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Repurposing clothing: How to turn a shirt into toddler shorts

Massachusetts has had a bit of a heat wave this week, and Johnny’s wardrobe was woefully unprepared. I hadn’t taken stock of his summer clothes at all, and discovered AFTER the warm weather arrived that he had one short-sleeved t-shirt that fit, one that was really too small, and a single pair of shorts that I could barely squeeze him into. I had an old t-shirt sitting in my fabric pile, so we took that and improvised it into a pair of knit shorts. It worked really well and was super quick to sew (I kept some of the t-shirt seams and the bottom hem so I was able to skip those steps). I definitely plan to turn more t-shirts into shorts in the future!


  • Adult t-shirt
  • Elastic (for wasteband)
  • Thread
  • Sewing machine


  1. Choose a pair of shorts (pants will work too, just cut the legs shorter) to use as a pattern.
  2. Lay over t-shirt and cut, adding seam allowances and extra fabric at the top for adding elastic. Notice that I kept the side seam and bottom hem of this t-shirt – cut down my sewing time for quite a bit and since these are just play shorts I wasn’t looking to make them perfect. You want to copy the backside of the article of clothing, since that piece is typically larger than the front piece. You can trim the front side later.

20090428_0514 3. Repeat on the other side of the t-shirt. You can actually use the first piece you cut as a pattern (Preferable – I didn’t do this, and then I had to trim the two pieces to make them identical).


4. Trim the top front of the shorts a little – you normally want the backside of shorts to be higher than the front.


5. You can see in this photo how the back of shorts (right side of the photo) is taller than the front (left side of Image 4). You may want to trim some of the front edge (left side of Image 4) off as well, to prevent fabric bunching in the front (you need less in the front since in the back it is stretching over your child’s bum). If you do trim the left side, be sure to re-cut the little bit on the bottom left to match the backside.

6. Sew the side seams of Image 4 (done in the photo). I used a zig-zag stitch since this is a knit fabric and the stitching needs to have some give.


7. Open the shorts out the way they were in Image 3, but with the seams on the outside of the fabric. Stitch the crotch seam, again using a zig-zag stitch

8. Cut a length of elastic to fit your child’s waist.

9. Stitch down the top of the shorts, leaving an opening to insert elastic

10. Thread elastic through shorts. If you don’t have a elastic threading tool (not sure what the formal name for that thing is), attaching a safety pin to one end of the elastic works pretty well.

11. Stitch together the ends of the elastic, making sure that the elastic isn’t twisted within the band

12. Finish stitching the waist.

13. Put the shorts on your child and send them out to play.


Johnny loves his new shorts, although he doesn’t share his sister’s zest for modeling.

MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

11 thoughts on “Repurposing clothing: How to turn a shirt into toddler shorts”

  1. Oooh, nifty! I’ve got a bunch of v neck shirts stashed away that got the neckline mangled during the breastfeeding era, so I couldn’t donate them anywhere, thinking I must be able to make something with them. This is perfect, thanks!

  2. Infant Bibliophile

    I’m impressed! I make quilts on my machine, but am totally intimidated by the idea of making clothing. I keep forgetting that you’re in Massachusetts. We just moved from there last year. I miss it.

  3. This is so clever, I love it! Great tutorial, and I’ll be trying it out for sure!

    Johnny is getting to be so big now… wow!

  4. You made this post for me right? =) I will definetly be doing this soon! Johnny is adorable in his new shorts. We have that same booster seat but in green, we just bought it over the weekend for Abram.

    To answer your questions…yes I will post about the diapers I made =), and yes that is our dog, or ONE of our dogs, his name is Blue.

  5. Who knew? We have so many of Hubby’s old shirts that I could do that.. and I was just thinking I would need to stock up on shorts for the summer.

  6. Brilliant! Saves sewing side seams, too! I have to remember this when we are ready to throw out our old Tshirts. Yes, Johnny does look very dapper in his new shorts, and I bet he loves them mostly because his momma made them!

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