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Teach Yourself to Sew

Use Couched Elastic to Create a Ruched Effect

Apply a couching technique for a textured effect. The ruched detailed provides a closer fit without compromising comfort.

This technique by Mary Ray from “Teach Yourself to Sew: Indispensable elastics,” Threads #173 (June/July 2014), is great for creating a textured embellishment on a garment.

1. Set the machine for a zigzag stitch, and set the stitch width and length to 2 mm or 3 mm. Use a cording foot or a foot with a groove on the bottom, which provides room for the cord to pass through.

2. Couch the beading elastic. From the garment’s wrong side, center the cord under the presser foot, leaving a tail of elastic at the beginning and end. Zigzag-stitch over the cord carefully so the needle doesn’t penetrate it. As you sew, do not stretch the elastic.

couch elastic

3. Pull the elastic to gather. The zigzag stitching forms a casing around the elastic. Pull the elastic from either end to achieve the desired amount of gathering. For a shirred result, add one or more rows of stitching parallel to the first. Pull the elastic in the same way.

gather fabric

gather fabric

gather fabric

Add one or more rows of stitching for a more striking effect.


Since elastics have different degrees of stretch, the length you choose depends on the type of elastic and how it is being used. To determine this measurement for a gathered waistband, wrap the elastic comfortably around your waist. Add a 1⁄2-inch-wide seam allowance to each end, or 1 inch total. If you find the elastic is cut too long when you insert it in the casing, trim it before closing the casing. If it’s too short, cut a new piece.


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  1. user-262254 | | #1

    What is the shirt pattern that is used to show the couching? I like where the seams are placed.

  2. User avater
    agapantha | | #2

    Sometimes a vee neckline or sleeveless armhole gapes or ripples a bit. A narrow piece of elastic applied just inside the opening of neck or armhole helps ease these ripples out.

  3. Mamato8 | | #3

    I use 1 inch non-roll ribbed elastic for a stiff waistband that won't fold or roll. It's much better than make-a-waist! The trick is to not stretch it while sewing the casing over it. My skirt has that on the front flat part of the waist. After over four years of wearing this skirt to work, the elastic is still holding up!

  4. LaurieDiane | | #4

    Thanks for the tip on Couched Elastic to Create a Ruched Effect. If you don't have a cording foot, could you do the zigzag first then thread the elastic onto a needle and pass it through? I know it's an extra step but in the past I have managed to sew into the elastic.

    Is Couched elastic the same as beading elastic...is this a bit thicker than the elastic I might wind on a lower bobbin of my sewing machine? thanks, Laurie

  5. Villa_for2 | | #5

    I found a cute green jacket at a thrift store. Its long sleeve was gathered by elastic one inch above the wrist. Its gather stretched about 6". It made the jacket sleeve 3/4 in length and so cute.

    No collar or buttons and a wide opening to expose the dress beneath. Two inches of same fabric around neck and front. Round neck with no collar or buttons.

    Could I use 1/4 inch elastic to copy this? If so how long?


  6. AlaskaJean | | #6

    What method do you recommend to fasten the ends of the elastic so they are secure and not obvious? I've been thinking about making some ruffled silk scarves this way, and the deterrent is that final finishing of the elastic ends.

    Jean Bartos

  7. User avater
    maryray | | #7

    Thanks for your questions. Let me try to cover them:

    First, the pattern for the top is actually a very simple jacket pattern that I adapted. There are no seams where the elastic is placed, although it looks like there are. It's Butterick 3345, view D.

    Couching is the technique not a type of elastic and beading elastic will work as will elastic thread, which is very narrow and often used in the bobbin. I prefer couching because I lthink you get more "stretch" that way. I also prefer the beading elastic -- it's a little thicker -- but you can't use it in the bobbin.

    Regarding the 1/4" elastic for the sleeve alteration -- it's hard to advise without seeing what you mean, but I think the 1/4" would work. To determine the length needed, test by placing the elastic around your wrist to find a comfortable place that fits the look you want.

    I think the best way to deal with the ends of the elastic is to hide them in a seam or hem. If that's not possible, try turning the end back on itself and sewing it in place with a tight stitch. Or, you could even whipstitch it down by hand.

  8. User avater
    ReneeDj | | #8

    Oh thank God for your timeliness on this! I'm starting a dress with ruching on the sleeve and bodice and was trying to find a quicker was of doing it. THIS is perfect!

  9. Villa_for2 | | #9

    Dear Alaska Jean,

    I have no idea what anchors the elastic in the green jacket or what size elastic is inside. First chance I get I will take it apart and find out. I will let you know.

    This week my Janome Excel lost its reverse again, and then the automatic buttonhole maker started pouting, and dawdling. I have an older Kenmore backup until I get it fixed.

    I'm turning my 1980s white slacks into cropped pants (35") with three cute buttons & buttonholes on the bottom outside seam of each leg. I saw this on some designer jeans. Virginia

  10. Villa_for2 | | #10

    RE: Green jacket with "push up sleeves" look.

    I opened the sleeve of the jacket and there was 1/4" inch elastic. Its about six inches stretched, and relaxes at 4". There is a separate 6" piece in the sleeve above the cuff.

    I think the cuff and 6" piece are sewn first then elastic is placed vertically and sewn on the piece just above the wrist. Elastic is sewn along the seam and all four pieces are evenly distributed around the sleeve.

    Its a separate piece of material about 6" plus seams, then gathered to 4". The lining covers all and is attached to the 1" cuff's seam. The elastic is just stitch locked on the ends. The thread is same color as the green jacket.

    This would work on a blouse also. Virginia

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