Saturday, August 23, 2008

How To Sew Shorts

One of the nicest things about summer is being able to sew dresses, shorts and other light, breezy and happy kids' clothes. I did some calculations and decided that the cost of sewing shorts isn't substantially less than buying similar ones from stores like Target. So rather than the savings, it ended up being more about the time of year we needed them. We make a yearly trip to tropical Singapore in the middle of winter here where we live and I always find that last summer's shorts are already too small to pack for this year's vacation. And since it is near impossible to find shorts in the stores in February, the alternative to wearing climate-inappropriate clothing is to sew shorts for the kids for their trip.

These shorts have elasticized waists which are extremely useful for potty-training, and can be cut and sewn in half an hour, provided there are no small children needing a snack, Band-aid or to be read a storybook nearby.

For one pair of shorts you will need:
  • Half a yard of fabric
  • 18" - 22" of 1" elastic (wrap the length of elastic around your child's waist to desired snugness and cut, giving an additional 1.5" for overlapping at the ends)
  • A large safety pin (like a diaper pin)
in addition to a sewing machine and matching thread.

You can make your own pattern from a pair of shorts that fit well, or you can use mine below. Sorry they aren't pdf files - I haven't got a clue how to upload those. If you can print them out so they fill a US letter size paper, they'll be the right size. This pattern is for a 3-year old, so size it up or down for children of different ages.




The numbers in the pictures below indicate the sewing sequence so if you are already used to cutting and sewing fabric, you can ignore all the texty instructions and just follow the numbers as a guide to assembling the pieces.

How To Sew Shorts
  • Fold fabric lengthwise (selvedge to selvedge) and cut out two front pieces and two back pieces. The length of the pattern should be parallel to the selvedges. So in the picture below, the selvedges were vertical.
  • Place a front piece and a back piece together with right sides of the fabric facing in. Do the same for the other pair of front and back pieces.

Sewing Step 1
Sew the short inseam of each pair as shown.
Serge or zig-zag stitch the edges to prevent fraying.



Sewing Step 2
Line up the long sides of each pair and sew together.
Serge or zig-zag stitch the edges.
You have just made two "tubes" - one for each of the wearer's legs.

  • Turn one tube right-side out

  • Flip that tube over and insert it in between the layers of the other tube.


  • Line up the edges of the U-shaped center seam


Sewing Step 3
Sew the edges of these two tubes together all along the U.
The aim of this step is to connect the two separate tubes
in the earlier picture to each other.
Serge or zig-zag stitch the seam edges.


  • Turn the shorts right side out - looks almost finished!


Sewing Step 4
Fold in the bottom edge of each leg 1/4" (1st fold) and then
fold over again 3/8" (2nd fold) to make a hem about 3/8" wide.
Top stitch all around the hem.


  • A close-up of the leg hem showing the top stitching.


  • The waistband is essentially a casing for the 1" elastic. So fold down about 1 1/4" of fabric as shown, and tuck in 1/4" of the edge

  • to make a hem that's a little wider than 1".
  • Here is a close-up of the 1"-wide folded hem with the elastic for reference.


Sewing Step 5
Top stitch close to the edge of the hem, so that the finished width
of the hem is adequate for the elastic to fit inside it.

  • Leave an opening of about 2" so the elastic can be threaded through the hem.

  • Using the safety pin, thread the elastic through the hem, leaving both ends sticking out of the opening.

  • Overlap 3/4" of both ends (i.e. total of 1.5") of the elastic, ensuring that it isn't twisted, and sew to join the ends.
  • Top stitch the opening closed.

The finished shorts

worn by Emily who refused to let me pre-shrink
them in the wash first (see note below).

Some miscellaneous notes:
  1. My favorite types of fabric for these shorts are knits - specifically, cotton-lycra blends with four-way-stretch. They sew easily, are not too flimsy and allow a lot of freedom of movement. I don't pre-wash the knit fabrics before cutting and sewing because they are easier to handle without all the curling edges. So the pattern I use makes allowances for shrinkage after washing. If you are using non-knit fabric, you will need to cut the pieces about 1/4" - 3/8" smaller all round the pattern.
  2. The finished, unwashed shorts might fit loosely and hang rather low in the crotch at first. I usually fold the waistband over itself the first one or two times the kids wear them. After two or three washes, the shorts fit just right. It's odd but true.
  3. Different elastic has different stretch, and some are "tighter" than others, and most shrink a bit in the wash. So give some allowance (1/2 to 3/4" should be sufficient) when measuring your child's waist for snugness. I like the no-roll elastic because it doesn't twist the waist hem around after a wash.
  4. I use regular thread but I do use a needle for knits because regular needles pull on the fibers of knits.
  5. These shorts work for little boys, too, especially if they are really little (like younger than 4), if you pick appropriate fabric prints (i.e. probably not floral!)
  6. Although the back and front pieces are cut from two distinct patterns, the finished shorts are completely reversible - a feature of the knit material, I think. If you think your kids might be confused, you can always sew a tag under the waist hem at the back of the shorts. My kids don't particularly care.


53 comments:

  1. Great instructions. Thanks for the deatiled instructions with step by step pictures. It was very helpful for a first timer like me.

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  2. Hi L
    these are so cute n useful
    might try them out after my exams in may!
    xxx rachael

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  3. Oooh, cool! Shorts pattern! I've been making skirts and shorts out of tea towels the last couple of days. I've got loads of remnants that I would love to use a real pattern on though. I'm not versed on pattern making and rules and regulations of garment sewing though. Your shorts are cuuuute!

    I'm only getting a couple of the photos showing up on your post though :( will try again later.

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  4. Your instructions were amazingly helpful!!! Thank you so much :)

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  5. Thank you! You have no idea how hard it has been to find clear instuctions. I practically need sewing 101 for dummies.
    Ill give it a shot(:

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  6. Thanks a million!

    We spent 5 entire hours trying to figure out how to assemble our shorts using the directions that came with the pattern we purchased. Your detailed instructions and picutres helped us figure it out in a matter of minutes! Out of all the webpages we visited, yours is the best and most helpful!

    Thanks again!!! <3

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  7. hello, i am 16 so obviously wouldn't fit into a pair of age 3 shorts so could you tell me what measurements i would need to construct my own pattern? it would be very helpful, thank you!

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  8. Hi there. My name is Karen and I am a novice sewer making efforts for my 2 little girls!! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for your help. I managed to make these shorts today while my girls played and for the 1st time ever did not have to unpick anything! I am SO pleased with myself (silly but true:)) Thank you!

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  9. Thank You. I only sew by hand. But this easy step by step pattern is a big help idea for mu projects. I am interested in your stitching techniques also. WE all use the same, but some style is a little different. Never hurts to try other technique styles. Thanks

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  10. Thank you for taking the time to share this. I know being a busy mom finding time is a luxury. You have saved me money, time and most importantly I feel great having the crotch turn out great every time... bless your heart.

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  11. Thank you so much. I'm a beginner sew-er and you make it so easy for me to feel accomplished. I'm from Singapore living in Canada the last 10 years. We return every summer, so the skirts and shorts are perfect for my 6 year old daughter.

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  12. thanks ur instructions are so clear and very helpful , thumps up!

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  13. How do I print the pattern? Are parts cut off when I print? Thanks so much!

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  14. Thanks for the directions. As a beginning sewer they really helped my. And the shorts I made for my daughter turned out really cute.

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  15. Thanks for another great tutorial. I linked you fro=m my FB page.
    http://www.facebook.com/SewzannesFabrics?ref=ts

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  16. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I have been trying to sew a pair of shorts from a commercial pattern and was getting ready to pull my hair out and throw my sewing machine out the window. Then I came across your tutorial. I have been able to make 3 pairs of shorts now. Thank you, thank you!!!

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  17. Thank you for this! I just made my 8 yo some pajama shorts using this guide (just a bit bigger obviously!!). Am very flattered indeed to see my little blog listed in your inspiration list, thank you!!!!

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  18. I am a complete beginner and had cut some pattern I got off my mum lol...and got stuck because the instructions were so hard to understand. I found your blog post and had my shorts done and my son wearing them before bedtime!! Thanks so much!!

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  19. i am not really a beginner but i am insecure at times, whats the best fabric for a women sun dress

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  20. @Anonymous
    Anonymous: It really depends on what style of dress you're planning. What about a knit fabric? Or rayon?

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  21. Thank you so much for these tutorials! My daughter (who just turned 8) & I have actually been learning to sew thanks to your patterns and tutorials! Really truly learning to sew! Making clothes...finishing them! :) & the kids love them. They want me to sew all the time tho. Lol! I look forward to making a skirt for me too ;)

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  22. Thank you so much for posting this clear and easy to understand tutorial! I made a pattern by tracing a pair of shorts that fit my 11 month old daughter really well. I used a beautiful embroidered linen fabric that was already in my stash so I only had to buy the elastic (I used 3/4")
    This was the first pair of shorts that I ever made and they came out really nice; I know I'll make many more using your instructions.
    Love your website
    -Dianne

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  23. Thank you so much for posting this clear and easy to understand tutorial! I made a pattern by tracing a pair of shorts that fit my 11 month old daughter really well. I used a beautiful embroidered linen fabric that was in my stash so I only had to buy the elastic (I used 3/4"). Just a reminder, if you're tracing an existing pair of elastic waist shorts, don't forget to stretch out the waistband before tracing. This was the first pair of shorts I've ever made and they came out really nice; I'll definitely be using your instructions to make more :-)

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  24. Thank you SO much! My 5 yr old son has been begging me to make red shorts for his little stuffed teddy bear. I know how to sew and have sewn shorts before, but I was having trouble getting started in thinking about how to do it and wasn't going to use a pattern since I thought I could figure it out. When I was looking the fabric over (which felt was the only red I had at home) I heard the Holy Spirit say to me, "Google it." Well, I did not acknowledge it was the HS at first and so I thought, "No, googling will take too long to find what I need." After another minute of trying to figure out how to sew the shorts in my head, I went to the computer and typed in "Doll shorts". Well, oddly enough, your blog came up and when I looked at your pattern up at the top of this page, sized down and all, I thought, "I bet if I printed it out like this it would fit his bear!" So, that's what I did and I just finished and guess what?! God's a genius!! haha They fit perfect. I think God is my new favorite sewing buddy :)

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  25. Wow Finally I've found some detailed and clear instructions!!!.... I'm so happy, thank you very much for sharing this... the instructions are perfect, now we'll see if the shorts I'll saw will be too :P.

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  26. OMGosh!! Thank you! I think I can do this.
    I don't know what it is with pants and shorts, my brain goes dead. I Love the TUBES! I never would have thought of that. I'm printing out your pattern now and I'll do a test pair tomorrow.
    Thank you!

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  27. Nice step by step. It's really easy to follow.

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  28. GREAT GREAT pattern, easy to follow and easy to tweak for different sizes. Thank you so much, I am going to put a pic up on my blig and will acknowledge you in it if that's ok? Thanks again!!!

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  29. I learnt to sew when I was in the army, huh you might say, anyway that was some time ago, now I have grand children and one is intereted in sewing, so grandad goes and buys a machine, and sits with my grand daughter and gives her a few lessons. vests, blouse, singlets are her first items, than she asks, grandad can you make me some shorts. I never had a clue until I found your instructions thank you so much, she now enjoys sewing her own shorts and adds length to produce slacks for herself...a lot cheaper too she is now teaching her friends she is only 10yrs old once again thank you for th shorts she wears her clothing..with pride.

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  30. thanks your instructions are so clear and very helpful , thumbs up!

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  31. I'm trying to make shorts for my 6T and 5T daughters. How do I adjust the pattern to make them bigger? I may just have to eyeball it!!

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  32. this will help me alot! i kne whow to make shorts but somehow when i was sewing the pattern i got confused and it was just a mess so this will help me alot! thx

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  33. I always use these tips when I sew... It helps me alot http://howtofixstuff.blogspot.ca/2012/04/how-to-sew-tips.html

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  34. this was so helpful!!! i made my pant in one hour .... thank you for you tutorial

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  35. What great and thorough directions! Thanks so much!

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  36. Thanks for posting this tutorial. It was very helpful in showing how to put the shorts together.

    http://sarahdudik.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/quick-kid-shorts/

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  37. So wonderful. I just finished my 4th pair of shorts for my 7 year old twins. I have a commercial pattern that drove me crazy and I spent way too long trying figure it out. Your instructions and pictures are perfect. Thank you!!!!! Just made summer pj bottoms. I also used this to make fleece Batman & Robin shorts at Halloween time! I love this tutorial!

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  38. I love your tute on making shorts, was the easiest to follow, I have a 4 year old daughter and manged to make 3 pairs out of just one metre of fabric. Thank you so much

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  39. I'm 15 and I typically wear a size 10 or 12 in the junior's section, how big should i make the "tube"?

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    1. I wouldn't be able to tell based on just size numbers. What are your waist and hip measurements (snug, but not tight)? You can email me.

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  40. I'm fifteen years old and I typically wear a size 12 or 14 in the juniors section. how big should i make the "tube"?

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  41. do you think it would be possible if I made it into boardshort length (just above the knee) and add pocket? if it is I'm making this asap! thanks!

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    Replies
    1. I imagine so! Just lengthen the inseam and side seam (i.e. lower the hem) and add pockets! It would be baggy, and it would flare, but if you minimized the flare to the leg, it would probably turn out OK.

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  42. I find that re-purposing t-shirts makes for very inexpensive shorts. If you don't have any usable unworn t-shirts around they are usually quite inexpensive at thrift stores.

    That makes them CHEAP!

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  43. I just made these shorts for myself, I am almost 18, and they are pretty great they have pineapples on them :D I didn't really know about size or anything so I made a pattern from a pair of pants I already owned, like you suggested, and they seemed to turn out good, so thanks for making an easy to follow tutorial, so that average sewers can still create fantastic items. :)

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  44. U made it so simple nd easy,fanx

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  45. These are nice mens shorts sale that are lightweight and comfortable to wear but be sure to have somethng to ware under them.

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  46. wow,thank you!the shorts in flounce shorts ,I think, are what you like,

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  47. I love this. If there is a level below beginner then, that's me. This actually made sense. Although I have one question, could I use string a draw string instead of elastic? While following the rest of the directions of course.

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    Replies
    1. ElfChef: Yes, you could totally use a drawstring instead of elastic. Just make one or two buttonholes in the front of the shorts, within the channel area, for the ends of the drawstring to emerge so you can manipulate them and tie them.

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  48. Awesome! I just made these for my very tall 2 year old and they are great for potty training. I used one of our extra t shirts! Thanks so much for sharing!

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  49. I bought a shorts pattern, but was not able to figure it out till this tutorial. My kids thank you (especially since the weathers been 100+ degrees).

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