Oh the possibilities with elastic thread!

design, fashion, needlework, sewing

Our daughter Sophie has lived a lifetime around sewing projects but I’ve never heard her gasp with excitement about a sewing project until we started experimenting with elastic thread. If you’ve never sewn with it before, it’s the element that causes fabric to smock magically. For those of us who grew in the tube top era, never fear there are uses for elastic thread beyond the dreaded tube top. Although there are mass manufactured fabrics that have been pre-smocked with elastic thread, in general they are not beautifully printed or made with nice greige goods and are often made with juvenile prints. I like elastic thread smocking for pool cover-ups, casual summer skirts, sleeve and pocket details and kids’ clothing. Most of the time, you’ll find it with elastics in the store rather than thread.

It’s very simple to work with as long as you follow a few simple rules:

  1. When smocking, use regular thread for the top stitches. The elastic thread goes only in the bobbin.
  2. Handwind the bobbin without stretching the elastic thread at all. Don’t use the bobbin winding mechanism on your machine. This is critical.
  3. Use the longest stitch possible on your machine.
  4. If you have a walking foot, use it.
  5. Sew the rows of smocking about ¾” apart.
  6. Leave long tails when you start and stop rows and knot them together after each row is smocked.
  7. If you’re making a skirt or a dress with a smocked waist or bodice, make the width of the garment your largest dimension (bust, waist or hips) plus an additional 50% of that measurement. For example, if you would ordarily cut fabric 40” wide for a skirt, cut the fabric to be smocked 60” wide. I’ve seen patterns that say to double it but on our machine and with the Gutermann elastic thread we used, doubling was waaay too big. The amount of smocking is also greater in lighterweight fabrics it seems. For example, you might get less shrinkage in terrycloth than you would in lawn.
  8. Do a test strip of the length you plan to sew to see how much it shrinks with the thread.
  9. Elastic thread is most successful on lighterweight fabrics. Terrycloth is about as heavy as you can go. It’s not strong enough to smock leather or vinyl for example.

Any other tips on using elastic thread?


11 thoughts on “Oh the possibilities with elastic thread!

  1. Another great way to use elastic thread is in garment sewing when you need to set in a sleeve, if you sew around the sleeve top (inside the seam allowance, so it won’t show) using a longish stitch, then it will make it a lot easier to ease the sleeve into the armhole when it omes time to sew it in. Sorry this isn’t a very clear description, one of those hints where it is easier to see it being done.

  2. Elastic thread is fun to use. I havemade some ruffle scarves with it. Sometimes it worked great, other time it did not ruffle.as.well. i used really lite weight silky fabric

  3. Thanks for the advice with Elastic Yarn. Just trying to make my own dress over the weekend. Just figuring out the last bits and pieces. I will get some elastic yarn / TF thread tomorrow and also try to fix the button attachment I messed up :D

  4. What type of sewing machine do you use? I have been trying elastic thread and I’m having difficulty! I’m not sure if its my machine or what?!

  5. I purchased two warm winter scarfs that were gathered in two long lines down 1/3 then 2/3 along the whole length of the scarf with elastic thread! One of them was a fleece and the other made with a wool like fabric much lighter weight then the fleece. I purchased some fleece to make some scarfs as gifts BUT can’t get the material to gather up tightly enough!! Any suggestions anyone please Thanks Marg

    1. It’s hard to know without seeing it but I’m guessing that the fabric is too heavy in proportion to the tension used in the sewing or the weight of the elastic thread. It’s definitely something that you need to experiment with. I’m assuming that you hand-wound the bobbin as I suggested? That makes all the difference.

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