Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wednesday Sewing - Pajama Bottoms

This week we'll learn to use patterns and make a pair of elastic waist band pajama bottoms.  After this project, you'll be able to buy a pattern, find the right size, find needed pattern pieces, layout pattern pieces on fabric, cut pattern pieces out, follow pattern directions, and make an elastic waistband.

If you are new to sewing, check out the post on Your Sewing Machine and my Basic Sewing Tips page.

Big C and I chose Simplicity pattern number 3935 - mainly because it was the only one of several pajamas patterns our fabric store had in stock!  As the number of fabric stores dwindles, finding the pattern you want can be a problem.  If you keep coming up short, another option is to order online.  On McCall's website, you can look at and order McCall's, Butterick, and Vogue patterns.  Simplicity's website carries Simplicity and New Look patterns and also has a free pattern for pajama bottoms.  They  have quite a few sewing tips for beginners.

Fabric stores have thick books showing what patterns the different pattern companies currently have available.  You can sit and browse through them - be sure to bring paper and pencil to write down the ones you like and what page they are on.  Personally, I like to browse through patterns on the pattern companies' websites while at home.  I find it easier to figure out what I want and can copy the patterns, put them in a Word file, and compare them side by side.

After you decide on your pattern and retrieve it from the pattern cabinets (every store does this differently, so it won't help to show you this!), look at the back of the pattern envelope.

At the top of the envelope, suggested fabrics for the pattern are listed.  On this pattern, I would add fleece, since Big C tried fleece out and it worked great, if you like very warm pajamas.  Laundered cotton is listed, an odd term for these days - I consider it to mean softer cottons you can wash and dry in the machine, and cotton interlock, which is stretchy knit material like T-shirts are made from.

Next comes the notions you will need for your project.  Everything needs thread, so that's always listed.  Find the view of the pattern that you are making.  We are making View C and no other notions are listed for us.  Sometimes elastic is listed here, but not on this pattern.

Now, check on your size.  Most patterns these days come in multi-size envelopes, so you just need to know the range.  Size is tricky!  You can take your measurements or go by your store size, but this won't tell you how the pattern will fit.  What I do is get a pattern in the range of what size I think I'll need and then either put the pattern pieces up against me or lay a piece of clothing I like the fit of on the pattern and make adjustments.  Right now, you just need the range so you know you're getting the correct pattern size envelope and for the next section where you find out how much fabric you need.  Both C and I like very loose, baggy pajamas and usually buy the next size up, so we're going with Adult M.

To find out how much fabric you need, find the view you are making.  We're making C Pants, so we move down to that box.  Most fabric comes in either 45 inches or 60 inches wide.  The end of the fabric bolt should have this listed.  Once you know how wide your fabric is, move over to Adult M - my flannel is 45 inches wide so I see I need 2 3/4 yards.  I've been burned before with fabric that shrinks a lot or patterns that don't have good layout instructions plus I quilt and don't mind leftovers, so I'm going to get 3 yards.  C's fleece is 60 inches wide, so she needs 2 3/8 yards.  We'll just round that up to 2 1/2.

In the same box, we also see we need 1 3/8 yards of 1/2 inch elastic.  Elastic comes in packages of precut lengths or on spools where you have the amount you need cut for you.  This might be too much elastic.  Since this is for a waistband, I know I need my waist measurement plus 1 inch, so that's what I'll get.  There are quite a few types of elastic.  If you have a choice, get a softer type that will be more comfortable for sleepwear.

The last section tells us the finished measurements of the garments.  You can use this if you've taken measurements of a pair of pajama bottoms you like the fit of.

Back at home, while your fabric is washing and drying, open up the envelope and take out the instruction sheets.  There is a lot of information on here if you're new to sewing. 

Find the instruction sheet that has the view you are making and the pattern layout.

I have 45 inch wide fabric, so I am going to use the layout circled above.  Notice it says "All Sizes." 

C is using 60 inch wide material.  The layout below the one I'm using is for 60 inch, but it says size XS - she needs to find the layout for 60 inch in size M.

From the above layouts, we see we need patterns pieces 6 and 7 for our pajama bottoms.  Pattern pieces are printed on huge sheets of tissue, usually in no particular order.  Unfold the tissue and search!  Big C gets to do this part.

When you've been successful in finding your pieces, roughly cut them out.  Don't cut on the size lines yet.

At this point, it's a good idea to see if the pattern is about the right size.  You'll have chances to adjust it during sewing, but check it now, also.  There are two ways to do this.  C is comparing a favorite pair of shorts with the pattern and sees that it matches well with the Medium lines.  You can also hold the pattern up to yourself and check the length.  When using either method, be aware that the pattern includes 5/8 inches on each side for the seams and an amount at the bottom (this differs but will be written at the bottom of the pattern piece) for the hem.
Pattern usually have a line halfway up that you can use to lengthen or shorten them with.  I need to take 4 inches off (I guess I'm short!).  I could just cut it off the bottom, but these legs are a little bit tapered and I would be cutting off the tapered part.  Instead, I am going to pinch along the adjustment line and pull the pattern up 2 inches.  Since that will be 2 inches on each side of the adjustment line, this will shorten the pattern piece by 4 inches.

You can mix and match size lines on the pattern to give you a better fit.  In this pattern, there is a tissue insert showing how to do this.

Once you are happy with your pattern piece size, it's time to pin the pieces on your fabric.  Check the layouts and see how to fold your fabric.  Both C and I need the selvages to match - so the piece of fabric will look like it did when it was cut at the store.  Fold your fabric, smooth out any creases, and iron if it is wrinkled.  Find a table, counter, or clean floor space and lay your material out flat.

Lay your pattern pieces on the fabric, just to make sure you have enough room.  If you don't, double check the layout on the pattern instructions.  Only one time have I not been able to fit the pieces on as the layout said.  When that happens, there's not much to do except buy more fabric and send email to the company.  Sometimes I've been able to layout the pieces in a way that is more efficient and gives me left over fabric.

One important note - most fabric has a design that looks the same when viewed from any direction.  If you have a one-way fabric design this is not the case.  The fabric below is one way because all the trees look right side up when facing it.

With one-way fabric, you have to make sure your pattern pieces are pointing the same way.  With the fabric above, if I put the front pattern piece one way and the bottom piece pointing in the other direction, I would end up with upright trees up on one side and upside down trees on the other.

If you have a piece that goes on the fold, you usually want to pin this piece on first.  We don't this time.  C's material has an unusually large area along one of the selvages that tells who made the fabric, so I'm going to have her start there.

If a pattern piece does not go on the fold, it will have a line with arrows in the middle.  This arrow needs to be placed on the "grain" of the fabric - the threads that run the length of the fabric.  The easiest way to do this is to lay your pattern piece where you want it to go and pin down one end of the arrow.  Measure how far that is from the selvage and then pin the other end of the arrow that same distance.  For example, C is measuring 10 1/4 inches at the pinned end of the arrow.  She will next adjust the pattern piece so that the other end of the arrow is also 10 1/4 inches from the selvage.  Add another pin in the middle.

When all your pattern pieces are pinned on, cut your pieces out along the correct size line.

You're going to come across notches.  These come in single, double, and triple varieties!  Notches help you line your fabric up when sewing long seams or putting two pattern pieces together, such as when adding on a bodice or sleeve.  When you get to a notch, cut a matching notch above it.

I like to mark my front pattern pieces in some way - usually with paper clips or safety pins - just as a double check when I'm sewing the pieces together.  This is a good time to do that.

We're ready to sew!

The pattern we're using tells us to first sew the front and back of each leg together at the inner seam - that's the short seam.  With the right sides of the fabric together, match the notches, the top and the bottom and pin.  This is where your notches come in handy.  Always match equal notches - a single to a single, etc.  If you end up trying to match a single to a double, you are pinning the wrong pattern pieces together!

Next, pin and sew the inner seam together, matching notches.  This is the curved seam.

Pin and sew the outer seams together, making sure the right sides of the fabric are together and the notches match.  Warning - and I only say this because I have done it before!  You do not want to sew the long seams from the above photo!  You will need to reposition your fabric so the curved seam you just sewed goes from your belly button around the crotch and up above your rear end.

You should end up with what looks like a very wide waisted pair of pants.  At the waistline, there are four seams.  Press these open and sew from the waistline down the outside of each seam allowance about 1 1/4 inches.  When we put the elastic in, this will keep it from catching at the seam lines.

Now we move on to the waistband.  If you are using fleece, skip this next step.  Any other type of fabric, fold the top edge of the waist down about 1/4 inch and iron in place.

Fold down another 3/4 inch and iron in place.  If you are using fleece, make this a 1 inch fold.

You've just folded down what will be the tube the elastic goes into.  Sew very close to the bottom edge of the tube all the way around the waistband, beginning at one side of a seam and ending at the other side of that same seam.  By doing this, you are leaving an opening for the elastic to go through.

Cut a piece of elastic your waist measurement plus 1 inch.  I do this by measuring the elastic around my waist.  It always turns out too tight when I measure it out any other way - I think I cheat!  Double over the end of the elastic and put in a safety pin.

Insert the safety pin end of your elastic into the opening you left.  Using the safety pin as a "handle", pull the elastic all the way through the tube, evening out your waistband as you go.  Be careful to keep hold of the other end of your elastic!

Overlap the ends of your elastic by 1/2 inch, pin, and sew with a zigzag stitch - go back and forth a couple of times.

Let the elastic fall back into the waistband.  It should look like this:

At this point, try the pajamas on.  If you need to make the elastic tighter, this is the time to do it.  When you're happy with the fit, finish sewing the bottom of the elastic tube, closing the opening.

All that's left to do now is to hem the pajamas.  If you are using fleece, turn the bottoms up 1 inch and iron into place.  Any other fabric, turn the bottoms up 1/4 inch and iron into place.  Turn them up again 1 inch and iron into place.  Sew the hem down at the inner edge.

Time to enjoy your labors!

Big C had long strips of fabric left and made matching hair ties (see very first photo).  She's ready to relax!

Happy Creating!  Deborah


  1. Thank you so much for this excellent tutorial. I took a pj bottom class but forgot a few things later and this really helped.

    At the class we had use of a serger. I was wondering if you've had any problems with fraying if I just make them as pictured above?

  2. I haven't had trouble with flannel or fleece, but if your flannel is a little bit of a looser weave and you're worried about fraying, you can trim your seams to about 1/4 inch and zigzag stitch the edge if you don't have a serger. There are other ways to finish seams, but this is the easiest. I'll have to do a post about this!

  3. Those are really cute....
    check out my blog post on making them without a pattern!

    1. Thanks for the tutorial!

      I'm confused on one thing: on that first time you sew (when sew the inseams of each leg together) do you sew both paper clipped pieces together or do you one paper clipped piece and one not paper clipped piece?

      Hope that makes sense. Thanks!

    2. Hi! I'm not quite sure which step you're looking at, but what you want to do is sew a front piece to a back piece and then the other front piece to the other back piece. I use paper clips to mark the front pattern pieces, so if you had two paper clipped pieces and two without, you would sew a paper clipped piece to one without. Hope that helps!

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