This post is written by Caroline of Maika Made.
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Before I begin I have to confess an enthusiasm for upcycling, recycling, repurposing or rescuing, (however you want to phrase it), used fabrics. I encourage you to give it a try as usable fabric is everywhere you look, and sometimes you find the most interesting and unusual pieces when you visit your local second hand store. I’ve made clothing from old sheets and tablecloths, bedding from ex-curtains, pants from a folding chair cover and I most recently made both my sons formal waistcoats from a pair of men’s suit pants.
Making toddler shorts for my two year from a man’s shirt was at first a bit of a joke project. My mum gave me one of my dad’s old shirts (she’s often giving me bits of fabric and old garments, knowing my love of creating something new from anything on offer), she thought the soft blue cotton would be good for something for one of my boys and I promised her that the next time she visited one of the boys would be wearing that shirt in some form or other – the upcycled shirt to toddler shorts idea was born. This is not a set of instructions for sewing the shorts, its all about what to look for when you go second hand shirt shopping and some tips on what to do with the shirt once you get it home and are ready to sew.
What kind of shirt should I use?
Head to any second hand store and there are usually masses of pre-loved shirts to choose from. Alternatively if you have a man about your house with an old shirt or two in the wardrobe you could beg or steal one from him. My favourites are soft, medium weight cotton ones in good condition. Thin business shirts are not so useful as fabric for shorts but lots of casual shirts are made from thicker fabrics. I also tend to go for darker colours as darker colours are more serviceable when it comes to kids’ clothes. Plains, stripes and abstract patterns are all easy to work with, (my dream would be to find a “Hawaiian” shirt, wouldn’t that be cool), but if you are drawn to ginghams/checks think about if you care if the checks are lined up at the seams of your shorts. Due to the limited amount of fabric you will be working with, sometimes matching fabric patterns is not possible and if something like that is really going to annoy you them move down the rack and make another choice. I also like to choose a shirt with a front pocket that I can pick off and use on my shorts. If there is more than one pocket that’s fine too, as long as it is removable.
Once you’ve made your pick of the shirts on offer check for any stains or wear to the shirt on the front and back pieces, the sleeves are not so crucial as you won’t be using those in this particular project. (That said, I’ll be keeping the sleeves from the shirt I’ve chosen for another day.) Lastly, check inside the pocket to make sure the shirt is not so faded that if you took the pocket off you would easily notice where it had been.
My trip to the charity store yielded a purchase of a grey and white striped, medium sized, long sleeved shirt.
Preparing the shirt
First thing when you get home is to give your shirt a quick wash to freshen it up. The one I bought for this project actually turned out to be a new shirt with the tags still on – lucky me! Then I get out my scissors and cut – I cut the side seams apart, cut off the sleeves around the armhole seams, cut off the back yoke and collar and pick off the front pocket.
Also, don’t forget to harvest the buttons from the front of the shirt if you think they would be useful for another project.
For this project I used the MADE shorts pattern, you can purchase a copy of this pattern from Dana Willard’s MADE website and Dana has great tutorials on her website on how to make the shorts in all their variations. If you have your own favourite shorts pattern you can still follow these general directions, you’ll need to of course tweak them to your own situation.
I sewed the size two racer style shorts and I totally squeezed the pattern onto my shirt fabric, the two front pattern pieces from one front piece of the shirt, and two back pattern pieces from the other front piece of the shirt. ’m keeping the back of the shirt and the sleeves for now, I’m yet to see if I can sew a pair of trousers from these left overs. If you are using the shirt back fabric then you are not limited to making small sized shorts, there’s plenty of fabric overall to make larger sized shorts and wriggle room to match fabric patterns if you want to. And just to let you know, I discarded the shirt yoke and the collar.
Sewing the shorts :: adding a pocket
I’m not going to show you how to make the shorts here, you can follow your pattern directions for that, but I am going to share with you how to have a little fun with the pocket you picked off your shirt. I use the pocket from the front of the shirt for a back pocket on the shorts. It adds a bit of detail with really a minimum of fuss as the pocket is basically already made for you.
The shirt pocket is usually just a touch too big to sew straight onto small sized shorts so I trim the pocket down a little bit to make it fit nicely. To do this I trim about 1cm from the sides and bottom of the pocket. Then I finish the raw edges with a zig-zag stitch on my sewing machine and iron under another centimetre of fabric to the inside of the pocket. The pocket is basically the same shape, just a bit narrower and shorter, plus you get the fancy commercial stitching along the top edge! Position and pin it place, I just used my eye to set it down low enough to allow for the elastic waist casing to be sewn above it and centred it between the side and middle rear seams. Carefully sew it on, use a contrasting thread if you like. For the MADE racer shorts I added the pocket after the bias binding had been sewn around the front and back edges of the shorts, just before sewing up the side seams.
Hip Horray! There you have it. Your small person is happy because he (or she!) has new shorts, you’re happy because you’ve got your daily dose of creativity, and the earth is happy because you’ve recycled instead of buying new. I bet you can’t stop at just one pair…