PJ pants should be one of the easiest apparel items to sew:
- few pattern pieces
- loose easy fit
- perfection not required as they not usually seen in public
Every winter season, I read online stories of confusion, seam-ripping, and utter frustration with sewing pjs. This is often caused by pattern instructions that tell you to start by sewing the INSEAMS together, Front to Back, and it’s so easy to confuse the Inseams with the Rises…which can make you question which is the Front and the Back, the Inside and the Outside, and even the Waist from the Hem.
Consequently, people end up stitching left-to-left and right-to-right, attaching the rise to the inseam , sewing inside-to-outside, putting pieces together upside-down, etc. etc. Sometimes patternmakers try to simplify by using a single pattern piece only (connecting the front-to-back by eliminating the side-seam). The problem with this is:
- it makes cutting out difficult since the fabric needs to be cut UN-folded, which requires a very large cutting table
- it results in an extremely baggy fit due to no tapering of the outseam, and leaves no opportunity for alterations in fit
It doesn’t have to be this way! My foolproof method is super-simple. I’ve made hundreds of pajama pants using this method… for my family, for donations to charity, and for last-minute sleep-overs. Yes, my daughter’s friends can decide to stay over, and I can whip up a pair of pj pants faster than they can go home to pack. I’ve taught this method to students in after-school programs for years, with great success.
Over Thanksgiving weekend I taught it to my 6th-grade grand-niece Abby, and she completed her pajama shorts in 2 hours, including cutting, sewing, finishing, and writing down each of the steps for future reference. Want to try it? I will show you step-by-step exactly how to proceed, and at the end I’ll add some tricks that save even more time (when you are in a rush and don’t need a super-perfect pant).
What is the “Secret Ingredient”? Instead of starting with the INSEAMS, I start with the RISES. If you are accustomed to stitching the pant legs in a tube, then putting one tube inside the other to stitch the rise, then this system will look weird at first. But read it through and you will see the advantages:
- you cannot mix up the fabric pieces
- the rises and inseams are topstitched for durability
- the crotch is stitched flat for smooth comfort and added strength against stress and seam-splitting
- fitting and alterations are simple
Why doesn’t everybody sew pants this way? Just like in other garments, it’s not difficult to DO, just trickier to EXPLAIN.
STEP #1: Prepare to Sew
Choose any simple pajama pant pattern with a Front piece and a Back piece (no cuffs, pockets, or separate waistbands…although you can use this process on those later, right now let’s just try a simple pj pant). I’ll be using a basic Kwik-Sew pattern:
Shrink fabric if necessary (especially if using flannel; it shrinks quite a bit in length).
While your fabric is in the washer/dryer, trace and cut out your two pattern pieces and identify the “Front” and “Back” . If you are not accustomed to making pants, it may help to take a pencil and write on each pattern piece:
- out-seam (side seam)
- in-seam (leg seam)
- rise (crotch seam)
- waist (top edge)
- hem (bottom edge)
You can always tell the Front from the Back in a pants pattern by the length of the Rise: it will be longer in the back to accommodate sitting down, and covering the buttocks shape. Any pants pattern without distinct Front and Back pattern pieces will never fit correctly (it will give you “crotch bunch” in front and a “wedgie” in back).
Press fabric, folding lengthwise in half , right sides together (in other words with the “inside out”). This is probably opposite of the way you bought it in the store. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! It will ensure that your pattern pieces don’t get mixed up Front to Back, Left to Right, Waist to Hem.
Place pattern pieces on fabric, taking note of one-way prints. Pin paper to fabric (or use weights) and cut around your pattern pieces. If you DON”T have time to sew right now, then pin the pattern pieces to the fabric until you DO have time.
Step #2: Sew Rises
When you have time to sew, remove paper pattern pieces from fabric, keeping double fabric layers together with “outsides” of fabric touching each other (do NOT pull apart Left piece from Right piece). Now immediately pin Fronts together at Front Rise, and Backs together at Back Rise. Place pins sticking “into” the fabric, so that they can be removed quickly and easily while stitching….NEVER stitch “over” pins!:
If necessary, clip the seam allowance into the curves of the Rises. This may not be needed if the fabric is a loose weave such as flannel:
Clean-finish the edge of Front Rise and Back Rise, either by using zig-zag stitch, or overlock machine, or pinking (zigzag) shears:
Flip fabric over, and top-Stitch the Rise Seams 1/4″ from the seam, securing the seam-allowance in place. This prevents the seam allowances from fraying, while strengthening the seams from fabric-strain when worn.
Now that the Front Rise is stitched (left-to-right), and the Back Rise is stitched (left-to-right), you can’t mess up!
Step #3: Sew Inseams
Place the Front (shorter Rise) on top of the Back (longer Rise), with the “outsides” touching together:
Pin the Front Inseams to the Back Inseams, matching at the crotch:
Straight-stitch the Inseams:
Finish inseam seam allowances with zigzag or overlock stitching or pinking shears:
Flip fabric over, and top-Stitch the inseam 1/4″ from the seam, securing the seam-allowance in place. This secures the seam allowance to prevent it from fraying, while strengthening the seam from fabric-strain when worn:
You now have a flat, comfortable, strong crotch intersection:
Step #4 Side-Seams
Before stitching the side-seams, get a head-start on the leg hems and waist elastic casing while the garment is still “flat”: press edges under 1/4″, and then 1 “:
Pin leg side-seams together, temporarily unfolding leg hems and waist elastic casings.
(NOTE: at this point you can easily check for fit by slipping on the pinned pants …just be sure to first re-pin outseams with pins going parallel to the seam allowance so they won;t poke your wearer . You can now adjust for hip and thigh width and leg length without ever needing to stitch-and-unstitch-and-restitch.)
Straight-stitch side-seams. Finish seam allowances with either zigzag or overlock stitching or pinking shears:
Press side-seam allowances towards back:
Fold hems and waist elastic casings back up, and re-press:
Step #5 Hems
Pin up Hems, straight-stitch close to the edge:
Step #6 Waist
While you “can” use the standard “pull elastic through a tunnel using a safety-pin” method, it’s tedious, and if using flannel it’s frustrating since the brushed fabric does not allow the elastic to glide smoothly. These instructions are for the loop method instead.
Cut 3/4″ wide elastic to the measurement of body waist, minus 10% of the length to make the waistband not-too-loose but not-too-tight. Overlap ends of elastic and stitch into a loop:
Before enclosing the elastic, take a minute to stitch a label, tag, or ribbon-loop at center-back of waist elastic casing area, to identify Back versus Front for easy dressing:
To sew elastic loop into waist casing: Starting at center back of waist, slide the elastic loop under the pressed-down elastic casing, then edge-stitch the casing closed for a few inches:
Continue stitching around the waist, enclosing the elastic under the casing:
When you run out of elastic, stop stitching and pull the elastic, gathering up the casing area and giving you more elastic to work with:
Eventually you will work your way around the entire waistband, coming around to center back again. After finishing stitching the elastic loop into the waist casing, clips threads, then yank the waist elastic to distribute fullness. This method may take getting accustomed to, especially if you’ve been using the safety-pin method for years, but once you get used to it, its much faster and more efficient.
And ta-da! Your pajama pants are finished!
Shortcuts: sometimes you need “down and dirty” sewing methods, and I have some tips on how to speed up making PJ pants. While I would never use these in items to sell (I make “heirloom” hand-me-down-quality apparel for my Etsy shop), I do use them for making quick gifts, or sewing stacks of pjs for donations to shelters.
- No pinning. Flannel “sticks to itself” because of the fuzzy nap (unlike, say, satin), and in factories pins are rarely used: stitchers hold the first end of the fabric pieces together under the machine needle to start stitching, then feed the fabric in, holding the last ends together until stitching is finished.
- When stitching the inseams, a trick to making sure the crotch seams line up is to START sewing at the crotch and go down to the leg hem on one side, then repeat on the other side. If the lengths are slightly off-kilter, it will be at the hems where it’s simple to trim off excess.
- You may be able to eliminate pressing open the Rises and the Inseams: instead simply gently pull Left and Right fabrics apart while topstitching. This is a factory trick: most ready-to-wear these days has far more top-stitching than in vintage clothing, because industry has learned that adding topstitching takes less time than pressing.
- Hem and Waist: instead of folding/pressing twice, you can finish the edges (overlock, etc) and then press under only once.
Please let me now if ANYTHING is confusing here….I want everybody to be able to make quick, cozy pajama pants!
Check out my Pinterest page to save posts of sewing tips and tricks: https://www.pinterest.com/7pinedesign/7-pine-design/