I talked about my love of cloth diapering and my conversion to wool covers as a waterproof layer in one of my latest posts, and now I’d like to share how to save a fortune by making your own wool pants, or longies as they are often called. Store-bought longies can easily run you from $50 to $75 or even more for one pair (!!!), and while these are very cute and stylish, I personally went straight to researching how to make my own. I wanted to have a few pairs each of pants, shorts, and trim covers for my little guy, and that would add up pretty quickly at retail price. So instead I learned from a multitude of tutorials over a course of a few months, and started sewing up my own woollies in all sorts of styles. I’ve now had two years of practice or so, and have made more woollies than I can count or remember, so I’d like to share some of my own designs with you all. Thanks to all the other moms who inspired me over the years, and I hope this tutorial and my future tutorials can inspire some more moms to make some adorable woollies for their little ones! It’s a great feeling to whip up one of these in an afternoon (it really takes under an hour for these pants even with toddler distraction!) and have an item that is adorable, useful, practical, and full of handmade charm and love. And it’s endlessly embellish-able and adaptable to suit your needs and creativity!
It also helps to have a little helper threading the bobbin for you! “Vrmmmm!”
The first part is selecting your sweater. I like to hunt around at Goodwill or any thrift store and I look for 100% wool or cashmere sweaters. These are the best for lanolizing and using as a waterproof diaper cover, although some people say up to 80% wool works as well. Tags that say merino wool are usually softer than ones that just say wool, but just go by feel. I look a little funny rubbing thirty different sweaters on my neck at the thrift store, but that’s my softness testing method since my hands aren’t as sensitive to scratchiness as my neck is. I usually can score a few great quality sweaters for just $3 each, which is an amazing price for such great fabric. A few holes or a shrunken sweater is no problem at all, as it’s best to shrink it anyway!
Next I like to felt my sweaters, which is a fancy word for shrinking in hot water (we all know how to do this, right? I know I’ve done this before by accident). I highly recommend putting each sweater in a separate pillowcase (an old one just in case the colors run- beware of red wools!) and either tying the top shut or securing it with a rubberband or hairband. This keeps a ton of fuzz from clogging up your washer, and this can really mess up your washing machine, so please don’t skip this step! Then you can throw all your bagged-up sweaters in the washing machine, and I usually add an old pair of jeans or some dryer balls if I happen to need to felt those too in order to create more friction in the machine. Then wash with a bit of detergent on a heavy duty cycle on hot, and the heat, soap and agitation will felt your sweaters down into a nice thick fabric. I also recommend being a little selective with your sweaters and not buying ones that are super thick before they’ve been felted, as felting makes them shrink but also get thicker, and you can end up with some unworkable fabric if you’re not careful. But you’ll figure out which wools work best for you, and don’t throw away any scraps or fabrics that don’t come out of the wash looking very usable! I’ll have more posts later on how to use every bit of wool scrap to make dryer balls and other goodies! Oh, and go ahead and dry these in the dryer. They can only shrink so far so they won’t shrink down to nothingness. I like to take them out of the pillowcases to dry them so all the fuzz balls get sucked up in the lint trap, but I don’t know how your dryer will handle all the fuzz. Use your best judgement here but otherwise you’ll be picking a lot of wool fuzzies off your sweaters before you can start.
On to the creations! For this first post I’ll show you how to make super easy pants out of the sleeves of a sweater. Use a sweater that has sleeves long enough after felting to go from your child’s waist to the floor, with an added inch or so at the top for a waistband. I like to make mine extra long and cuff them so they won’t get too short too quick. You can also use the part of the sleeve that goes into the body past the underarm seam, like I did in the pants below. It’ll just make a little V design at the top of the pants. To know where to cut, simply take a pair of pants that fit your child well in the seat area (length not important) and fold them in half along the seam length-wise and lay these on top of your sweater sleeve, like this:
As you can see, I made these a lot longer than the pants I was using as a pattern, to allow for some growing room and because I wanted these pants to be cuffed at the bottom. Be sure to keep the finished edge at the bottom so you don’t have to hem the pants, if the finished edge looks nice to you. Just place the folded pants on the sleeve wherever you’d like according to the inseam measurement you want, then cut the sleeve starting about 1/2 inch above where the crotch is on the pants (always give yourself this 1/2 inch extra for a seam allowance) and follow the curve up to the waistband, making sure you stretch the waistband out on your pattern pants all the way if they have elastic in them so that your waistband isn’t too small. I couldn’t stretch these out and take the picture at the same time, but you’ll see how my cut line has some extra room at the top to account for this. Then, if you want to do an easy elastic waist, give yourself at least an inch on the top to fold over and create the elastic waistband casing later.
Then, cut your other sleeve to match. I usually take my first cut-out sleeve and lay it on top of the other sleeve and use this as a pattern so that they match. Here’s my two legs cut out:
Next we are going to sew the crotch seam- that J-shaped cut we made. Take one pant leg and turn it inside out. Then take the other one that is still right-side-out and tuck it inside the inside-out leg, lining up the raw edges of the crotch seam. Here’s a visual:
So to be clear, you have a right-side-out leg inside an inside-out leg. Then you simply sew that entire curved seam, the one making a U-shape. I have done it from one side to the other in one seam, but I have found that the crotch lines up much nicer if you start in the middle at the crotch and sew one side up to the waist, then turn it and do the other side the same way. Here I am starting in the middle, sewing with a straight stitch first:
And then the other side and here it is, all sewn together:
After sewing both sides of the seam with a straight stitch, I like to go back and seal the raw edges with a wide zig-zag stitch close to the edge. Use a serger if you have one, and send me yours if you don’t use it! 😉 This will add some strength to your seam as well as preventing anything from unravelling. If your pants are super felted and you don’t think there’s any chance of unravelling, it’s up to you if you do this step. I sometimes just do two rows of straight stitch right next to each other, just for the added strength so no seams split. These pants are cashmere so they didn’t felt as tightly as wool does. Here I am zig-zagging the edges:
And here are the pants with the zig-zag finished:
Turn them right-side out and you have something that looks like pants already! Super fast, no?
The waist line probably won’t be super even at this point, so cut them straight across the top to even it out. Cut off as little as possible. I love my ruler and my handy rotary cutter, but scissors work just fine.
Feel free to dip the front down a little lower than the back, like most pants do, although I tend to make mine very high-waisted to protect against wetness wicking up onto my son’s shirt, so I either don’t worry about it or just dip the front down a tiny bit. Either way you want to make sure there’s plenty of room to fit a fluffy cloth-diapered bum in the back!
You now have a few choices for waistbands. You can take a ribbed band from the collar or bottom of a sweater (the same one or a contrasting color) and simply sew it onto the top like so:
I love this way! Just make sure your ribbed waist piece is about 2 inches or so smaller around than your pants waist, depending on the amount of stretch in the fabric. You’ll want a good stretchy ribbed piece, so it’ll almost be like elastic, but it’s trimmer and I think more comfortable, but it won’t hold up as strongly as elastic. I typically use these waistbands for my 2-year-old and have no problem with them slipping down! If you do this waistband, sew the band together first, right sides together, then pin it right-side touching the right side of the pants, with the raw edges aligned, and sew around the raw edges. Sorry I didn’t take pics of that, but if anyone requests I can definitely do it again soon and document it! Let me know.
The other waistband method is to simply turn the pants inside-out, fold down the top about an inch or so (as much as you need to comfortably fit your elastic in – I use 3/4 inch elastic usually), and sew around, leaving about an inch or so gap to thread your elastic through. I used a zig-zag stitch here since my pants are super stretchy, then threaded my elastic through the casing by putting a large pin on one side and pushing it through:
Sew your elastic together, making sure it isn’t twisted anywhere in the casing. I like to make mine about an inch smaller than my son’s waist, but you can measure it onto your child and mark exactly where it feels good to them, too. You won’t see this seam so don’t worry if yours looks as messy as mine, whoopsie! My machine got a little stuck there at the beginning:
After your elastic is sewn together, finish up that hole you left in the waistband seam and there you have it! Super cute pants in two steps!
These I made for my next baby, so they’re much too small for my 2-year-old, but of course he insisted on modeling them:
They actually don’t look too small on him, but he’s pretty slim and only wearing undies under here. They definitely wouldn’t fit with a diaper! But I can’t wait to try them on the new baby, and they are so soft and snuggly!
Send me pics of your wooly creations; I’d love to see them! And remember to lanolize before use and these will be a great waterproof cover to your cloth diapers. See my post about my wool conversion for lanolizing instructions.