Friday, August 2, 2013

Fold Over Elastic Knit Shorts Without A Pattern

Making knit fabric shorts can be easy.  Really.  A lot of people feel some anxiety when it comes to working with knit fabrics, especially when they don't have a serger, but most of the time I love them.  You just need to know the best ways to work around the challenges, so today's project is all about doing that: Fold Over Elastic trimmed knit shorts.

One of my favorite ways of dealing with knits is using FOE.  Fold Over Elastic is just as it's name describes, a soft, smooth finish elastic that can be used like normal elastic or be folded in half and sewn with like bias tape.  

It can be used for countless options: cloth diapers, underwear, clothing, headbands, straps, binding & more.  Any time you want to finish an edge easily, FOE is a great option. Especially when working with knits, because it has built-in elasticity and sews up very easily.

Headband Tutorial, DIY Undies Tutorial, Tip Top Tank Top Tutorial, DIY Elastic Laces Tutorial

Materials Needed:
- Interlock Knit Fabric (a 1/2yd each worked fine for both my 7yr & 10yr olds)
- 1 1/2-2yds FOE 
- Pair of knit shorts in desired size 
- Sewing Notions: ball point needle, rotary cutter/shears, pins, disappearing marker, paper, pencil
- Optional: Design ruler (more info on this tool here)

Start by grabbing the shorts in the size desired as a general guide.  Carefully fold in half so the curve of the back seam is clear.  Place on paper and trace from waistband to bottom cuff and marking   Fold front ways and repeat on other side of paper.  Stretch the waistband so it is not gathered to determine the width of the waist and draw the line across the top.  A design ruler can really help to make the curves just right or to double check all the measurements against the garment.  Now you have an ideal pattern piece to work from.

Fold fabric, selvages together, and place your pattern on top, parallel to the selvages and cut out:

Assemble the pants as usual: bring the sides of one leg inseam together, with right sides facing, and stitch. Repeat with the other leg. Then stitch together the two legs by turning one right side out and inserting it into the other, matching up front, back and crotch seams pinning and then stitching. 

There are lots of ways to stitch with knits, but if you don't have a serger the best options are either a knit stitch, which looks like this:

or my new favorite, a triple stitch, which looks almost identical to a single stitch, except it makes it so each stitch done over three times.  

This baby really does the job when it comes to knits - my boys have been wearing these shorts at least twice a week all summer and the seams have held up great. And no signs of strain, pulling or puckering usually associated with most knits that aren't serged.  It's meant to providing strength & elasticity, so it's ideal for a knit/elastic combo.  Such an underrated stitch!!  It looks like this on most machines:

To finish the leg hem, fold the elastic in half around the raw edge of the fabric, just as you would with bias tape, and stitch close to the edge of the elastic.  I cut my elastic just a little longer than the leg hole, so I can fold under the raw edge of the FOE and overlap it with the start for a nice finish.

For the waistband, cut a piece of FOE that is the exact length of the wearer's waist.  To make it into a loop, make a french seam.  Fold in half, with right sides out, and stitch 1/4 inch from ends. Then turn wrong sides out and stitch 1/4 inch from the edge:

Flip the waistband right side out again and stitch down the seam:

Mark both the waist of the pants and the FOE waistband in fourths and line up those marking on both pieces, pinning the FOE over the right side of the fabric, so they overlap about 1/2 inch.  

The FOE will need to be stretched while stitching the FOE onto the fabric.  There are two option to easily machine stitch these together.  Both offer plenty of stretch and do not require serging. One is to do a triple stitch 1/4 inch from the lower edge of the FOE and repeat with a second row of stitching 1/8 of an inch away.  

The other option is to use a twin needle.  It saves a little time since you only go around once.  It gives a similar effect on the outside, but the reverse zig-zags the bobbin thread, so it looks like this:

You could trim off the excess fabric of the seam allowance, at this point but I was lazy and didn't bother.  It doesn't affect anything, since knit doesn't fray and being children's pajamas, I don't worry about them not being super upscale on the interior.  Paired with some basic tees, we've got some super comfy loungewear:

For more ideas of ways to use FOE, check out my FOE Projects Pinterest Board:

I'm also sharing this project with my FAVE LINK PARTIES.
Click HERE to check them out!


  1. Great tutorial, Cheryl. These look cute and you make them seem easy to do!

  2. Great tutorial! I'm going to add these to my 'to do' list. Thanks!

  3. Nice shorts and excelent tutorial. I'm searching for a sewing machine, wich one do you use? Regards :)

    1. I have two machines - both are excellent & reasonably priced: a Janome HD1000 and Brother SE400. The Janome is a great machine for regular sewing (and handles heavy duty projects really well). The Brother is a sewing/embroidery combo and great for a beginner since it's digital and has a lot of automated features. One of these days I'll do a post showcasing them and some of their features.

  4. Do you find the FOE folds over on itself at all, or eventually does?

    1. No, it only stays folded if it is sewn that way. Using it open it works just like most other 1 inch elastics.


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