Monday, June 28, 2010

25 Minute Upcycled Summer Shorts & Capris (or Pants): Tutorial

Now that the summer heat is upon us, what's more comfortable than some stretchy knit shorts or capris?
Perfect for those warm, afternoons in the shade.
...And these are so fast and easy, you can make one (or two or three) for everyone.
Shorts have always been one of the fastest, easiest pieces of clothing to wear. What's the secret to making them so fast? Recycled T-shirts!  You can use this method to make shorts, capris, or even pants, depending on the height of your child and the size T-shirt you're using.

One of my least favorite things about sewing clothes is all the hemming and finishing work, so I love that when you're sewing with recycled T-shirts, you can take advange of those nice, professionally serged hems to save most of the finishing work.

All you really need to make these is a T-shirt, enough elastic to go around your child's waist, and typical sewing stuff (machine, thead, etc).  If you want tighter, extra-stretchy legging type pants, shorts or capris, then the cotton with a little spandex blended in is best.  If you're making looser, breezy type shorts, 100% cotton works just fine.

(Disclaimer if you have helpers like this...they might take a little longer than 25 minutes...but not much.)
Find a pair of pants or shorts that fits your child to act as your "pattern." (Or it can be a pair they're growing out of as long as you remember to add a little extra for growing room.)  For capris (as shown here) I used a pair of pants, but then adjusted where I layed the "pattern" out so they would be shorter.  Fold your "pattern" in half down the middle so it lays totally flat.  Fold your T-shirt neatly in half down the middle and line your "pattern" up so the straight side lines up with your fold.
Add about 1 to 1 1/2 inches extra at the waist of your pants/shorts to allow for the elastic.  Also remember you want those lines leading to the waist to be straight, even though they likely curve in due to the elastic.  Be sure to include a 5/8 inch seam allowance on the side.  Your lines to cut should look something like this:
Cut your pieces out through all layers of your folded shirt.  You should end up with two pieces, one for each leg.  (These are for infant shorts.)
Embellish the legs if you choose before sewing the pieces together.
On each leg, pin the inner leg seam together with the RIGHT (the side you want to see) sides together.
Sew the inner leg seam with a 5/8 inch seam.  Since these are knits that stretch and I want them to be able to stretch slightly when finished, I use a stitch that looks like this one...
or you can use a slight zigzag.  (I use the narrowest zigzag my machine can make.)

Turn one of the legs right side out and slip it inside the one that's inside out, matching seams.
Line up crotch seam and pin well.
So far the front and back of the shorts are the same.  You need to choose a side to be the front and sew it with a WIDER searm allowance than the back.  This will prevent the front of your shorts from being too baggy. 
How much wider you want this seam to be will depend on the size of your pants.  For young child's pants you probably want it about 1 1/4 inches and maybe 2 inches wide for an older child.  When you get close to the crotch, gradually change to a 5/8 inch seam allowance.  When you're done with this step, it should look like this:
I usually try them on my kid at this point to see if they're too baggy anywhere, so I can fix it before putting in the elastic.  Trim off the excess seam allowance.
You can do a typical elastic casing, but after looking at some of my kids clothes, I noticed that a lot store bought clothes have the elastic sewn right in.  This is less work for me than all the measuring and ironing for the casing and then the elastic doesn't get all turned around.  The downside is that you need to have the elastic size right because there's no going back. 

To sew elastic the elastic in, measure your child's waist and cut the elastic to be the same size.  I found that the elastic stretches slightly when sew in, so I don't add extra to account for overlap.  Sew the ends of the elastic together.
Mark your elastic into quarters
Match the quarter marks to front and back seams and to the middle of the sides.
Use a wide zigzag stitch to sew the top edges.
It should look like this:
Fold the elastic over and pin to keep in place.  Use a zigzag stitch again to secure, and be sure to stretch slightly as you sew them, so you don't get any puckers.
When you're done it should look like this:
And you're done!
Perfect for bike riding...
Running around like crazy...
Reading in the shade...
Put them under a skirt...
...or even do the splits...cause hey...they're stretchy!
I'd like to thank Rae (who of coures is extra cool because she also used to be a science teacher) at Made By Rae for this tutorial for making baby tights which gave me the confidence to try sewing stretchy knits.


  1. Way cute! I especially love the photo of all three kids on bikes. :)

    I never knew how to sew the elastic in like that - thanks for a good tutorial. I also love the way you use existing pants for your pattern.

  2. Thanks for making the v neck tutorial. I used the tutorial to fix one of my daughters shirts. She has trouble with shirts falling open in the front. I was able to fix one of her fav polka dot shirts so she can wear it. Sometimes the simplest fixes mean the most.

  3. I'm sending this over to my mom right away! Hopefully she'll take the hint! : )

  4. So fun. I'm still intimidated by sewing with knits on my machine. You almost make me want to try!

  5. I made some just like that ( pics posted on Good job!!!!

  6. Oh for goodness sake. After all these years of sewing, it never occured to me that I could make those cute kid stretchy shorts out of old t-shirts. THANK YOU for the awesome tip! I'll be looking for appropriate t-shirts at garage sales now. :)

  7. Wow! Great idea for reusing! Who doesn't need more shorts for the little ones?

  8. Awesome. I've been meaning to do this for Bolivia. :)

  9. Just letting you know I sent you an award. Check it out on my site

  10. I totally think I can try this one!! Thanks so much for the helpful tutorial. I'm going to add it to a blog post I did about a week ago on

  11. Great idea! Thanks so much for the helpful tutorial, I'll be linking.

  12. I envy your upcycle vision. Luckily I am on the bed hand-me-down train ever and don't have much of a need for more clothes.. But now I want to do the fun of it.

  13. Love this tutorial! I posted about it and linked on my blog :)

  14. hello love these. can you tell how is it that you embellished the yellow capris ? did you use the same fabric and the purple what is that knits? did you use 2 layers to make flower and fusible web? would love to make one just like it. thanks


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