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Right elastic can stretch garment's life

Question: I'm having trouble with elastic in my waistbands. Not only does it seem to stretch out of shape during construction, but at other times it actually shrinks _ especially after washing. How can it do both? _ Mrs. M.M., Woodland Hills, Calif. Answer: There are two qualities that determine how well elastic will stretch _ and return. These are the two ingredients that make up elastic: rubber and thread. Rubber is the obvious one, of course _ every piece of elastic has several cores or shafts of rubber. It's the second ingredient, the thread, that can cause problems.

Elastic is essentially rubber cores bound together by threads. The kind of fiber used to make these threads should be one of the most important considerations when selecting elastic, yet it is often unidentifiable. If you are buying from a large, unmarked spool, you'll just have to take your chances. Otherwise, read the package label carefully.

Four different fiber types are used in elastic: polyester, nylon, rayon and cotton. Polyester elastic is probably the best kind you can use overall. It works well in wash-and-wear fabrics, swimwear and synthetic knits. It withstands dry cleaning relatively well, as well as machine washing and drying. It shrinks very little, if at all.

Nylon elastic is the second best. It is perfect for swimwear and lingerie, as well as machine washables and garments that must be dry-cleaned. It shrinks very little, but doesn't stand up to high temperatures as well as polyester.

Rayon elastic should be used only for garments that are going to be hand-washed and air-dried. Rayon elastic should never be sent to the dry cleaner or used in swimwear. Dry-cleaning chemicals will quickly destroy it, and when it's wet, it loses its stretch. Rayon shrinks very easily in high temperatures such as those found in a dryer or in hot water. So save this elastic for garments that will receive careful treatment.

Cotton is the fourth thread used in elastic, and like its fabric counterpart, it washes, tumbles dry and keeps its shape beautifully. It can even withstand high temperatures. It will shrink, but not as much as rayon. However, like rayon, dry cleaning will destroy its stretchability, so use it on garments you plan to launder at home.

Elastic should be able to stretch to at least twice its length and still snap back to its original size when relaxed. If, however, the elastic is sewn while it is overstretched, the sewing threads will not allow it to return to its original length when relaxed. Rather, it will relax to a length somewhat longer and the result is an elastic that appears to have stretched.

Your needle could also be causing problems. Elastic should always be sewn with a ballpoint needle. It will slide past the rubber cores rather than cutting through them. And when cut, of course, the elastic becomes looser.

Who would ever think that something as simple as elastic can have so many variables? But like everything else in life we use, there is always a good, better and best. So start by choosing the right elastic for the garment, sewing with the proper needle and applying it correctly.

Hip ease in gored skirt

Question: I am making my daughter a velvet, four-gored skirt. I bought a pattern to fit her hip size (45 inches), but the tissue measures 55 inches through the hip area. Isn't 10 inches too much ease? The width at the bottom of the skirt is 100 inches. _ Mrs. B.W., Cleveland

Answer: Normal ease through the hip is 2 inches to 4 inches, so you appear to have more ease than is needed. But remember that a skirt can be styled so the flare or gore begins at the hip or above. If the flare begins above the hip area, you will have more hip ease than normal. Flares that begin above the hip always create more ease through the hip than usual.

Because you are working with velvet and want a perfect fit the first time, make the skirt with material from an old sheet or muslin. This shouldn't take more than 30 minutes and it will be time well spent. You don't have to cut out the entire skirt, but make the muslin reach at least three inches below the hip area.

Mark the lengthwise grain in each gore. Try the muslin on your daughter and pin out the unneeded "ease" equally from each gore. Remove the excess by pinning parallel to the lengthwise grainline.

Smooth skirt zippers

Question: I've noticed that side zippers on finer skirts seem to lie almost perfectly flat and smooth. There are no hip curves at all, and the zipper doesn't ripple like some of mine tend to do. _ Mrs. S.R., Sydney, Ohio

Answer: More times than not you will find these skirts have seams at either front and/or back besides the side seams. These extra seams allow the designer to distribute some of the curve found at the hip to the other seams. This leaves a straighter side seam and gives the zipper a neater look.

If your skirt has only side seams, try to insert the zipper before you sew your waist darts. This will leave your side seam in a smoother position. After the zipper is applied, you can always sew your darts up.