Making Pajamas Out of Scrap Fabric (part two)

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Suburban stockade introductionSo back to Younger Son’s pile of fabric. I dug through all the red and orange scrap looking for the largest pieces. All this fabric had been previously washed; I never store unwashed fabric. I ironed my choices so I could see how large they were. I wanted to make the pants first as they are the single largest garment sections and it helps if they have fewer seams. They tend to hang better and seem less irritating to wear.

I knew going in that I wanted to make two sets of summer pjs for YS. This meant that I had to reserve a large amount of fabric for the second set’s pants rather than use it up for the top of the first set. If you look at the pictures you will notice that each pant leg has a seam below the knee with the second fashion fabric. I did this deliberately to make it look like the pants had a cuff.

scrap fabric pajamas

Each pant leg has a seam below the knee with the second fashion fabric.

You don’t have to do this. YS has since outgrown them, but I once made him a set of summer pjs in which I cut the four leg pieces out of four separate long, narrow pieces of fabric: it just wanted to work out that way. Each one was a different black, gray and white print and he liked them all. The top was made of more variations of black, gray and white, some five separate fashion fabrics, if I recall.

Try not to put the seam at the knee. I have made a vertical seam in pants legs and that works out okay too.

YS wanted Frankenstein pjs so I emphasized the fabric joins. I sewed the strips RIGHT sides together, using a 3/8 seam. Then I overcast the seam, then chose a side to sew it down, running the stitch line down the overcast seam line. I then ran a line of zigzag down each seam. All of this shows on the right side of the fabric, that is, the fashion side. Just in case the variety of fashion fabrics wasn’t chaotic enough, you know?

Younger Son wanted Frankenstein pjs so I emphasized the fabric joins

Younger Son wanted Frankenstein pjs so I emphasized the fabric joins.

The sewn-down, overcast edges remain on the inside of the garment. The overcasting, plus the seam line holding them down and the zigzag row are keeping the seams from raveling in the wash. Pattern companies don’t tell you very much anymore about finishing seams so as to enclose the raw edges. This is a huge flaw in their directions because unless you finish a raw edge properly (and this varies from fabric to fabric) it will unravel, wrinkle, roll itself up, and otherwise make your garment scream badly home-made. I finish every single one of my inside seams, one way or another, and so should you. Finish them as you go as it’s much harder to finish seams when the garment is complete.

This technique uses up a lot of thread so I emptied out all my bobbins that were in the red color family and emptied out all those partial spools of thread as well. My determining factor for thread? I used up first the oldest spools with the least amount of thread on them. This clears out space in your thread box. I did stick with shades of red, no pink, brown or orange.

When I chose my fabrics for the legs, I chose the larger pieces for the upper legs and the smaller pieces for the bottoms. That put the seam lower down which I think will wear better and be less irritating to walk in. I did try to line up the seam lines of the bottom and the top pieces so it looks smoother on the finished pant legs, front and back. You don’t have to do this, and in fact, it makes it easier to lay out with less fabric waste plus the seams are easier to sew over, with less bulk.

As I pieced each section of fabric, I ironed it flat, overcast the seam, ironed it again, sewed down the overcast edge, then ironed it again. More ironing makes the stitching behave better so don’t skip this step. Because I used the largest pieces in the box, I had the full width of the fabric to work with, allowing me to keep the one-way fashion fabric going in the right direction and I was able to stay on grain. Staying on grain makes the pants hang better so it’s worth it to do this.

Once I had the fabric ready, I cut out the pant legs, front and back, and set them aside so they’d be ready for the pj top.

I had less fabric available for the tops and had to use smaller pieces. I searched through the scrap and found pieces large enough to easily cut both yokes, both neck bands, both sleeves, and the back neck facings out of single pieces of cloth. If I had to, I would have pieced the sleeves, using vertical strips, rather than any of the other, smaller garment sections. Since I was using scrap, all these garment sections ended up being made of different fabrics, but I did have enough to mirror them, yoke with yoke, neck band with neck band, and sleeve with sleeve on both pj tops. The facing was another fabric again.

I pieced the front section and the back section of each of the tops, sewing, ironing, overcasting, sewing down, and zigzagging as I went along. When I chose the pieces of fabric, I tried very hard to cut them on grain. I trimmed some pieces into rectangles so they would line up with each other better. As I pieced, I would lay out the growing fabric on the floor, lay on the paper pattern piece and see how much larger it had to get.

Try hard to stay on grain with your sections. The finished garment will fight the wearer if you don’t, trying to twist itself as it wants to, making it uncomfortable to wear.

Once I had all of my sections pieced and cut, I sewed the garment pants and top together just like always, finishing my seams as I went. I always sew in a seam tape loop into the neck facing and the waist seam to indicate which is the back of the garment to the wearer. This doesn’t matter much for shirts but it does for pants and skirts! The front of a pair of pull-on pants looks almost identical to the back but when you put it on, you know if you’re wrong. Forestall this problem with a seam tape loop.

Although the pattern doesn’t call for this, I finish the raw seams at the neck band/yoke with seam tape. It encloses the raw edges nicely. I chose not to do this with the yoke/garment front seam but I have done this in the past in this area.

I finish the raw seams at the neck band/yoke with seam tape.

I finish the raw seams at the neck band/yoke with seam tape.

The pattern also doesn’t call for a slit in the side hems. I add one in, finished with more seam tape to make the garment easier to get on and off and to make it easier to move in.

The pattern also doesn't call for a slit in the side hems. I added one in.

The pattern also doesn’t call for a slit in the side hems. I added one in.

YS is six foot two, eyes of blue, still growing, and as thin as a long drink of water. He likes room so I made him an adult size large, even though he has a 30 inch waist. That means a bit more fabric at his waist than a size small would have given him, but he likes the roominess better in the pants. He may grow into the shirt some, maybe not, but he likes the room.

I’ve used this ‘sew strips of fabric together’ technique many times for pajamas, in light cotton blends, in flannel, and in fleece. It works for all of them and it lets you use up fabric that you already have on hand. It’s thrifty, creative, and unique. It does take significantly more time upfront than driving down to the fabric store and paying out hard cash for six or seven continuous yards of cloth and cutting out the pattern. But every time you do that, besides the money you spent, you end up with a bigger pile of scrap. So use what you’ve already got! This is a great way to do so.