Making Pants into Shorts

This week’s Works-for-Me Wednesday is a special edition for organizing tips, so I’m linking to my old articles about the rule of One Thing and Three Things and how to organize your Girl Scout troop records, as well as posting this new article that isn’t an organizing tip but works for me!

This past spring, my four-year-old son wore through the knees of seven pairs of pants by playing crawling games at the playground.  I was annoyed by the damage that made these pants unsuitable to wear in the fall (if he hadn’t gotten too tall for them by then) or to pass on to younger kids.

Then I realized that Nicholas was low on shorts for this summer.  I could cut off his pants above the holes, hem them, and turn them into shorts!

It’s a simple project, but here’s a quick set of instructions for anyone who missed out on learning basic sewing skills:

  1. Take an existing pair of shorts that’s a good length for the kid, and measure the seam on the inside of the leg, from crotch to hem.  Let’s call that X inches.
  2. On the pants, measure X+1 inches (that is, if X is 4 inches, measure 5 inches) down from the crotch on the inside of each leg.  Mark this point with chalk.
  3. Lay the pants very smooth and flat on the table.  Use something with a right angle and a straight edge (I use a drafting triangle from my days as an architecture student) to draw a line across each pants leg perpendicular to the leg seam, starting from the dot you marked, on both front and back.  Don’t worry if the torn knee area extends a little bit above the line–it will get sewn up into the hem and be okay–but if the fabric is torn 3/4 inch or more above the line, consider making the shorts shorter.
  4. Cut along the lines.
  5. Turn the pants inside-out.  Measure up 1 inch from the cut edge and draw a line there.  Fold the edge up twice, so that it is doubled over with the cut edge inside and the first fold touching the line.  Pin it into place.
  6. Sew along that top fold.  I used the zig-zagger on my sewing machine.
  7. Turn shorts right-side-out.  Finished!

One complication was that two of the pairs of pants were lined with a layer of flannelly cloth.  I asked Nicholas if I could just take that out, to make cooler shorts.  He said no, the shorts would be scratchy without it.  On closer inspection, I realized that the pants were lined because they had stripes down the outsides of the legs made from different colors of fabric sewn together, and those seams did feel kind of scratchy on the inside. (Sometimes my kid is smarter than I am, at least where his own clothes are concerned.)  I figured out how to include the lining in the shorts:

  • During Step 5 above, after turning the pants inside-out, push the lining up as far as you can to get it out of the way.
  • Complete Steps 5, 6, and 7.  Then pull down the lining, which will now be longer than the hemmed outer layer.
  • Hold the inner leg seam of the lining against the inner leg seam of the outer fabric and pin it into place.
  • Put your hand inside the lining and smooth it across, trying to get the same amount of fabric on top and bottom.  Pin the lining to the outer fabric at the outside of the leg.  (If both layers have a seam at the outside of the leg, align those.)
  • Pin the lining to the outer fabric the rest of the way around.
  • Sew on top of your first hem.
  • Cut off the excess lining fabric around the bottom, being careful not to cut your stiches.  Finished!

They’re not the most perfect-looking shorts in the world, but Nicholas is very happy with them, and so am I.  Now he has so many shorts that I don’t mind that his large stuffed bear wants to wear the red ones. He’s at that age when kids get much taller without getting wider, so these shorts may fit for another summer or two!

By the way, in addition to my being an infrequent seamstress and just not all that coordinated, the other reason the hems are so uneven is that Nicholas really wanted to work the sewing-machine pedal!  Pushing fabric through a sewing machine while someone else is controlling the motor speed is a lot like trying to steer a car while someone else is pressing the accelerator!  And he kept saying, “Stop yet? Stop?? Okay, go again?” so that I had to answer questions in addition to giving instructions!!  I managed to refrain from sneakily finishing the project while he was asleep only by reminding myself how much more he would like his new shorts if he could be proud of having helped make them, which he is. Is there a Motherly Patience Medal somebody could nominate me for?

4 thoughts on “Making Pants into Shorts

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