Tutorial-Add An Adjustable Waist to Any Pants

by Jenn @ Frugal Upstate on December 10, 2010

Let’s face it.  Most kids have no butt and no hips, their waist just goes straight down to their legs with nothing to hold the pants up.

Notice gaping in the back

I could never get my children to wear a belt.  I think that it was too difficult for them to unbuckle & buckle for bathroom breaks when they were younger.  If I was lucky I would find the more expensive pants, jeans and slacks that come with that nifty button and tape arrangement so I could adjust the size of the waistline.   Notice the operative word there is “expensive”.

So what to do if you can’t find the pants you want with an adjustable waist?  Or you are using hand me downs and thrift store pants? Never fear~there is a frugal retrofit option!

In this tutorial I’ll show you a quick and easy way to fix the problem~you don’t even need to know how to sew.  All you need is a nifty product called Buttonhole Elastic and you can add your own adjustable waistline to any pair of pants.

3/4 inch Button Hole Elastic

The holes are prespaced & cut.

I was not able to find buttonhole elastic in my local fabric and craft stores.  That left me with two options.

1.  Using your sewing machine and buttonhole foot, sew your own buttonholes into regular elastic tape.  Note:  Do not just cut slits, they will unravel the elastic.  You need a sewn buttonhole.

2.  Purchase buttonhole elastic online.

I went with option 2.  An internet search turned up both elastic by the foot and in 30 yrd spools.  Make sure you comparison shop-3/4″ buttonhole elastic spools ran anywhere from $52 to $14.  For the same exact thing.  With shipping etc I spent about $20-but that should do about 30 pairs of kids pants.  I also let my friends know I have the elastic and that I’d be willing to sell them a yrd at a time at my cost.

Now on to the tutorial!

Altering Pants to Add An

Adjustable Waist


Missing item: Fray Check

Buttonhole elastic
2 buttons
needle & thread
Seam Ripper
Safety Pin
Optional but recommended: Fray Check


1.  Check to ensure that your waistband is not sewn through anywhere along it’s length.  It should be a casing or tube all the way around that you can feed the elastic through.  99.9% of pants are constructed this way.  If yours aren’t~well, you are stuck & can’t use this technique.

See-the waistband is really a tube!

2.  Carefully use the seam ripper to cut a slit about 1 1/2″ to 2″ to either side of the zipper on the INSIDE of the waistband.  Do not cut through any stitching.

Cut carefully-you can't undo this!

3.  Sew a button directly in front of the slit (closest to the zipper opening) on the inside of the waistband.  Choose a button that fits easily in the slot of your buttonhole elastic.  The color doesn’t matter-no one will see it.  Take extra care that you do not sew all the way through the waistband-you don’t want to see the stitching on the outside.  I slid my scissors into the slit (closed) to make sure I didn’t accidentally sew all the way through.

Finished slit


4.  Cut a piece of buttonhole elastic that just fits comfortably, without stretching, around the waist of the person who will be wearing the pants.

5.  Finish both ends of the elastic so it doesn’t unravel.  You can either fold over a very small piece and sew it down or you can just use Fray Check.  I did neither on my first pair of pants and after 3 or 4 washings the elastic unraveled and I had to use a new piece.  Learn from my mistake!

6.  Slip the elastic over one of the buttons.  Then attach a safety pin to the unsecured side.  Make sure the pin is a size that will fit easily through the waistband casing.

All ready to go.

7.  Thread the elastic through the waistband casing & secure on the far button.

All threaded through. I adjusted the tape later so it was centered.

8.  Wear and enjoy!

Much better.

I’ve fixed quite a few pairs of pants for the kids this way.  I’m even considering using the technique on some of my jeans that ALWAYS gap at the back, even though they fit perfectly everywhere else.

Good luck and happy altering!

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