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.
Sew the short inseam of each pair as shown.
Sewing Step 2
Line up the long sides of each pair and sew together.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
worn by Emily who refused to let me pre-shrink
Some miscellaneous notes:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I use regular thread but I do use a needle for knits because regular needles pull on the fibers of knits.
- 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!)
- 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.