In a past life, I used to create my own fashion line. Actually it was in this life, but it seems like a long time ago. It was a great creative outlet and I met inspiring artists in Minneapolis who put a lot of thought and care into what they wear, where it comes from, and how it is made. I was on the board of a fledgeling eco-fashion organization that challenged me to keep the human and planetary costs of fashion at the forefront of my mind, though I didn’t always succeed at upholding those values while creating my collections.
It was through this organization that I first heard about the film The True Cost and I recently finally sat down and watched it. Though I only make and alter things for myself and my family now, at times I considered going full force into fashion design but always held back. I find it challenging to see the value in making new clothes from scratch when the fabric itself is still burdening the environment with chemical dyes and non-organic cotton and textile production. And there was always a question lingering in the back of my mind: Does the world need more clothes? I am still trying to find a balance between consumption and self-expression.
The best thing about making baby clothes is that at least you never have to buy new fabric. There’s always an abundance of used material to work with – if an adult sized shirt gets a hole or a stain, there’s still plenty left to go around if you turn it into something for baby. We’ve learned that sewing skills are essential to any homestead. This is something my grandparents knew without a doubt and lived out.
My Oma was known to fix holes in socks many time over. At the time I thought it was a funny quirk but have since grown up and understood more of her story and come to respect it. She was the daughter of a wealthy family in Holland and grew up in luxury for the time. When she immigrated to Canada with her husband and his family, the immigration rules were that you could take any number material possessions along but not money. So her family sent her with a brand new sewing machine, fur coats, and more – into the country called Canada. She fixed those fur coats until they were no longer salvageable and then made the into something else. She made blankets for Canadian winters from scrap fabric and stuffed pillows with the excess. This is how she made it work raising 10 children and an apple farm.
Even if I thought fixing socks and pillows like rocks were funny as a child, the frugality and resourcefulness certainly still was passed down to me. I love that you can make new things from old. I used to upcycle things for myself and Tory but more recently, one of my emerging favorite and reasonably quick DIY baby projects is to turn sleeves from an old shirt or sweater into baby pants.
… and I still have lots for fabric left over for something else. With a little practice, projects like this become less daunting, and it’s really fun to see what you can transform.
My sewing style at this point in my life is “better done and cute than not done at all” so there are better ways to make a perfect pair of baby pants and this is not that tutorial. I had to puzzle it out a few times to get it right, but if you work with stretchy fabric it’s pretty forgiving. I like to start with a reference pair of pants that fit her really well for fit.
First, using the pair of pants that you like as a guide, overlap the pants and lay them as flat as you can onto the sleeve. Then either trace first or cut around your base pair of pants, checking to make sure that you’re only cutting one layer of fabric at a time because the front and back of the leg will be slightly different cuts. For the back panel just lay it flat as best you can and estimate the extra fabric. Remember that you are using the folded top of the sleeve as the outer edge of the leg, so you don’t cut it.
When you are finished, the shape should look something like this:
Repeat this but inverted with the other sleeve.
Now is the time to add any embellishments since it’s much easier to sew while it’s flat than when it becomes little baby pants. I’m adding back pockets to mine with an easy zig zag stitch.
Now we’re going to start putting it all together! Lay the two pieces mirrored to each other with the nice side of the fabric facing in. Pin the sides together until you get to the crotch and then sew just from the top down those ski slopes. Then set it aside while we prep the waistband.
You can use any fabric for the waistband but I like to use the hem of a t-shirt or the same sweater because there’s a built in pocket for the elastic already made. Cut the fabric to match the opening of your pants. Cut an elastic piece a little shorter than that, with a similar amount of stretch to the pants you’re using for fit guide. Feed the elastic through with a safety pin.
Then turn the nice side in and sew through the elastic and the fabric together to make it into a circular waistband. Trim it tight.
Bring it back together now. Pull the waistband around the top of the waist hole and pin the band to the pants, making sure that the ugly side is facing up while the pants are right-side-out. Pin all around it so that it won’t be uneven when you’re finished sewing it. Go ahead and sew a straight stitch around, pulling out the pins as you go. It’s a good idea to reinforce all your seams as you go with either a second row of stitching or a zig zag.
Turn the pants inside out and pin the legs together now, starting from the bottom hems to the center, making sure it’s all even. Sew straight across from one leg to the other, zipping the legs together for the final reveal!
Flip them back out again and they’re ready to go! I like to finish it off with a zig zag top stitch to make the seam lay flat and add some flair. I’m a night owl – I’ve resigned myself to early bedtimes during the week but I can’t help it – I still love to do projects late into the night. I’ve gotten pretty efficient with a sewing machine but this took me about four hours total. I was pretty impatient to try them on her in the morning!