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Painless Pajama Pants (“no fail” method)

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:img_0142

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)

capture

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.

img_0139

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.

img_0141


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!:img_0144

Straight-stitch Front Rise and Back Rise:img_0146

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:

img_0147

Clean-finish the edge of Front Rise and Back Rise, either by using zig-zag stitch, or overlock machine, or pinking (zigzag) shears:

img_0148

Press  both Rise seam-allowances to the right:img_0150

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.

img_0151

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:

img_0152

Pin the Front Inseams to the Back Inseams, matching at the crotch (the seam allowances of the  front and back rises should be pressed in opposite directions to reduce bulk, but the seam lines should be matching):

img_0153

Straight-stitch the Inseams:

img_0154

Finish inseam seam allowances with zigzag or overlock stitching or pinking shears:

img_0155

Press the inseam seam allowance towards Back:img_0156

Flip fabric over, and top-stitch the inseam seam-allowance 1/4″ from the seam, securing the seam-allowance in place.  This helps prevent the seam allowance from fraying, while strengthening the seam from fabric-strain when worn:

img_0157

You now have a flat, comfortable, strong crotch intersection:

 

Capture

(Shout out to Abbie: is it clearer now with the stitch lines drawn in? The front rise and back rise seam-allowances are pressed in opposite directions to reduce bulk, but the stitching lines should match up perfectly.)


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 “:

img_0159

img_0160

Pin leg side-seams together, temporarily unfolding leg hems and waist elastic casings.

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(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:

img_0165

 

Press side-seam allowances towards back:

img_0166

Fold hems and waist elastic casings back up, and re-press:

img_0167

Almost finished!


 

Step #5 Hems

Pin up Hems, straight-stitch close to the edge:

img_0169


 

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:

img_0170

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:

img_0171

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:

img_0172

Continue stitching around the waist, enclosing the elastic under the casing:

img_0173

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:

img_0176

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!

img_0180


 

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

pinterest-copy

Check out my Pinterest page to save posts of sewing tips and tricks: https://www.pinterest.com/7pinedesign/7-pine-design/

 

 

42 Comments

  • KathieB

    Well, aren’t you the clever woman! I love making pj pants for myself and folks I love. While I am comfortable keeping my fronts and backs where they should be, your techniques were immediately recognized as just plain brilliant.

    Annnnd, your directions and illustrations are clear. Thank you. These will be printed and stored in my special how to file.

    Happy New Year

    Kathie…a first time visitor to your blog and now a “follower”!

  • Karen

    Thanks for your tutorial.
    I’ve been doing this method for years, minus the pressing and topstitching.
    Any other way seems tedious with too many steps.

  • Theresa in Tucson

    Good points on this. I have a Butterick Lisette pajama pattern that I have fitted to me so I’m going to give this method a try versus using the pattern instructions. Winters require jammies and not nightgowns.

  • Ruth

    I tried this method while making pajama pants yesterday. Thanks for the tutorial – it works great! The finish on the crotch seam is very nice, much better than the standard method.

  • Blacky

    Your page is one of the rare cases where the instructions are clear, logical, precise and complete.
    Thank you!

  • [email protected]

    Yay! Glad it worked for you, and for your friend’s daughter. That’s wonderful that you are teaching the next generation….they’ve long since removed sewing from the school curriculum where I live….

  • Jenny

    I love this method! And will use it from now on. I wish I had seen it before I had to rip out all the seams on the pjs I made for my nephew last night. LOL!

  • Jennie

    So I’m a very beginner sewer and have made these a few times, without a pattern. I have been tracing around a pair of Pj’s that fit the kids, leaving about 1/2” for Sean allowances and an inch or more for hem and waist….my front panels always come out wider than my back and then the waist of the front and back don’t really line up. Any tips for tracing patterns?

  • [email protected]

    Tips for tracing garments: Trace each section separately. For pajama pants, start with the front, and mark the grainlines with straight pins. Place a large sheet of alpha-numeric pattern paper onto a flat surface. Place the garment on top, matching up grainlines with the alpha rows and numeric columns of the paper, and pin through the garment and paper. Trace with a pencil around the edges. Remove the garment and add seam allowances and hem to the pattern piece. Now repeat with the pants back. Technically the front and back “should” line up…but it’s tricky because fabric does shift. If there are discrepancies, then take a tape measure and measure the key fitting points of the front and back of the garment: waist extended, hip width at crotch level, knee width, hem sweep, length from crotch to hem. Make corrections to the paper pattern as needed. If all of this sounds confusing let me know, and I can do a post with photos.

  • Gramma Ginger

    I have always sewn doll clothing like this but don’t wear pjs (strictly a nightie lady). My youngest granddaughters do though so I will have to try it out on some pants for them. Your directions are really good. Thanks!

  • Peggy

    Is there a trick for keeping elastic from twisting inside casing after its been worn a few times? These are wonderful instructions. I’ve never sewn pants so easily! Pattern instructions and pics are often soo confusing. Thankyou!

  • Tammy

    Thank you for this tutorial! I am presently making a pair from a pattern company that is supposed to be simple. NOT. Their directions are lacking! I read through your directions and will now tear out the wonky stitches and do them the easier way! Thank you !

  • Abbie

    Hello,
    Thanks so much for these easy instructions. One question: I have always thought that the crotch intersection, the four pieces were supposed to match up perfectly but I see in your pics that they do not form a perfect intersection. Can you comment or explain the difference? How does this affect the fit? Thanks again!

  • Willo

    Very similar to how I’ve sewn mine, but you have a couple of extra tweaks I will definitely try. Thanks for your post👌🏼

  • Anne

    I’ve wanted to make some new pj bottoms for some time and am so happy I came across your website. Your instructions are great – thank you!

  • Emily

    Super beginner here..I sewed a pillow 15 years ago in home eco class … I got a C. I can understand most of this bc it “seams” simple enough (pun intended:-) but could you do a video?!?

  • [email protected]

    Emily, you’re ahead of me, I never took Home Ec! I loved overseas during junior high school, and so I missed it completely. A video, ah there’s an idea! Honestly I’ve never thought of that BUT my daughter is learning how to make videos for her own tutorials (she’s an artist) so possibly I might learn from her in the future. Meanwhile I hope that you do try this pj method…try on scrap fabric in doll size first until it makes sense. Also it helps when learning to write all over your test fabric: front right, front left, back right, back left….waist, hem, inseam, outseam, just get a Sharpie and write all over the place, and then put the pieces together and sew. Best of luck!

  • [email protected]t.net

    I’m glad to hear this method is not totally foreign! Sometimes when I teach this sequence-of-stitching people think it can’t work, because it’s different from what the big pattern companies use. Happy Sewing!

  • [email protected]

    Hi Abbie, thanks for the comment, I can see now how it appears that the intersection is off…I’ve updated the bog with a more clear (hopefully!) picture (I drew in the stitch lines on top of the photo). Please let me know if it’s still confusing, thanks so much!

  • [email protected]

    Hi Peggy! Two ideas: first, the type of elastic makes a big difference. Look for “non-roll” elastic, it tends to keep its shape better in casings. Second, try stitching through the waistband at the side-seams: just “stitch in the ditch” along the seamline. Hopefully that will help solve the annoying twisting!

  • Steph

    What a cool Mumma you are to sew pjs for your daughter’s friends for a sleepover! I have recently rediscovered sewing after a loooong break, and I’m having a ball! I used to sew clothes for my girls many years ago, and pulled out my sewing machine again to recover a nursing chair for my eldest daughter who just had her first baby (yes, I’m now a GRANDMA!!! 😁😁😁). The chair turned out very well, and I’m feeling inspired. I can’t wait to try out your technique for pjs to once again sew for my girls, and for my gorgeous new granddaughter Ava😊

  • Chin Lyn

    Thank you for your detail instructions. I’d love to start making pyjama pants for my child. Can you recommend a pattern for a 12-14 year old or how I can change the pattern for an older child. Much appreciated.

    Chin-Lyn

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