Thursday, August 23, 2012

Guest Blogger: Janet Gilbert

Today's guest blogger is Janet Gilbert!  She is an active member of Smocking Arts Guild of America (SAGA), and lives on a farm in southern Illinois.  Janet and her husband have two adult sons and a 12 year-old daughter.  Janet's daughter and new granddaughter are the inspiration behind her smocking designs and creative endeavors.  We have worked with her are numerous occasions and love her projects--as we know you will too!

Buttonhole Elastic

Hello Everyone! I am Janet Gilbert and today I have the privilege of being a guest Blogger for Sew Beautiful Magazine.

For years you have seen my designs in Sew Beautiful, but what you haven’t seen is the inside story…how I try to make the garments adjustable with buttonhole elastic.

Because children seem to grow overnight, I am never sure the exact size of the child modeling my designs and my granddaughter lives several states away; I always try to use buttonhole elastic.

Buttonhole elastic, you say? Here is a picture of this ingenious invention if you have never heard of this stuff.  You may have seen it on ready-to-wear children’s clothes.   Each buttonhole is 1 inch apart from center to center. You can go up or down a size just by loosening up or tightening the elastic.  This would be wonderful during the holidays!

Buttonhole elastic mainly comes in black and white and is usually available in ¾ inch and 1 inch widths.  If you can’t find it at your local sewing place, try doing a Google search on the Internet for online stores.

The uses for buttonhole elastic are almost unlimited but I will try to narrow it down to three types of application.

Gathered back waist

This is the most basic application.  Buttonhole elastic can be used in place of the elastic in a skirt and it could also be used in a fitted waistband to give you some options on the fit.

Look at the pattern you have chosen to use.  Does it have a two-piece waistband with side seams? Or is the waistband one solid piece?

If you have side seams then you will make some slight modifications to leave the side seam open.

If you have a solid (one piece) waist band then you will need to add button holes in the waistband to feed the elastic through.

Here are the basic instructions to modify a two-piece waistband so you can use buttonhole elastic. Your actual pattern may be slightly different.
  •  ·      I am going to start out with a waistband that is 3 inches wide. The waistband will be folded in half with ½ inch seam allowances.  This will give me a finished waistband that is 1 inch wide.
  • ·      With a 1-inch waistband I am going to use ¾ in Buttonhole Elastic. This will give me room to stitch a 1/8” top stitch.
  • ·      On my side seams I marked the waistband fold line by just finger pressing the fabric.
  • ·      After pining the fabric together I am going to mark the width of my elastic on the inside seam line.
  • ·      Remember to double check that the other side seam opening is also on the inside. (Been there.  Done that.  Won’t do it again!)

This picture shows how I stitch the side seam. I used contrasting thread for illustrations:
  • ·      I have my sewing machine stitch length at a regular stitch length. On my Bernina my preference is a length of 2. I am stitching a ½ inch seam allowance.
  • ·      I stitch about two stitches and reduce my stitch length to 0 and take two stitches in place. This locks the beginning of my seam stitches.
  • ·      I return to my regular stitch length and continue stitching to the first marked line for my elastic.
  • ·      I again reduce my stitch length to 0 and take 2-3 stitches in place.
  • ·      Since later on I am going to be opening up this seam at this point, I increase my stitch length to a basting stitch length. For me this is a length of 4-5.
  • ·      When I get to the second line that I marked, I again reduce the stitch length down to 0 and take 2-3 stitches in place.
  • ·      I return to a stitch length of 2 and stitch to the end where I finish off with two stitches at a 0 stitch length.

Next, I press my side seams open. Do not open up the seam for the elastic yet.

Since I am going to have elastic moving back and forth through this side seam opening, I want to secure the seam allowance down so it does not interfere.

There are several ways to do this. I chose to use the bound buttonhole stitch on my Bernina.  

The stitch looks like this.

I selected the “Manual” option on my sewing machine so I could stop and start where I wanted. With the right side of the fabric up and a buttonhole foot, I stitch my bound buttonhole.

Here is an illustration of what I did. The red dash line is the bound buttonhole.

Here is a close up of the actual bound buttonhole. Again, this was stitched with contrasting thread for illustration purpose.

Sewing the button on is the same, as you would normally sew a button on. You will have the thickness of the elastic underneath the button so you need to create a thread shank.  

Also, the size of the button required is not set in stone. The buttonholes on the elastic look very small but as you pull on the elastic the buttonhole stretches. The Hillcreek Button shown is a 3/8” button.

For the elastic back waistband, you will have one piece of buttonhole elastic that will button on each side. When you are cutting your buttonhole elastic to thread through the waistband make sure the sequence of the buttonholes are the same.

Confused? Here are two pictures that might help.

This is the Wrong way. The two ends of the elastic do not match up.

This is the correct way.  Both ends of the elastic are identical.

I finish the ends of the elastic with ribbon or trim. Instead of repeating myself on this step, let me direct you to a recent blog post I did on my blog:

Full gathered waist

This is one of my favorite applications for buttonhole elastic! 

In this picture are the pants that go with my “Super Hero” smocking design shown in SB issue # 132 (Issue available for purchase here).  Pants pattern is SB Jack and Jill overall with the bib removed, available here

Can you see the Buttonhole elastic?

Look again!  I left the back seam open on the inside. I sewed one ½” button in the middle with a thread shank then threaded the elastic through.  Each side of the elastic is buttoned to the same button and the ends are threaded back into the waistband.

I applied a seam sealant like Fray Check to the ends of elastic. I did not want the bulk of the ribbon or trim on the elastic ends since I was threading the ends of the elastic back into the waistband.

Side tabs

This is the application that Sivje Parish and I used on the Free Skirt pattern in the current issue of Sew Beautiful issue #144, available now.
The pattern in the centerfold has a zipper in the back and 2 side elastic tabs in the flat waistband. Instructions on how we added the Buttonhole elastic can be found on page 65 and 66 of the issue.

So, have I peeked your imagination on using buttonhole elastic?  The ideas are almost unlimited.  Think about how wonderful this would work in all those children’s costumes at Halloween or even in your Church’s Christmas pageant.

After adjusting the hems every year of our Church’s Angel costumes I have wondered about using it down the length of the dress and ruching up the skirts to adjust the length. (Sort of like Belle’s dress in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast)


  1. I was so glad when RTW garments started using buttonhole elastic (about 8 years ago or so, I believe) made dressing my hard to fit kids so much easier. I used to take the elastic out of their outgrown jeans to reuse in my sewing until buttonhole elastic became available to purchase. Thanks for the tip about matching up the holes...I never thought about that!:)

  2. Thank you--this is such a clever idea!!!

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