Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sew-Along Project: Sleep Pants (Part 5)

Okay, today we're ready to do the elastic waistband of our sleep pants.  The picture above shows what your pants will look like when the waistband is all finished.  Pretty nice, huh?

Now, the first thing you need to do is turn under 1/4" all along the edge of the waistband.  If you have one of the seam gauges that I recommended previously, it's the ideal tool to use for this type of measuring.  Just set the red "stopper" at 1/4", then place the edge of the red stopper at the fold of your fabric.  If you don't have a perfect 1/4", refold until you're right on the money.  If you don't have a seam gauge, no worries, you can use a small plastic ruler and do the same thing.  A seam gauge costs less than $1.50 at WalMart, though, so if you're going to continue sewing, it's a good idea to pick one up.
I like to do this step right at the ironing board.  Measure, put a couple of pins in, press, take the pins out, and move on to the next section.  Again, because we're using cotton flannel, the part we're turning over will stay turned over once it's pressed, so you can take the pins out as you go along.  Keep going until you have a 1/4" turned-under edge along the entire edge of your waistband, like this:
Now we're going to turn the edge under AGAIN to make the actual casing for our elastic.  The measurement to use here depends on whether you decided to use 1/2" elastic, which the pattern calls for, or 1" elastic, which I recommend.  I think the wider elastic makes the pants look more like a ready-to-wear item, and it makes the waistband more substantial.  If you're using 1/2" elastic, the measurement for your casing is going to be 3/4" and if you're using the 1" elastic, your measurement will be 1-1/4".  You always want to have an extra 1/4" of room in the casing so the elastic can move freely.  So, whichever measurement you're using, follow the same procedure as for the 1/4" edge -- turn under, pin, press, and move to the next section.
For this part, I suggest leaving a few of your pins IN after pressing, rather than taking them all out.  We'll be stitching the casing down, and it's easier to make sure everything is perfect as you're sewing along if you have a few pins in the casing.  Go ahead and turn the edge under the whole way along the waistband, as shown in this photo: 
Now take your pressed casing over to the sewing machine.  You're going to sew right along that fold at the bottom of the casing, as close to the fold as you can possibly get.  BUT you want to START your sewing a few inches to one side of the CENTER BACK seam.  You don't want to start your stitching near the FRONT seam, because it's easier to hide the additional stitching we'll be doing if we start near the BACK seam.

Here's a tip:  as you go along, the presser foot of your machine may seem to "stall" a bit at the seams, because there is a lot of bulk in one area with the flat-felled seams.  If your foot gets stalled, leave your needle down in the fabric, then simply lift up on the presser foot and rearrange the fabric underneath so that it's flat.  Then start sewing again, and ease the foot over the seam, pushing a little on the fabric if you need to. 
Go ahead and keep stitching right next to that fold, going slowing and carefully, but you are NOT going to go the whole way to the end.  We have to leave an opening to insert the elastic, so go the whole way around and stop your stitching 3" or so from where you originally started.  You need to be able to have enough room to manipulate the elastic easily, but you don't want such a big opening that it will be difficult to close later.  Here's what the casing will look like when this part is finished:
Now, for the next step, you're going to have to do some measuring.  Measure the waist of the person who will be wearing the sleep pants, and add one inch to that measurement.  Generally, you want to measure around the person's waist, using a flexible tape measure, and measure at the NARROWEST part of the waist.  HOWEVER, if the wearer likes to wear pjs a little lower than the natural waist, you can take the measurement there.  My 18 year old (like all boys his age, right?) wears his pants fairly low, so I make his sleep pants to fit where he likes the waistband to end up, which is probably closer to his hips than his natural waist!  Anyway, once you have your measurement, cut a piece of your elastic to exactly that length.
In addition to the actual elastic, you'll need something to help you guide it through the casing.  I own the package guides, above, which are very helpful but definitely not necessary.  The old standby, one or two LARGE safety pins, works pretty well and safety pins are something almost everyone has around the house.  If you're using safety pins and the 1" elastic, you'll want to put two pins into one end of your elastic, like this:
If you're using an elastic guide, you can follow the directions on the package, but basically the elastic just feeds through a couple of slots, like this:
The slots have tiny teeth in them, which is what grips the elastic and keeps it secure in the guide as you're going along.  If you decide to use a plastic guide, try to find one that is made for 1" elastic.  The one I'm using, above, is actually only made for 3/4" elastic so I really had to jam my elastic into those slots to get it to fit!!

Now start feeding the length of elastic into the opening in your casing, like this:
By the way, I feed to the left because that feels natural to me since I'm right-handed.  But it really doesn't matter which direction you feed it through.
As you feed the elastic, you're guiding it through by keeping hold of those safety pins or the plastic guide.  You'll have to kind of tug on the waistband a bit to get the elastic to move through the casing.  At first, the elastic will slip in easily, but once you're more than halfway through the casing, you'll get small gathers in the casing, like this:
Small gathers are fine, just keep going.  By the way, another GREAT thing about flat-felled seams is that they are perfectly FLAT when they're inside a casing, so your elastic never gets caught on the seam allowance, as can happen with a plain seam that you've just pressed open.

Keep feeding your elastic through until you come out at the other end of your opening.  BE REALLY CAREFUL NOT TO PULL THE FREE END OF THE ELASTIC INTO THE CASING!!  If you do that, you'll have to start all over, because there will be no way to retrieve it.  So keep a careful eye on the elastic end as you move through.  What you want to do is have a few inches of elastic still on the outside of the casing as your guide comes through, as shown in the picture above.

The reason is that you need to stitch the two ends of the elastic together, and to get the whole thing into your sewing machine, you need some slack in the elastic.  To sew the elastic together, overlap the two free ends, like this:
Put a couple of pins in there to hold the overlap in place:
Then, stitch through both layers of elastic, going over your stitching several times.  What I recommend is sewing a square over the overlapped ends, and going over it several times, making sure to reverse-stitch at the beginning and end.  The idea is that you want this joining to be SUPER STRONG.  Think about it -- elastic takes a lot of abuse, and the constant stretching and releasing will cause a ton of stress on the point where the elastic is joined.
Sewing a square, as shown below, ensures that that sucker is NOT coming out anytime soon!
Now, the next part is a little tricky, but bear with me.  Pull on the waistband of the pants with both hands until your beautiful joined ends slip right inside.  Now we're going to stitch that opening closed.  You COULD stitch it closed by hand if you wanted to, but frankly, stitching it on the machine is much sturdier and it isn't hard, just a bit tricky.  What you want to do is place the beginning of the opening of the casing under the presser foot, and then, with both hands, STRETCH the elastic until the fabric is perfectly flat, like this:
Like I said, it's a bit tricky, but what you need to do is continue to keep the elastic and fabric taut as you sew right along the folded edge of the opening.  Since your opening is only a few inches long, it's not too hard to do.  Remember to reverse stitch at the beginning and end, so that the casing is completely secure.
Now, using both hands, just kind of stretch and tug on the finished waistband of the pants, until the fabric gathers are very evenly distributed around the whole waistband.  This actually takes a minute or two, but it's a really important step for the pants to look right.  This is what you're aiming for:
Now, the next couple of steps are optional, but they are things I highly recommend.  The first is stitching through the elastic along each of the outer leg seams, like this:
Have you ever had elastic in a garment casing twist?  It's almost impossible to get it untwisted, and that's the reason for the stitching at the side seams.  You're stitching your elastic down in two places, thus it will never twist on you!

The other optional thing is sewing a small piece of rick-rack or ribbon at the center back seam.  I just usually use a scrap laying on my sewing table from a previous project.  Again, totally optional.  But, keep in mind that pj pants look pretty much the same from the front and back.  The rick-rack or ribbon lets the wearer see immediately which is the back (just like you use the tag on a ready-made pair of pants).
That's it -- the waistband is finished!!  If everything has gone well, the finished waistband of your pj pants should look like the photo below.  And, assuming you measured correctly, they should fit well.  I've always found the "waist measurement plus 1 inch" to actually be a little bit big, which is fine for sleep pants, that are supposed to be loose fitting.
Now, sit back and admire your handiwork, and I'll be back with the FINAL part of this project in a few days!!

1 comment:

  1. I like to use a small length of ribbon - doubled to make a loop - and sewn into the seam at the center back. That way, it serves as a hanging loop too.