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How to Finish Underwear with Knit Bands Instead of Elastic

If you’re going to sew your own underwear, why not make them really comfortable to wear? By Taylor Pruitt.

Posted in: Tutorials & Techniques • April 30, 2021

Lately, I have been seeing a lot of sewists make their own underwear, and it’s really inspiring me—but there’s one detail that I don’t want to include in my me-made underwear: elastic.

If you’ve ever made underwear before, you probably know that many finishing methods for the legholes and waistline include elastic, either fold-over elastic, picot, or even braided elastic encased in fabric. I don’t know about you, but none of my ready-to-wear underwear have elastic in the legs—and sometimes they don’t in the waist either. This is the type of underwear I like best.

So, where does this leave me? I’m not a fan of elastic in my underwear because it feels too restrictive, but I want to make my own underwear. This is where knit bands come into play for me. I’m going to show you how to swap elastic for a knit band to finish your underwear!

How to Draft and Sew a Knit Band

Let’s do this.

Make sure your fabric meets the stretch requirements stated in the pattern you’re using. I’m making the Sophie Hines Median Knickers pattern, and it requires 50%-75% stretch.

If you’re using a Seamwork pattern, it includes a stretch guide to help you see if the fabric you want to use has enough stretch in it. Here are some Seamwork patterns you can use:

  • The Geneva panties are a classic choice, especially if you want to use stretch lace.

  • The Kaye shorts are perfect for biker-short style underwear.

  • The Dana underwear would work well with a knit band instead of elastic.

  • The new (and free!) Flo period underwear. You can make these without the absorbent fabric if you want to make a comfy pair of everyday underwear.

Cut your pattern out and sew together all the basic pieces. Here is my constructed garment except for the leg holes and waist.

Measure the leg opening and waistline to help you decide how long your knit bands need to be. My leg holes turned out to be 27 1/2 inches, and my waist is 34 1/2 inches. Next, I will have to do some math.

Ugh, math!? I know—it’s not my favorite, but we got this!

You need some math because if you cut the knit band the same length as the leg hole or waistline, it won’t have the stretch to mimic the elastic finish. You need to find the perfect amount of negative ease for your knit band to stay in place and fit securely—but comfortably—to your body.

I consulted with Wallis, our patternmaker—and the queen of knits—here at Seamwork, and she advised me to follow a simple equation when making knit bands for closures. Make the knit band 90% of the total circumference of the opening.

I want to emphasize that 90% is a suggestion and a good place to start! Depending on your fabric's recovery, you may have to do some testing to get the right circumference. You can always baste your band to your underwear to check the fit first.

So, since my leg hole is 27 1/2 inches, my equation is: 27.5 x .9 = 24.75. I cut my leg bands at 24 3/4 inches.

My waist measured 34 1/2 inches, my equation is: 34.5 x .9 = 31. I cut my waistband at 31 inches.

I want my bands to be a bit wider, so I cut them 2 inches wide, but you can make them a bit narrower or wider. Try not to go under 1 1/2 inches or over 2 1/2 inches. If you cut your bands too narrow, they might have some more bulk at the seam allowance. If you cut them too wide, you may have problems fitting your gusset.

Sew the two short ends of your knit band together. Press the seam to one side. Helpful hint: If you’re using a serger, use only one needle to cut down on bulk when serging.

Press the band in half lengthwise.

With wrong sides together, baste the raw edge.

With right sides together, pin the knit band evenly along the leg hole. You will have to stretch the knit band as you go.

A trick to evenly pinning the band is to mark your band in quarters. Then, mark your leghole and waistline in quarters. Stretch to match the quarter markings and pin in place, evenly distributing the band.

Using a serger or a zigzag stitch, sew the knit band to the underwear at 3/8 inch. Stretch the knit band as you go to ease it in. You can see this in action in this video tutorial for adding a knit band on our YouTube channel.

Press the seam allowance towards the underwear and topstitch with a narrow zigzag to hold the seam allowance in place.

Now repeat that same process on your other leg hole and waistband and marvel at the no-elastic undies you just made! Great job!

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