Bra-making Sew-Along: Elastic, Channeling and Finish!

Time for all the finishing bits! Okay, so there are a lot of finishing bits, so get on your elastic because this post is going to be picture heavy.

Band Elastic

If you’ve made other lingerie goodies with picot elastic, you’re probably familiar with how this is done. The first side is sewn with the fuzzy side up and a regular zig-zag, getting very close to the picots.

sewing band elastic

band elastic zig-zag

If you want to cut your elastic to measure, a good general rule of thumb is to cut a length about 95% of the seamline of your hem. I like to “feel” it in as I am sewing–just something that happens from experience with sewing elastic. How much tension I put on the elastic depends on the elastic quality. (Update Jan 2015: See this post for some tips on sewing elastic and how how much tension to use. Since this sew along, I have reduced the amount of tension I use in elastics.)

I flip and on the reverse, stitch the elastic with a 3-step zig-zag. You could also stitch from the elastic side. I prefer doing it fabric side up so I can keep the puckers away:

band elastic 3-step zig-zag

I set my 3-step at 4.8 width and 1.2 length. (I wrote all my bra stitch lengths on a little post-it note on my machine so I don’t have to look it up every time I make a bra or panties!) The 3-step is just security to keep stitches from popping. But if your machine doesn’t have a 3-step, you can use a regular zig-zag and experiment with smaller stitch lengths.


I know the channeling gets finicky. Readers have asked me about how I did this on previous bras so I thought I’d show in pictures!

I usually attach the channeling first, before putting in the band elastic. It’s easier to make that first pass without the elastic in the way but it adds another step and I wanted to make this simple visually.

First I lay down the channeling so its seam is right on top of the cup seam and start stitching right on that seam. To make sure I don’t accidentally stitch into the cup, I hold the channeling in my right hand, lift it up, re-arrange it as I go–while using my left hand to guide the cup seam. This has worked really well for me.

stitching channeling to seam

I stitch all the way to the top of the front but stop and backtack about 1/2″ before I get to the end of the underarm seam. It’s good to leave a little extra hanging off each end. This helps to finish the channel neatly later on.

After stitching the channeling I grade the seams if there are a lot of layers–and there’s quite a few here!

channeling seams

Before I do anything else, I close off the channeling in the front. Since the seams are still free and not topstitched down, I grab the top of the channeling with the cup seam allowances and fold everything else out of the way:

closing front of channeling

Then I stitch a really tight zigzag that almost looks like a bar-tack. Whatever it is, it needs to be secure!

closing top of channeling

The closure is invisible from the outside. (On my friend’s bra–I forgot to snap a pic of my mine!)

closed channeling bridge view

Time for the topstitching! I switch back to my straight stitch foot (ok, I just found out my machine calls this a “patchwork foot”). I turn the bra over and arrange the cup seams and channeling so they are folded under toward the band. If you’ve ever done an understitch on a facing, this first part is just like that. I hold the fabric on both sides a little bit taut, and start topstitching about 1/8″ away from the edge of the cup seam.

edgestitching channeling

I have to keep feeling to make sure this stitch is going into the channeling. If you sewed your first pass with the channeling seam on top of the cup seam, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Then I do another line of topstitching with the first line of stitching lined up right under my foot edge. This is about 6mm on my foot. Don’t forget to stop your topstitching 1/2″ away from the underarm so you can fold it out of the way for your elastic.

channeling outside topstitching

Underarm Elastic

Now’s the time to put in my underarm elastic. I do my first pass just like the band elastic with the fuzzy side up. I use a bit less tension in this elastic than I did with the band.

When sewing in the elastic I have to fold away the channeling–that’s why I stopped stitching it 1/2″ away:

applying underarm elastic

Before folding over the underarm elastic I put in my underwires, sliding them in from the open underarm sides toward the front.

inserting underwires

At this point you need to decide whether you want your channeling to be closed on top of the elastic or folded into it. I’ve done both and it really depends on how thick the channeling is!

Right below my thumb is where I’m going to close the channeling with another “bar-tack” again:

finishing channeling

I need enough room to fold down my elastic and stitch another 3-step–this is where that wire play I talked about comes in handy. I can’t tell you how many times my underwire has reached right to the fold of the elastic–a recipe for underwire and needle disaster!

After closing off the channel and stitching down the underarm elastic, this is what it looks from the outside:

channeling backtack

Almost there! Now I attach my straps and finish off with my hook and eye. Every pattern has a different width at the end of the band for a hook & eye attachment. You usually need to adjust that to fit your particular hook and eye width before you sew in your strap elastic:

attaching hook & eye

That’s it! My bras are done and I’ll be back Monday with photos and some roundup questions. Happy sewing weekend everyone!

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