DIY longies from recycled wool sweater sleeves

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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!

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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And then the other side and here it is, all sewn together:

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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:

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And here are the pants with the zig-zag finished:

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Turn them right-side out and you have something that looks like pants already! Super fast, no?

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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!

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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:

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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.

Enjoy crafting!;

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My wool conversion for cloth diapering and why it may be right for you

I absolutely love wool items for babies. Wool is so soft, warm, breathable, comforting and snuggly. I started my wool conversion after a few months of cloth diapering my son. I had been using mainly cotton prefolds and Flip or Econobum covers from Cotton Babies, a local St. Louis company that I highly recommend for any cloth diaper needs. I love Cotton Babies and all their fabulous products, but I also can’t afford more than their cheapest options, one of which is the $1 prefolds, which is super economical. However, the cotton prefolds need a waterproof barrier, and as much as I liked the fit and look of the adorable covers, I started not really loving the PUL fabric after a while. PUL stands for PolyUrethane Laminated, and is a cotton or polyester blend fabric that has been coated with basically a thin layer of plastic on the inner side. (See PUL fabric info for more info.) It’s quite genius, really, and you can find all sorts of adorable prints these days that look just like regular fabric on the outside, yet are totally waterproof on the inside. It’s great for puddlepads on the bed to protect your mattress from wetness as well. I loved the idea, loved the products, and soon had tons of baby supplies with PUL fabric and yearned for more. I thought I would cover the bed, rugs, and couches with the stuff, not to mention my baby’s little cute bottom. I’m somewhat of a clean freak, especially when it comes to wetness. As a California girl, I am still not used to dampness and mold. I love my desert weather after all these years, thank you very much! And damp mattresses… I shudder to even imagine it.

However, after months of using PUL puddle pads and diaper covers, my son started getting diaper rashes. I know diaper rashes are pretty commonplace with babies these days, but I’m not the slather-on-a-medicine-and-call-it-a-day type of person. I knew it was from the PUL fabrics; every time I took off his diaper it radiated heat and the ammonia smell was stifling. Nighttime was especially bad, and sometimes if he filled up a diaper so much it would start to trickle out the sides of the cover and onto the bed. And my son does not stay contained on the small surface of a puddle pad throughout the night. Did I mention how much wet mattresses bother me? It was a nightmare!

I knew there was a better solution out there so I started researching. I found out that most of the world doesn’t use disposable diapers, plastic pants or PUL fabrics to waterproof their babies, as these haven’t been around that long. Most people throughout the centuries have turned to wool as a waterproof layer over simple cotton cloth diapers. The first reaction I had to wool was “hot” and “scratchy.” Not very comfortable on a baby, right? But I soon found out that wool is much more breathable than plastic or polyester, allowing temperatures to regulate and the baby to feel warm in the winter and cool in the summer. And even with a wet diaper against their bottoms, the wool keeps them feeling comfortable, even outside on a chilly day! See wool as a diaper cover for more. And wool doesn’t have to feel scratchy like the sweater your grandma knitted you in the ’80s (sorry, grandma). Merino wool and wool roving and even cashmere can be used, and they’re absolutely luxurious to the touch! Plus, the way to wash wool is super simple; all you’re really doing is adding more lanolin, the oil naturally found in the wool that gets washed or worn out. Lanolin makes the wool softer, and this is what makes it water-repellant, kinda like how ducks oil their feathers so that water rolls off their backs. But instead of the wetness simply rolling off like it does on PUL fabric, and then straight onto my mattress (!!!), wool absorbs up to 40% of it’s weight in liquid while still feeling dry! So it absorbs the run-off, and it’s still clean because of the natural anti-microbial properties of the wool, and all you have to do is air it out a bit between uses. And every month or so, once you smell a bit of the pee-ammonia smell when it’s dry (you can’t smell anything for weeks of use, it’s amazing!), then you put a tiny bit of lanolin in a tub of water and soak them for a while, then let dry and use again for another month! It really is the easiest care ever.

So if I haven’t converted you yet, let me tell you that we have had no diaper rash since switching to wool covers, and no wet mattresses or car seats! What a relief to momma. I have a wool puddle pad on the bed under a thick cotton pad, and he wears a wool cover I knitted him over his nighttime diaper (hemp or bamboo absorb the most), and we’ve added high-waisted wool pajama pants on top of that recently. The only accidents we would have at night was when he would squirm around so much that the wool cover would get pulled down a bit, and if that diaper came into contact with the cotton pajamas at all, they would wick the moisture onto them. So now we double up at night for squirm-proofing! But he never smells like ammonia anymore, he’s never red-bummed or has any rashes whatsoever, and he seems so much more comfortable, even in summer. And his woollies are the cutest ever, which brings me to the fun part of this post!

I started off knitting woollies, and I have made about 20 by now for myself or friends. You can see my Ravelry page for most of them (my user name is amacherie if it doesn’t take you directly to my projects), and see what patterns I use, but I have recently designed my own pattern and will be publishing that on this site soon. Here are some of my favorites:

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After more than a year of slowly knitting adorable woollies, I needed a way to get my fix faster. Plus, it is getting increasingly difficult to knit with a toddler who wants to steal your yarn and pull your needles out of your stitches and then run around the house playing keep-away with you! So I hauled my ancient Singer sewing machine to the shop for a tune-up, headed to Goodwill for some wool sweaters, shrunk them all in the washing machine (we all know how to do that, right? I was already excellent at that part), and sewed up some super fast, absolutely adorable woollies for my little man and some friends as well. And WOW is this the most inexpensive way to go; I can score an XL wool or cashmere sweater at a thrift store for $3 and make at least three woollies out of it! And if you’ve shopped for new or handmade woollies lately, you know how insanely expensive they are. I’m talking $50-$70 for pants (aka longies) and even more for sleep sacks, close to $100! And while these wool creations are gorgeous and some of the handmade items on Etsy can be classified as works of art, I’m a thrifty momma and these are things that are meant to be peed on, after all. Plus, Macklemore would be proud of my thrift store creations. (Video contains expletives. But if you haven’t seen it already I would be very surprised. Excuse me while I go watch it another five times.) Here’s just the tip of the iceberg of my creations, because I can whip these out in no time flat now!

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And here’s my latest: wool sleep sacks for the new baby! Although it looks like I will be making one for Marlon next, as he loves wearing the much-too-small baby one! The green and blue one is cashmere on the top… heavenly soft!

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I just realized when looking through all my photos how much my son doesn’t wear pants! We have done some ECing (elimination communication) and are now going potty pretty regularly, so at home we look like this most of the time:

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This is a knitted wool “EC belt” and a prefold tucked in and it’s great for potty learning as well! We love our sumo-wrestler look.

I’ll be posting tutorials for recycled wool sweater creations like these (reversible) diaper covers, pants, shorts, and sleep sacks shortly! Which styles are your favorite? Anyone else have a love of wool baby items? I’d love to see your creations as well. Comment here or tweet me @laughingfoxcrft and I’ll give you a shout-out! I’m new to Twitter and really all social media, so come see me there and on Pinterest at LaughingFoxCrft!

Have fun crafting!