This snazzy pair of shorts is a great way to reuse old grown-up shirts or boxer shorts! We always have a pile at our house that my husband has tossed aside for various reasons, and I save them when I like the print and the fabric is still in good shape. You could also pick up a pile of shirts at the thrift store or use new fabric if you like (just remember to pre-wash and dry your fabric if you do this). This tutorial shows you how to reuse the finished edges of the older garment as hems for the shorts, making them a nice quick project. Your boy will enjoy knowing that his new pair of shorts came “from daddy’s shirts!”
Any size, made to size.
men’s shirts or boxers (I used four old shirts and two pairs of boxers)
1” wide elastic
Tools and notions
clear quilter’s ruler, rotary cutter, and mat
sewing machine with size 14/90 ruler
white butcher paper or large-sheet packing paper
This tutorial shows you how to make a basic 1-piece shorts pattern from an existing garment, and then shows you how to construct the shorts. You could use the same techniques to make a really great pair of PANTS too!
Make your pattern
First we’re going to make a simple shorts pattern that will allow you to make a great pair of shorts with just one pattern piece! I think you’ll find that you can also use it for more than just this tutorial -- I’ve found mine to be incredibly versatile and since it’s based on a pair of shorts that already fit, there’s no guessing on the size you need!
Step 1: Find a pair of shorts
Find a pair of shorts that fit your child. The shorts should have elastic either halfway or all the way around the waist. Flat-front shorts with elastic in the back are fine.
Step 2: Trace the back of the shorts
Fold the shorts in half down the center so that the back side of the shorts is facing out. Place the shorts on a large piece of butcher or packing paper, and overlap the halves of the shorts as evenly as possible, lining up edges carefully and flattening the shorts as best you can. Take a marker and trace as closely around the bottom, center, and top edge of the shorts as possible, stretching out the elastic as much as you can to get the true shape of the shorts along the top. Make marks at the side so you’ll know where to place the shorts on the paper when you trace the other side.
Step 3: Trace the front of the shorts
Now fold the shorts down the center so that the front side is facing out. Line the sides of the shorts up with the marks you just made. Repeat the tracing steps for the back.
Step 4: Check that the pattern is wide enough at the waist
Before we move on, we’re going to do a little size-check. Measure across the top of the shorts, double that number, and make sure that it’s at least 2” bigger than the hip measurement of your child (measure with a flexible measuring tape around the widest part of their bum). If the waist width is too close to their hip measurement, it’s going to be a squeeze to pull it on, so if it’s too small, draw the pattern wider at the center front or center back until it’s large enough.
Example (above): I measured the waist edge on the pattern to be about 13” wide, so the finished shorts will measure twice that, or 26” around the waist before the elastic goes in. Since my son’s hip measurement is 24,” there will be 2” of extra room.
Step 5: Make sure the inseam is the same length on both front and back
The shorts have to match up along the inside of the leg (inseam), so measure that distance on both sides and make sure it’s the same. If it’s not, lengthen one of the sides to match the length of the other.
When you’re finished you should have something similar to the outline below. The taller side is the back of the shorts.
Step 6: Add seam allowances to the pattern
Take your ruler and add ½” around the outside of the center and inseam edges of the pattern. Add 1 1/2” to the top for the waistband casing.
Note: You won’t need to add a hem allowance to the bottom edge of the pattern since we’ll be using the finished edges from the shirts for the hem. If you want to use this pattern to make additional pairs of shorts or you are using new fabric for this tutorial, you should add a 1” hem allowance to the bottom of the pattern.
Make your “fabric”
Now it’s time to chop up those old shirts and boxers and piece them together to make the fabric for the shorts.
Step 1: Cut your old garments into 4” strips
Cut your garments along side seams, press them flat, and use a rotary cutter, mat and ruler to cut them into 4” strips that are as long as the pattern is wide. For the top and bottom of the shorts, they can be a little shorter because the pattern piece is narrower at the waist and leg.
- For my shorts (about size 5 / 6), I needed six strips for each side of the shorts, 12 strips total.
- Use existing hems whenever possible
- Cut a couple strips from the button plackets of a shirt and use a seam ripper to take off the buttons (below left). These finished edges can become the bottom hem of your shorts.
- Save a couple of shirt pockets by cutting ½” around the outside of each pocket (below right). You can use these as pockets for your shorts if you like.
- As you cut the strips, line them up over your pattern piece to see how many strips you’ll need total. Keep in mind that the strips will lose ½” on each side for seams.
Step 2: Sew the 4” strips together
Here is a quick overview of how all of the seams on the shorts were sewn, both when piecing the strips to make the fabric AND when sewing the shorts together:
- Sew the long edges of the two strips together with a ½” seam (a).
- Press the seam to one side (b).
- Zig-zag stitch over the raw seam edges to tack them down and so that they won’t fray (c). This will make all of your seams extra strong. You will be able to see the zig-zag stitch through the fabric, which adds a nice effect (d).
Now sew enough strips together to cover the entire pattern piece (I sewed my strips WRONG sides together for this part):
Then press the seam allowances down and zig-zag stitch over the raw edges:
Repeat for the other leg of the shorts.
Construct the shorts
Step 1: Cut out your fabric
Place your pattern piece over the shorts and cut out the fabric. The rulers in the photo below were used to hold the pattern piece flat.
Flip the pattern piece over and repeat for the other side of the shorts. VERY IMPORTANT: Your two shorts panels must be mirror images so check carefully before cutting into your fabric!
Step 2: Attach the pockets (optional)
Press the edges of the pocket pieces under towards the wrong side.
Pin each pocket to the center of each of the shorts panels, and sew carefully around the edges to attach. BE CAREFUL not to sew the pocket shut when you sew across the top edge!
Step 3: Sew the center seams together
Place your two shorts panels with right sides facing, and sew the center seams together with a ½” seam allowance.
Recommended: Trim seam allowances to ¼”, press to one side, and zig-zag the raw edges down to make this seam extra-strong.
Step 4: Sew the inseam
Open up your shorts and line up the inseam edges with right sides together. Sew with a ½” seam.
Recommended: Trim the seam allowance to ¼”, press to one side, and zig-zag the raw edges down to make this seam extra strong.
Step 5: Make waistband casing
Fold ¼” along top edge of shorts toward wrong side and press. Fold over an additional 1 ¼” and press down. This will become the waistband casing.
Starting at the back center seam, sew along the lower folded edge of the waistband casing, being careful to leave a 2” hole at the back to insert the elastic. I sewed a little piece of ribbon under the casing at the back to help my son tell front from back.
Take a piece of 1” wide elastic and cut it 1” shorter than your child’s waist measurement. Thread it through the casing using a safety pin. Overlap the ends by at least one inch, and zig-zag stitch back and forth a few times across the ends to secure them.
Hint: Cut the elastic a couple inches longer than needed (as shown below) and overlap the ends by 2” instead of 1” so that you can let out the waist as your child grows.
Now sew the waistband casing opening shut along the folded edge, and you’re finished!
Rae Hoekstra is a sewing blogger and sewing pattern designer who blogs at Made By Rae Her children, Elliot (5) and Clementine (2), model most of the stuff she makes on her blog. She teaches sewing classes and hosts crafty meetups in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Tutorial & Photography © 2012 Rae Hoekstra. Contact
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