How to Make a Belly Band
Belly bands are great for all sorts of reasons - top among them is comfort! A belly band made of knit fabric is significantly more comfortable than any waistband, even if it's stretchy. I started making my own belly bands as part of my self-made maternity clothing journey, but belly bands can also solve problems for folks with bloating issues and those who use a colostomy bag or other belly-based medical device. The best part? Adding a belly band to a garment can be done in less than an hour for garments that already exist!
Q: What do I need to make a belly band?
A: To add a belly band to a garment, you will need:
Knit fabric (discussed in the notes below)
Fabric scissors OR rotary cutter with cutting mat
Hem clips or straight pins
A sewing machine with a zigzag or stretch stitch OR a serger OR an overlock machine
Ballpoint or stretch fabric needle(s) for the sewing machine
Fabric chalk or marker (to mark lines on existing garments)
1/4 in or 1/2 in elastic (optional - I did not use in the garment shown in photos)
Q: How difficult is it to add a belly band?
A: To make the belly band, you will need to be able to stitch in a straight line (easy) while stretching knit fabric to its extreme length (harder). You will also need to be comfortable stitching in the round to add the band to the garment proper. I wouldn't recommend this for your first foray into working with knit fabrics, but if you've done a project or two with them, you'll probably be fine.
Before we get started, a few things to consider:
(Fabric) For any belly band, choose a fabric that will feel comfortable on the bare skin of the wearer AND has a 50% 4-way stretch or higher. To check in-store, take a length of fabric and hold it firmly, then stretch. It should stretch to 1.5 times the length you grabbed (e.g. a 4 inch section should stretch to 6 inches) for a 50% stretch. Repeat the test in the opposite direction. Importantly, the fabric should have good recovery, meaning that it should not stay stretched at all. Generally speaking, look for at least 5-10% spandex content.
Consider also laundering requirements. Can this fabric be washed in the machine? Does this fabric need to be able to go through the dryer without losing its elasticity? Be sure to check the laundering instructions before making your purchase.
I personally like a lyocell-spandex blend as the lyocell breathes very well and the spandex provides great recovery.
(Body Measurements) Before we can begin crafting, we need to do a little math. Put the garment on the wearer (if using an existing garment), then mark where the belly band will begin. For example, maternity belly bands start below the navel, right at the bottom of the baby bump. We'll refer to this spot as the belly bottom. Also mark where the belly band should start at one of the hips (hip bottom) and at the center back (back bottom). In the picture to the left, these points are marked out by the white measuring tape. Notice how steep the curve is. An option here is to mark this line out with ribbon or string as shown in the photo, then mark all along it. This allows you to skip drawing the lines by hand in step 1 of the instructions below.
Consider the desired rise of your belly band. Do you want it to go up to the waist? All the way to the underbust? Should it have the same rise in the back as in the front? Choose whatever sounds the most comfortable and practical. You may find it easiest to grab a piece of ribbon or string and tie it around the body at these points. We'll refer to this band of points as the band top. On the picture above, the band top is marked by the blue measuring tape around what is approximately my waist.
Next, take the following body measurements of the wearer:
Belly bottom to band top at the front center
Back bottom to band top at the back center
Hip circumference connecting all the bottom points (it will likely not go straight across the body and be a very curved line, as shown by the white measuring tape)
Band top circumference (also likely to be a curved line, as shown by the blue measuring tape)
(Belly Band Measurements) Next, we do just a bit of math to figure out how large to cut the pieces. The belly band will be made up of two pieces: belly band front and belly band back. They will have the same width but different heights. Importantly, we will fold the band in half long-ways before attaching to the garment, so don't worry when the pieces seem like they're too big!
First, let's determine the belly band width. This will be the same for both pieces front and back. We'll be using a 20% negative ease which will keep the band secure around the body without feeling tight. This means we want to cut at 80% of our actual width PLUS seam allowance (I like 1/2 inch). To determine width, use the following:
width = (hip circumference * 0.8)/ 2 + 2(seam allowance)
Round your result to the nearest 1/2 inch. Remember your order of operations - do the multiplication first, THEN divide! For a hip circumference of 42 inches and a 1/2 inch seam allowance, this gives:
width = (42*0.8)/2 + 2(0.5) = (33.6/2) + 1 = 16.8 + 1 = 17.8 inches --> round to 18 inches
Next comes height which is a bit simpler. For the heights:
Front band height = 2(Belly bottom to band top at the front center) + 2(seam allowance)
Bottom band height = 2(Back bottom to band top at the back center) + 2(seam allowance)
Put these together with your width to get the sizes for cutting - each should be a rectangle. Note that the front piece will likely be significantly larger than the back piece and that's correct!
Note: If your band top circumference is significantly smaller than the hip circumference (hip circumference * 0.8 > band top circumference), you might want to consider trapezoidal pieces. To get the top measurements, use the width formula again, subbing in the band top circumference for the hip circumference. Remember to center the top of the trapezoid over the bottom to make symmetrical pieces.
Note 2: If you plan on using elastic along the band top, use [0.9*(band top circumference) + 2(seam allowance)] to find the length. Wear this before cutting to check for comfort and adjust as needed.
How to Add a Belly Band to any Garment
(Step 0) Follow the instructions in the notes above to determine the size and shape of your belly band pieces.
(Step 1 - existing garments)
Lay the garment flat on its side with the hip seam in the middle and find the marks you made at the belly bottom, hip bottom, and back bottom. If the waistband of the garment has elastic, make a cut at the front and remove it so the garment lies completely flat. If the elastic is stitched into the seam, you can either rip the seam or cut off the waistband entirely (I opted for the latter for speed).
On one side of the garment, connect the marks with a smooth curve, leveling out slightly for an inch or so over the hip, a few inches at the front under the belly, and another few inches at the back. In the front, the curve will likely be quite dramatic, resembling a playground slide.
Keep the garment folded exactly in half with the waist lines even, then cut the garment 1/2 inch ABOVE the line to leave room for seam allowance (or leave whatever measurement you've chosen for seam allowance). I worked to draw the front half of the line first, cut, then drew and cut the back half.
(Step 1 - new garments) Make the appropriate adjustments for belly space when drafting or adjusting your pattern. If you're working from a commercial pattern, hold the pattern pieces up to your body to make marks at the belly bottom, hip bottom, and back bottom. If possible, test the fit with a muslin before using your final fabric. Adjust the pattern to include the curves describe in the existing garments step above.
(Step 2) Using the measurements from step 0, cut out the pieces of the belly band. Remember which way is the width and which is the height - label or mark with hem clips or pins if needed.
(Step 3) Mark the centers of the heights of each piece. With right sides together, match up the height side of the front piece and the back piece and pin/clip together at their centers, top, and bottom. If needed, match up additional halfway points and pin/clip together.
STOP and check your sewing machine needle - is it a ballpoint or stretch needle?
(Step 4) At the sewing machine, STRETCH that back piece and sew along the pinned side. Work slowly to ensure the edges line up evenly. Depending on the amount of stretch, you may need to use your left hand to help pull the fabric through the machine.
If the back piece doesn't stretch far enough, you'll have to gather before stitching. See this post on Pleats 101 for instructions on gathering the fabric.
(Step 5) Repeat steps 3-4 at the other side seam of the belly band.
(Step 6) Fold the belly band in half long-ways so that the side seams are encased within the belly band and the top and bottom edges now line up. Pin/clip together at the side seams, then find and pin/clip together at the center front and center back. If needed, mark and pin/clip additional halfway points.
(Step 6.5 - OPTIONAL) If you want to add elastic at the top, now is your chance. Use the clips to even out the belly band at the fold. Stitch a channel into the belly band using a straight or stretch stitch, leaving a small opening. I recommend the channel be the width of your elastic plus 1/4 - 1/2 inch, depending on how thick the elastic is. Thread the elastic through the channel, then stitch its ends together.
(Step 7) Find and mark the center front and center back of the garment (there are most likely seams at these points, if working with pants). With right sides together and making sure the front belly band is on the front of the garment, match up the side seams, center fronts, and center backs of the garment and belly band and pin/clip together. If the garment has pockets that reach the waistline, add them into the seam along the front, being careful not to stretch the pocket fabric.
(Step 8) Stitch the hip circumference seam, stretching the belly band over the garment fabric as you go. Work as slowly as is needed to ensure a clean seam. If the fabric is being stretched a LOT, you may need to use your left hand to help feel it through the machine. Be on the lookout for the garment fabric rolling under the belly band while you work, especially along the sharper curves.
(Step 9) Try on the garment to make sure it fits, then trim the seam or weave in your serged ends. Done! Go forth in comfort.
Will you be adding belly bands to your clothes? Drop a comment below and like the post if you will! If you share out on social media, be sure to tag me - I love to see what you make!
You can follow the blog by filling out the form at the bottom of the page so you'll never miss a post. Remember to also follow me on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook for even more crafting content between posts!