Thursday, February 11, 2010

Recycle Clothes - Big to Little!

Here's a really fun project for those of you who like to sew, and you don't even have to be very good! I don't consider myself a great seamstress. I just make things up as I go. But I figured out how to make professional quality clothing for children, and it cost me little or nothing. Kids clothes are pretty inexpensive these days at Walmart, but what will we do when there is no Walmart in operation, or any other store? We'll recycle, of course! Besides, this is more fun.

This picture is of Nathan, and he's adorable! He's a teenager now, but he's still adorable! He's wearing a recycled adult's shirt that used to be a women's medium. I don't own a serger and have never attempted to add ribbed cuffs and collars to anything. If you don't know already - a serger is a sewing machine that does a special v-shaped stitch that overcasts the raw edges of material so it won't fray or unravel. They are especially used on stretch knit fabrics because it allows the fabric to still expand. If you look at the hems on your store-bought clothes, you will see serger stitches. My machine just sews a straight stitch.

When you remodel big clothes, the fancy stitching, collars, ribbing, buttons and cuffs are already done for you. You just cut everything down in size, reattach the smaller sleeves, and hem it up. I'll show you how I made both shirts and pants, all from discarded adult shirts. It's fast, easy, very inexpensive, and still has that store-bought factory look.

Nathan's pajamas, in this picture, are entirely recycled. I used a blue thermal top and a pair of white thermal bottoms. His top was made from cutting the original blue top down, and then attaching the legs of the white bottoms, for sleeves. The bottoms are made from the long sleeves of the original top. So in reality, he has legs on his arms, and sleeves on his legs! Then I added some of the white bottoms to the knees to tie the outfit together, and to extend the life of the knees.

Here's how I made the shirts: First of all, if it's a collared top with buttons, the neck has to be small enough. Some polo style shirts have large necks and some are surprisingly small. Children's heads are not a lot smaller than adult's, so the smaller ones work well. In the picture of the pink shirt below, I put the part I cut off the bottom of the shirt, under it so you can see how big the original shirt was. It was originally a men's medium.

You basically just cut out a rectangle around the neck, and then attach sleeves to it. On the red shirt, I marked the sleeve with chalk to show you about how I would cut the sleeve down. Then you just sew it shut under the arm, and attach it to the body. The size will vary, of course, depending on what size shirt you are making. This pink shirt would fit a 2 year old, approximately.

This little IZOD began as a men's large. If the shirt has an insignia on it, it may end up too low or too close to the side. In the pink shirt above, you can see how low the insignia is, but I never bothered to move them. I thought they looked OK.

Next is a pair of pants I made from shirt sleeves with cuffs. The button went on the back of the legs. (One button fell off and I didn't have a matching one at the time to replace it.) When I was uptown with one of my boys and they were wearing these, people would stop me to ask where I got the darling pants! If you aren't sure how to cut them to fit, just take another pair of little pants and lay them out over the sleeve to cut around as a pattern. That way, you'll be sure and have the right shape to allow for extra room in the crotch and the extra depth in the back of the seat. Allow enough additional material for the seams and to fold over the elastic you are going to use in the waist.


Here's the very big shirt I took the sleeves from. It has an exceptionally small neck for such a large shirt, but I didn't use it because of that big pocket on the front. If the material isn't faded, you can remove pockets like that, or just cut right over them as if they weren't there and have a pocket on the bottom of the little shirt. Be creative. They don't have to be cookie-cutter clothing and can really turn out cute. The other one is another shirt I made from a men's medium.

Here's another shot of the shirt in the first picture, and my little model with his farmer bibs on.

And a white one... This was originally a men's small, yet the neck is bigger than most of the others. It was a little bigger than I like, but worked OK.

This next one is a complete outfit I made from one shirt. It's a little bigger than some of the others - like for a 3 to 5 year old. The only thing I added was the navy blue on the top of the pants. The sleeves on this shirt were 3/4 length and they weren't quite long enough, so when I cut out the pant legs, I used the entire sleeve and part of the body of the shirt, attached to each other just the way they were. I just cut right over the seam between the sleeve and body as if it wasn't there. I used all of the material, right up to where I had cut out the square for the top. There still wasn't quite enough material to make the seat deep enough, so I added the navy blue for the waist band in the front, and a little extra in the back. I think it actually added to the look. (Click to see the detail.)

The sleeves on the shirt above were taken from extra material along the bottom of the original shirt, so they have the nice serged stitching on them. The one below is from a men's flannel shirt. Again, the buttons are on the back of the pant legs.

This blue outfit came from one shirt. I did the sleeves differently. I just cut the whole shirt and sleeves out in one piece. The shirt sleeves were wider than I needed for the pant legs, so I cut a strip off going down the arm and narrowed them. The original shirt was quite large.

On this white outfit on the left, I also cut the sleeves and body as all one piece, and of course, used the shirt sleeves for the pant legs. The green patch on the leg was originally on the front of the shirt, just below where I cut it off. I handkerchief hemmed around it and put it on the pant leg to make a matching design.

The soft, baggy sweatshirt on the right made a nice comfy pair of play pants. I took the insignia patch off the shirt and put it on the pant leg. They were just old shirts we had and didn't need and made nice play clothes.

Here's another outfit made from one shirt. The shirt had a design down one arm that matched the design on the body of the shirt, so it made a nice matching pair to have the same design on both the pant leg and the top. After going through 3 little boys, some of them are quite worn!

And finally, here are a couple of warm pants I made. The white ones were from the sleeves of a very thick, heavy sweatshirt. The navy ones are from a pair of knit leg warmers. I just cut them open part way down one side and joined them together. They stretch well enough to fit and made very warm leggings for cold winter days.

These clothes are so simple and quick to make. Most of them were from shirts of ours that we didn't wear or that I got from other people. I went to a thrift store once to look for shirts that might make nice little-people clothes. I got some of the polo shirts there - I picked out the ones with smaller necks - and paid a dollar or two for most of them. Times are tough enough for most of us, that dressing your children for next-to-nothing is a big plus. If you have multiple children that can all take turns wearing the same things, you've really saved big! I know from experience, kids can go through clothes pretty quickly, with knees that wear out, stains that don't come out, and children that grow out!

If you have time, and want to have fun with a little creativity, now is a good time to experiment with things like this. Waiting until we HAVE to rely on our resourcefulness to learn new skills, will just add to the stress of whatever the situation is already. So, happy sewing!


  1. That is great! And what a cute little model!! I've made pants from shirt sleeves a lot but never any shirts. I'm not very good at making them. But making pants are a breeze for me. *shrug* You did a great job with all of the clothing, inspiration to dust off my sewing machine!

  2. You are extremely resourceful! Not that I'm surprised. Just scanning your blog I've thought of a dozen things I want you to come over and show me! It's going to take me forever to read through your older posts, but I'm so interested in everything on there. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Wow! I would never of thought of this!



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