Hopefully you have had a chance to play with your machine using elastic thread to do a little summertime smocking. But as with many sewing techniques and tools, there are just so many additional fantastic uses beyone the first and most obvious. Lately, I have been noticing the ready-to-wear clothes that I get for my girls and myself have elastic thread everywhere. A row or two of elastic thread is what makes the sleeves of my Baby's dress just the right amount of puffy. I have also spotted it sewn along the wrists in long-sleeved tops creating the nicest little cuffs; and I have seen it in pants and short legs to make a soft gather that is never too tight for tender skin.
Here I have used it in a pair of short bloomers, found in a pattern from this book, for my one year old. I am going to use it soon in some fall season longer bloomers, more styled after Little House on the Prairie, maybe even with eyelet lace trim. I like to use elastic thread in these applications because it is softer and gentler than regular elastic that is cased, gives a gentle ruffle in the process, and I don't have to actually make a casing. If I was really cutting corners I could just surge the lower edge of the bloomers and call it good with some elastic thread a half inch up or so from the finished edge.
If you are looking to try working with elastic thread, you will want to start by winding elastic thread in the bobbin. Most machines (and the instructions on the package) prefer the thread hand wound with no stretch as you wrap it gently, and the upper thread tension set to a lower number, about 2. Some machines (the drop in bobbin style machines like Janome and Brother) benefit from winding the elastic thread really tight, as you would wind normal thread, with no tension adjustment. Either way, be sure you try it on a scrap of the same fabric first to get the correct gather.
Here are the Bloomers pictured with out any elastic thread, just the hem (done first) inside out. Before you sew, remember to turn the right-side-out, as the elastic thread is in your bobbin.
The thread should gather visibly as you sew, but will gather much more after a shot of steam from your iron.
Once you have sorted out the part about sewing with elastic thread, you can easily add this detail to a pattern that doesn't call for it, or replace a cased elastic sleeve in a pattern with this technique. Just don't do elastic in the waistband of pants or a skirt unless you plan on sewing a lot of rows like the smocked sundresses we discussed here. It just won't hold the skirt or pants up the same way a cased elastic waistband will.
Lately here in Portland it has been almost too hot to sew, as the weather has been in the upper 90's for a few weeks now. I have needed clothes for my kids that really are soft and light weight with out any stuffy or too snug bits anywhere. These are perfect for the baby. And I can even sew them in an hour or two in the cool of the morning before the heat makes sewing too sweaty. Elastic thread helps make projects quicker more comfy for the wearer. Three Cheers for elastic thread!