodate the turning under of the elastic.  Measure the width of the solid part of your elastic, i.e. the bit without the picot loops.  For my 10mm elastic the solid part is 8mm wide.  You'll need to add this 8mm width to the waist and leg edges of the pattern pieces.  Shown in red in the example below:

Patterns adjusted for picot elastic


Length of elastic: I sew picot on flat, i.e. with the elastic not already sewn in the round, so I cut my piece an extra 2cm longer than the recommended length to give myself some wiggle room for sewing.  Since there is already a 1cm seam allowance included in the recommended measurement this means the elastic is 4cm (1cm+1cm+2cm) longer than what the finished length would be.

Test: Because we will be stretching the elastic as we sew a good idea is to test how much stretch we will need to give it.  Fold the length of elastic in half and then hold the cut ends where the seam allowance would be, 2cm in from the ends.  Hold the very edge of the looped end (this would be the halfway mark) and then stretch the elastic out over the waist of the fabric knickers, side seam to side seam.  It will give you an idea on how much tension to apply when sewing the elastic on.  I use this method for all patterns where they give an elastic length as some designers add in more ease and others less (or you may have customised the length to suit the child.)

Stretching the waistband elastic to check tension

Stitch Setting: The stitch setting I like to use for picot elastic is a zig-zag stitch 3 long x 4 wide.  This can vary from machine to machine but you are aiming for your stitch to be around half the width of the elastic, e.g. 8mm wide elastic = 4mm wide stitch.  You don't want the stitches to be too tight as this can change the structure of the elastic and result in a wavy finish.

stitch settings on the machine

Applying: I start the end of my elastic at the centre back point.  You want the right side of your fabric facing up and the right side of your elastic facing down.  Picot edge to the inside and straight edge of the elastic lined up with the cut edge of your fabric.

Placement of the elastic

The position of your stitching should be on the picot side of the elastic.  When your needle is going into the elastic on the left side it should look as if it is just hitting the base of the picot loops, almost like it is going over.  For my machine I know that if I line the top of the picot loops up with the left hand side of the plastic part of my foot then I'm in the correct position.

Correct position for stitching elastic

I sew a couple of stitches without applying any tension just to anchor my fabric and elastic together.  Then I'll use my thumb and pointer finger to pick up the elastic at about 10cm away from the foot, apply a slight amount of tension to the elastic (to mimic the amount we determined before) and then lower the elastic down on to the fabric holding it in place (and tensioned) with my middle finger.

tensioning the elastic

Tensioning the elastic like this does take a bit of practice but becomes second nature once you've done it a few times.

As I stitch and the fabric/elastic is heading under the foot, I'll slightly relax the tension.  The elastic kind of grips the fabric underneath and pulls it under the foot with it.  You want to try and avoid fighting against the feed dogs and over stretching the elastic.  You can see in the photo below how the elastic has been relaxed and the fabric underneath is pulling in.

relaxing the tension of the elastic

Continue like this taking small sections, tensioning the elastic, lining it up with the fabric and then slightly relaxing it as it goes under the foot.  Don't be afraid when you get to the seam and a bulkier piece of fabric to give it a slight helping hand by pulling gently on the fabric behind the foot.

When you get back around the the start of your elastic, overlap by about 1cm and backstitch.  This keeps the ends nice and secure.  If you have applied the correct tension going around then you should just have the 4cm of excess elastic left over.

Showing the elastic applied and the excess elastic left

Excuse the funky stitching!  The thread got stuck on the reel somehow and mucked up the tension.

Repeat this for the leg holes.  I find it easier to turn the knickers inside out and sew from the right side and with the loop of the leg hole sitting on top.  The leg hole is too small to fit over the arm of my machine.

Sewing the leg hole

Here is what your stitching should look like with this first pass of zig-zag stitching.

First pass of zig-zag stitching

Now to my favourite part!  Trim away any excess fabric that lies beyond your stitching.  A pair of duck-billed scissors is very handy but not necessary.  The important thing is to take your time being careful not to cut the elastic.  Doing this step makes for a neater turn and finish of the elastic.

trimming excess fabric

Now it is time to turn the elastic and complete the second pass of stitching.  Keep the same stitch settings as last time.  Turn the elastic under towards the wrong side of the knickers, you should have just the picot loops peaking out from the right side.

This time you'll want to be sewing down the loose edge of the picot, that is the edge with the straight sides.  On my machine, I know if I position it so the tops of the picot loops line up with the right side of my presser foot then I'm sewing in the right place.  You can test this out on your machine by moving the needle into the left hand position and placing the knickers under the foot upside down.  You'll be able to see where the needle meets the straight edge of the elastic and what you can use as a guide to line up to.  Remember to pop your knickers back in the right way up before starting to stitch. 

Starting point of sewing the second pass

Start centre back again and sew around placing a slight tension on the fabric to both move it away from the elastic (so it doesn't bunch over the picots) and to make sure it doesn't pucker as it gets stitched.

Holding the fabric as it get stitched

Backstitch when you get back around to the starting point/where the elastic overlaps.

You should end up with a row of stitches parallel and next to the first row with the elastic completely secured down.

Showing stitch placement

And you're done!

Finished knicker

Troubleshooting:  If you are having any issues with sewing on elastic, leave me a comment and I'll do my best to answer them.  Here are a few from Instagram followers:

Wavy elastic once sewn

  • This can be caused by putting too much tension and resistance on the elastic as you are sewing it.  You don't want to be working against the feed dogs by pulling on the elastic too much as it goes through.  It's more a motion of tensioning and then relaxing it as it gets sewn. 
  • It can also happen if you have been stretching out the fabric as it gets sewn.  The fabric needs to be kept unstretched.
  • Sometimes the stitch setting is too tight, try a longer zig-zag.
  • It can also be caused by too much tension on the pressure foot.  If yours is adjustable then try loosening it off.  I'm not to sure what to do if it isn't adjustable but you can always try steaming the elastic (hovering a steamy iron over it) to relax it back to normal.  Blame the tool not the user!

Applying the correct amount of tension

  • This definitely becomes more intuitive with practice!  Here is a video from Amy at Cloth Habit that helped me a lot when I first started sewing elastic on in this way.  Click the link and scroll to the bottom of the page to view it.

    The cut ends of the elastic fraying

    • I've been asked this twice lately and to be honest it is not a problem I have come across.  I even went and had a good look at some of my older makes and while the ends were a bit fluffy, as you'd expect from years of wearing and washing, they weren't frayed at all.  So I'm wondering if it's because the cut end of my elastic is where I start stitching and they get backstitched over so this helps to seal the an overlocked stitch would.

    The visual look of the overlapped ends

    • Someone mentioned not liking the look of the overlapped ends and I guess this is a personal choice.  I try and keep mine neat by cutting them square, overlapping by only 1cm and stitching so they line up.  The only cut part you see from the outside is a tiny bit of the picot.  From the inside you get the straight cut of one end.  

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