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It’s fall again and I’m having the same problem I have every. Single. Year. My kids have no pants that fit them correctly.
Both of my children are average height, but are very thin. This doesn’t create many problems in the summer because shorts and skirts don’t have to be long. However, when it’s time to wear long pants (or trousers for you British folk) again, we find that all their pants that fit fine in the spring are now too short. And most store-bought pants that are long enough for them are too wide in the waist for their long, thin build.
So either my kids go to school with ridiculously short pants (which doesn’t bother them, but it does bother me), I buy them some new ones (which rarely fit properly and anyway I decided years ago not to buy any new clothing), or I sew them new ones. However I’m usually particularly busy with the hectic start of the school year, and have a hard time finding time to find a pattern, modify it to fit their thin bodies, and cut it out.
That’s when this comes to the rescue: old sweatshirts. Because adult sweatshirts have sleeves that are a great length for pants for young kids (up to about age 5) and they already have a wonderfully comfortable cuff at the bottom. (Or, if not a cuff, a finished edge, like in the pair seen below.) So your discarded clothing (or a super cheap thrifted sweatshirt, like this one that I bought for €1 to make my son’s Minion costume) can become fantastic sweatpants for your child!
They’re so comfortable for kids to play in and you don’t even need a pattern to make them! You can simply use a pair of pants that fit as a cutting guide!
What a time-saver! Last year I made four pairs of these pants in about one hour and my boy was set for that season’s pants! (Yes, that is a patch of white hair my son has. He was born with it. I didn’t bring him to the hairdresser to do it, as some people have asked me!)
So what are you waiting for? Let’s make pants from sleeves for your children!
- 1 adult sweatshirt with intact sleeves (the longer the sleeves, the longer you can make the pants)
- 1 pair of pants that fit the child
- 3/4″ (2 cm) elastic – preferably knit non-roll (I got this elastic* and it’s a great deal if you sew a lot)
- pins (better if ballpoint pins*)
- fabric shears (in these pictures you can see Ikea fabric shears, which work great)
- water soluble fabric marker*
- matching polyester thread (cotton thread can snap more easily, so I avoid it for projects with elastic)
- size 100/16 ballpoint needle*
Cutting the first leg:
1. Turn one leg of the pants that fit inside out and slip the other leg inside it. This is your instant pants pattern!
2. Iron the sweatshirt sleeves and flatten one out, aligning the seams at the cuff, shoulder and underarm.
Notice how I’ve flattened the shirt perfectly so that the underarm seam is right on the fold.
3. Place the pants “pattern” on top of the sleeve. Line up the bottom of the pattern with the edge of the wrist opening and align the outside edge of the pattern with the top folded edge of the sleeve. (shown by arrows)
4. Keep the fold in the “pattern”‘s waistband at the edge of the sleeve (#1 above) while you pull the waistband out as much as the fabric permits (#2 above). Get a helper for this part, if necessary. (My husband was my assistant here!)
5. While stretching out the waistband in step #4, use the water soluble fabric marker* to trace around the stretched waistband.
Notice that the front of the waistband is lower than the back. Trace around the back part (#2 above) and then, folding the back out of the way, trace around the front part (#1 above). Then trace a curved line from the end of these lines to the crotch, right against the fabric “pattern.”
Next add seam allowances. Draw another line 3/8″ (1 cm) from the curved crotch line and then two more lines 3/4″ (2 cm) from the two straight waistband lines. This gives you enough fabric to wrap around the elastic with the method of the “attached” elastic waistband that I described in this sewing lesson. If you want to sew an elastic casing waistband, you will need to add a little bit more at the waistband. If you prefer an exposed elastic waistband, just add 3/8″ (1 cm) to the waistband.
If you are a risk taker, you can just eyeball it and add in these seam allowances when tracing around the stretched waistband the first time, like I did. That’s why you only see one set of lines instead of two.
5. Cut the fabric along the curved crotch line and the line of the back waistband. Notice that the line of the front waistband is still visible.
6. Now cut along that line for the front waistband JUST on the top layer of fabric. Also trim off about 1 cm from the curved crotch line, again just from the top layer.
Cutting the second leg:
7. Prepare the other sweatshirt sleeve as described in step #2. You’ll have to flip the sweatshirt with the back of it facing up to keep the sleeve in the same direction as you can see in these pictures.
Lay the first (cut) sleeve on top of the second (uncut) sleeve as we did in step #3 with the “pattern,” taking care to line up the edges of the cuffs and folded sleeve edges. Then cut along the curved crotch edge and the back waistband edge, as shown by the arrows above. Notice that you are cutting along the wider back layer of the first sleeve, not the trimmed top layer.
8. You now have two cut sleeves/legs. Let’s consider the first trimmed leg the right leg and the second untrimmed leg the left leg.
9. Now let’s finish making the second (left) leg. Lay it down flat, with all the sleeve seam along the fold at the top, as seen above.
10. Place the first (right) leg on top of the left leg, lining up all the edges.
Fold back the very top layer of the right leg so that you can see the trimmed layer just below. Trace around the trimmed edges with the water soluble fabric marker*, as seen above.
11. Remove the right leg and trim the left leg along the marks made in step #10.
You now have a left leg and a right leg! Notice how they are symmetrical.
Joining the legs:
12. Turn one leg inside out and slip the other leg inside of it, so that the right sides are facing. Line up the curved crotch edges, making sure to match up the bottom sleeve seams (shown by the arrows), and pin together.
13. Sew the curved crotch seam with a 3/8″ (1 cm) seam allowance. If you are using a sweatshirt, you don’t need to finish off the cut edges because sweatshirt fabric doesn’t fray. Yah!
14. Turn the legs right side out, and you’ve got a great little pair of pants, sans waistband!
Sewing the waistband:
15. Sew the waistband style that you’ve chosen.
I’m not going to give very detailed instructions because I’ve already written three tutorials on how to sew a waistband. I suggest using the attached waistband method that I described in the last Learn to Machine Sew lesson. For this method, you make an elastic loop (waist measurement minus 2 cm, overlapping the ends by 2 cm), zig zag stitch the elastic to the fabric edge, fold over and zig zag again. You can find more details in that lesson.
For this particular pair of pants, I sewed an elastic casing, but leaving the edge of the fabric visible, to avoid the bulk of another layer of folded fabric underneath. You could also sew an exposed elastic, though I wouldn’t advise doing so with this type of garment.
Unfortunately my leg pieces included some of the sweatshirt’s shoulder seams. I don’t consider this a real problem because they get pretty much hidden anyway. However they do add a bit of bulk along the curved crotch seam that you sewed, so I suggest trimming down the seam allowances in those points (shown above inside the circle).
16. Before completely closing up the waistband, stick a label or folded ribbon inside to mark the back of the pants. This makes it easy for your child to get dressed himself!
Ta da! Super quick sweatpants with quick and easy elastic waistbands!
Probably the part I dislike the most about garment sewing is having to hem and finish off all the openings. The great thing about this sewing hack is that the hems or cuffs are already made for you!
The yellow pants seemed a little blah, so I decided to embellish them Minion-style!
I looked online for stencil-friendly images of a Minion and a banana, traced them on to freezer paper and painted them on the fabric. (Find out how to freezer paper stencil here.) The only thing I changed was the position of the Minion’s eyes so that he was looking up towards the banana. (If you want a laugh, check out my Minion freezer paper stencil mishap here on Instagram!)
Sometimes it just takes a little extra touch to make a project so much cooler!
These pants are so quick and easy to make, and are so comfortable to wear! This pair with the side details and regular non-cuffed bottom was my favorite of the four pairs that I made last year.
Incidentally, both sweatshirts my son wears in these pictures have been hacked, as well, with one of my favorite techniques: covering logos with appliqué! I covered the school logos on two hooded sweatshirts with appliqued symbols (the initial N and a dinosaur, which you can see here on May 18). This Alcott Girl sweatshirt was originally a hand-me-down to my daughter, however was totally fine for a boy to wear, too, except for the word “girl”!
But a nice crocodile appliqué with a french knot eye covered the incriminating words nicely!
So there you have it, two easy refashions to make your family’s clothing last longer without paying a cent! Everyone’s happy, both the kid with fun clothes and the mother who made them!
Well, except the kid when his blogging mother takes too many pictures!! Haha!
This lesson on how to make pants from sleeves is part of the syllabus of Cucicucicoo’s Learn to Machine Sew beginner’s sewing course! Don’t forget to share pictures of your pants and other work on Facebook or the Cucicucicoo Creations Flickr Group!
And of course, don’t forget to Pin this tutorial!
*This post contains affiliate links.
20 thoughts on “Refashion tutorial: make pants from sleeves”
What a great idea! Especially if your kids are like mine and refuse to wear jeans and instead live in sweatpants/athletic pants! Also- I love those photos! What a cutie! ❤️
Thanks, Lin! Yeah, my kids hate jeans or any other pants with button and zipper, too! Nicky lives in pants with elastic waistbands and Sofia in leggings with or without skirts over them!
What a cool repurpose Lisa. I too love reusing old clothes for anything at all but your idea is the best. Now I need to brush up on my sewing skills.
Thanks, Mary! This is a classic for mothers who sew/refashion because it’s so quick and easy!
This is such a wonderful idea. I would have never thought to do this. I like how simple it looks to do too.
Thank you for sharing this with us on the #HomeMattersParty. We hope to see you next Friday at 12 AM EST when we open our doors again.
It IS so simple to sew these! So much more so than using a pattern and new fabric! Yes, I’ll be back to party on Friday! 🙂
This is so cute and clever! Thank you for sharing @Vintage Charm–pinning!
It’s a huge time saver, too! Thanks Cecilia!
What a fantastic Idea!! I’ll definitely have to try this as my kids get older.
No one would ever know the track pants were once sweaters, Lisa. Great job!!!
Featured today, Lisa.
I know, they’re a great refashion because you can’t even tell what they used to be! Thanks so much for the feature, Pam!
Love this! I used to do this when my kids were little. I love recycling/upcycling ideas! Thanks for your submission, I just published it!
Thanks, Denise! I’m bummed that now my son is too tall to do this anymore! (These pictures are from last year, when he could still just barely fit into sleeves)
This is truly amazing! I am making a costume for my son and could not find the right color pants to match his top I made from another sweatshirt. I just bought two sweatshirts and make pants and a hoodie out of one. Thank you!!
Oh, that’s wonderful! I’m so glad that you came up with such an easy solution! What costume are you making, out of curiousity?
He is going to be a spotted toad! 🙂 Thank you so much again!!