How to give any stretch pants an elastic waistband

I wrote this for the Curvy Sewing Collective in 2015 – I’m finally reposting it here!

Can anything ruin a day faster than too-tight or too-loose jeans? (Answer: Yes, of course, other things are worse, but badly fitting pants are pretty awful!) Either they cut into your tummy when you sit, causing bloating, discomfort, or “muffin top”… or they stretch out through the day and you have to pull them up every 5 minutes!

That, my friends, is why I love elastic-waist pants. Pants with an elastic waist stay in place all day and are always comfortable. They create a smooth waistline with no lumps, bumps, or fly buttons poking out. Sure, you might prefer a traditional waistband if you are gong to tuck your top in or wear a crop top, but most of the time our waistband stays hidden. Why not be comfortable?

(Some of my many pairs of Style Arc Elle elastic-waist pants!)

Any pants made with a stretch woven can be easily adapted into an elastic waist style. Most recently I’ve enjoyed adapting Closet Case Files’ Ginger Jeans pattern to have an elastic waist, so those are the pants I’m using to show you how I do it.


– resilient, stretchy elastic (I use 1″ wide woven ribbed non-roll elastic, as you can see above. Your elastic should stretch easily, but needs enough heft to stand the test of time.)

– high-waisted pants, sewn in fabric with at least 10% stretch, finished except for the waistband. Skip the zipper and sew straight up the front crotch, or do a faux fly without any zip. (Personally, I prefer 30% stretch fabric so I can get a snug fit and still have enough ease to get the pants up over my hips. In my experience these pants stay in place best if they fit right at the natural waist, but feel free to experiment.)

– a strip of the fabric you used for the pants, at least 3-4″ high and wide enough to go around your waist (I ran out of my denim, so I used a contrast fabric instead. Let’s call it intentional.)

– a sewing machine and a serger (If you don’t have a serger, you could probably zig zag the stretchy waistband on, but I’ve never done it myself. Sorry!)

Here’s how:

1. Check the width of your elastic. Cut a long rectangle of your fabric that is about 3 or 4 times the height of your elastic. In the photo above, I’ve folded my 4″ band in half and put the 1″ elastic on top. When you sew the band onto the pants you don’t want to have to go through the elastic as well.

2. Measure the band against your jeans. For a smooth waistband it should be the same circumference as the top of your nearly-finished jeans. (For a demonstration of what goes wrong when you attach a band that is longer than the waist of the jeans, wait till my later pictures! Oops. Do as I say, not as I do.)

3. Sew the short ends of the waistband together to make a loop. Fold in half lengthways and iron.

4. Stretch out your elastic, pulling it taught in 10-15″ sections. This helps make sure your waistband won’t stretch out as your sew or wear it! Wrap the elastic around your waist snugly, and cut to the desired length, remembering to add an extra inch or so to join it together. Sew the short ends of the elastic together to make a loop.

5. Use a wide zigzag stitch to sew the elastic to the waistband, stretching the elastic gently to fit the waistband. Now that the elastic is sewn in, it will never roll or flip around inside your waistband! Yay. Re-fold the long edge of the waistband.

6. With your pants inside out, pin the folded waistband to the pants. The zigzag seam should be facing out (away from the pants), so that it will be hidden on the inside of your finished pants. I use about 8 pins, but you can use more or less if you choose! (If you want to get fancy here, you can play with where the waistband is stretched more or less. I pull my waistband tighter in the back so that it doesn’t gape over my booty when I sit, and stretch it less in the front because I have a big belly, but your body type might need difference adjustments. Or you can just pin it evenly all around, and it’ll be fine!)

7. Serge, baby, serge! With all three raw edges lined up, serge the waistband onto the pants. (If you don’t have a serger, play around with using a zigzag stitch instead. I’d start with perhaps a 2.5 length and width, to allow for enough stretch as you pull them on? Narrower and shorter could work too.) Press the seam down, away from the waistband.

8. Ta-da! You have a stretch waistband! Easy peasy. (Now, see how mine is wrinkly and not smooth? That’s because my fabric band was too long compared to my pants. Luckily it won’t ever show when I wear them!)

Here’s what my jeans look like on. Super comfy when sitting or standing, and nice and smooth even under this bamboo jersey top.

As sewists, you know there is always more than one way to do things, so check out my post from earlier this week about lots of other methods for pull-on elastic pants! 

And that’s it! I hope it gives you some inspiration to try out elastic-waisted pants. Quite a lot of people mentioned on my last post that they’ve been avoiding pants and I’d love to know if there is anything I can do to help get you over that collective fear! Do we need a sewalong, perhaps? Or a collective sewing dare?

17 thoughts on “How to give any stretch pants an elastic waistband

  1. You know I am of wave 1 of adopting the elastic waistband. Given my sensory sensitivity (and the fact that I carry all of my body fat in my boobs and stomach), I find that I get better fit (and less grip) and it’s actually comfortable. I never show off my waist these days – tucking in shirts was so 10 years ago 🙂 – so it works perfectly.


    1. Amen! I get confused every time a new pattern becomes popular that has no stretch, like the landers pants or those persephone pants everyone is making. How can that be comfortable to wear? Don’t people have to sit, eat and breathe? I don’t get it.


  2. I’m here to pester you (in a good way, of course! ) … I suggest adding a step of “pre-stretching” the elastic for all methods. For a longer length of elastic (like for MY waist measurement .. haha!), do it in sections … stretch it out a LOT, a few times.

    For kicks, measure your elastic before you pre-stretch and then measure again after. You’ll soon see why this is an important step. It’s a lot like pre-washing fabric. 🙂

    And I can’t believe it’s been THREE YEARS since you posted that tutorial on CSC. Sheesh … time flies.


    1. 1. Thank you for the reminder! I’ll add that into the tutorial!
      2. I wrote this post *before* becoming a CSC Editor! It seems like forever ago!!
      3. If we do some kind of sew along/communal dare to make pants, I’m hoping you will be part of it! Share your knowledge!!! 😘


    2. Is this why my elastic waists are always a little fall-downy even though I measure the elastic on me & make it a little tighter? Going to try your pre-stretch, thanks.


    3. You were right! (Not that I doubted it.) My elastic grew over 2″ when I stretched it, which is precisely how much too big my Sasha pants ended up. Thank you for that simple tip!


  3. I’m a recent convert to pull on pants but I’ve stuck with pull on patterns. Can’t wait to try this on some of the pants patterns I already own, thanks Gillian.


    1. Definitely check out Style Arc for pull on pants – or if you don’t mind stepping away from the instructions, I just make normal pants into pull on ones! These Ginger jeans, the Sasha trouser, and the Jenny’s that I’ll be blogging soon are all meant to have a zip but with fabric choice and sizing, it’s easy to make them into pull on pants instead!


  4. This is such a good tutorial. I am a recent convert to jogging, so much more comfy that skinny jeans with a fly. My “mum-tum” definitely agrees. I have only ever made a couple of pairs of trousers. They are terrifying. Xx


    1. I agree that “perfectly fit” trousers are terrifying… but decently fitting ones are surprisingly easy, I’d say! Let’s see if I can convince you! 😉


  5. I also love elastic waist pants, and will have to try pre-stretching the elastic. I am more and more inclined to add a drawstring (I just put it in the same channel as the elastic) because it almost eliminates “give” and lets me choose how tight I want the waist at any given time.


  6. This is amazing! I have yet to sew a pair of pants but with this tutorial I’m going to give it a go. Thanks for the sewing dare Gillian! Now to pick a pattern….


  7. Hi Gillian! I am making a knit circle skirt and would like to add a waistband just like this (with elastic in a casing). Would this same tutorial/technique work for knit fabric too?


  8. Do you still put in the pockets as usable in the jeans? My RTW pull ons have faux front pockets but still have open pockets on the back…which I never use! I find side pockets are not flattering if your tum is big. I’ve never attempted making my own jeans, however I used to make my harem pants for bellydance but they’re wide and very forgiving! Sadly unable to dance anymore due to arthritis in my feet and knees, but then I am 64!


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