Saturday, February 27, 2010

How To Sew Shorts Without a Pattern

Over the years, I have learned to draw my own patterns for sewing. It has become more and more useful as my children multiply--not to mention all of the sewing I've done for myself. If you are careful about buying sale fabrics (including sheets or tablecloths, it doesn't have to be yard goods), saving buttons and drawing your own patterns, you can make clothes for very little money.

Many people are intimidated at the idea of sewing without a pattern. Don't be. It is much easier than you think! Here is a pictorial tutorial.

Materials needed:

  • fabric

  • pins

  • measuring tape

  • scissors

  • paper

  • elastic

  • trimming (optional)

Paper for your pattern can be any kind of big paper. You can use paper bags, discarded drafting copies, newspaper, butcher paper, even gift wrap that you don't want.

Now, measure. Measure the waist where the shorts will sit (not right at the natural waist) because the waist is often smaller than the hips--which is where these dang kids keep putting their waist band. Geez. Kids these days. Also measure the length from hip to however long you want the shorts. These particular shorts will go to my daughter's knee.

Now, the next step is very important. Select a pair of short or pants that fit just right. You are going to copy their shape, so make sure it's not a too small pair. Discover the shape of your pattern by pulling one leg into the other leg. It will look like this:

Trace around the pants onto your large paper. Don't trace the cinched waist. Imagine that the elastic isn't there, sucking the waist band tight.

I forgot to take a picture of the next step here. Look at the shape you now have on your paper. Taking a ruler, mark your seam allowance around the entire pattern. I like to use 1/2", but many people use 5/8". It's up to you. Make sure that you leave enough allowance for your elastic waist (about 1 1/2") and your hem (1"-2"). Now you can cut out your pattern with your paper scissors. . . never your sewing scissors (MOM)!

You have just drawn the shape of one leg. Position your pattern with the straight side on the fold.

Pin your pattern to the cloth and cut it out. You will need to cut two (each pattern makes one leg).

Remove the pins, open the folds and you should have two of these:

Next Step. Pin together the right sides JUST from the waist to the crotch.

Then, Sew from waist to crotch. Do Not sew clear to the bottom of the shorts or you will have made some kind of funky skirt.

Open at the waist, meeting the newly sewn seams and you will begin to see the shorts shape.

Pin the crotch seams first, then pin the legs.

Sew the legs. Yup . . . looks like shorts!

Measure the elastic for the waistband with an extra 1" seam allowance. Make a circle and stitch together the ends of the elastic using a zig zag and straight stitch.

Take your shorts over to the ironing board and iron the seams open. Fold the top of the shorts over to make a pocket wide enough to accept the elastic. Iron.

Slip the circle of elastic into the folded and ironed pocket. Sew into place without stitching the elastic. You will have to pull on the elastic to stretch it out while sewing. Remember, you'll need this to be stretchy in order to pull in on over the tush.

Add any desired trimming and . . .

You've Done It!!

Once you get the hang of this, you can vary it 100 ways. You can use ric rac, eyelet, ribbons, buttons, applique and more to make these super basic shorts fit into any wardrobe for girls or boys.


  1. So much for those kitchen cabinets, eh? Just kidding!

    I really love those shorts. And I'm impressed that you took the time to take photos and do a cool tutorial. The take home message for this blogger is that I should try sewing pajama pants for my boys instead of buying them.

  2. I actually made these shorts six weeks ago. I taught a class to the RS yesterday and thought the pictures would be helpful. PJ pants are a GREAT way to start. Since they are just worn at home (well, and at Walmart) no one cares if you make some mistakes.

    Good luck!

    PS Kitchen project to be continued next week . . .

  3. Thanks for this post! I'm actually getting back into sewing again and will have to try this. Do you zigzag the seams to prevent fraying in the wash?
    Good luck with your are AMAZING!

  4. I'd like to blow raspberries on that tummy...

  5. Ran across this on a google search about how to make shorts without a pattern... am making shorts out of an old t-shirt, and your instructions helped me immensely! (Adult shorts, not for kids, but same principles regarding sewing the pieces). Thanks from a random stranger!

  6. you have saved me!!!!

  7. Just made a pair tonight. What fun. Took about an hour. I tried to vary it a bit, and make them reversible, but I'm not quite there with the skill! They ended up just being double layered :) Thanks for the tutorial...

  8. Thank you very much for sharing this. I will try this one because it looks easy to follow.