Making Pajamas Out of Scrap Fabric

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Suburban stockade introduction A routine thing that happens when you accept fabric, rather than buying as much as you need, is it comes in odd sizes. This is just as true of new, never-sewn yard-goods as Dumpster-dived tablecloths. What do you do when you don’t have enough scrap fabric, and you can’t get more? You sew it up into larger pieces, and then you cut out your pattern.

When you piece together smaller amounts of fabric, you want to match weight and composition. I’ve done this for shirts (trying my best to hide the joins), for a bathrobe I recently finished and will write about later, and for pajamas. I’ve made many sets of pajamas that I’ve pieced the fabric together, sometimes matching and sometimes not. Matching weights means you sew fleece to fleece, flannel to flannel, and lightweight cotton blends to lightweight cotton blends. Your new fabric won’t hang right if you don’t do this. Matching the fabric means more waste and is harder than just matching similar cloth types.

YS said he was open to bright and colorful combinations. In fact, he wanted wild and crazy. This I could do.

YS said he was open to bright and colorful combinations. In fact, he wanted wild and crazy. This I could do.

Marks Pajamas (56)

Dear Husband has several sets of summer-weight pjs in a dark green. I ran out of whole cloth to cut the third set, but I had plenty of scrap pieces left over from his two sets and Older Son’s two sets. This is a routine hazard of garment sewing: You ALWAYS have pieces left over, in a wide range of sizes and shapes. If the garment you were making had a large pattern repeat that had to be matched, you may well end up with large panels, almost a yard square. If the fabric was a solid color, and you lay it out tight, you’ll end up with smaller strips, frequently very long and narrow ones. What do you do with them? You use them to make quilts or you sew them back together to cut again.

As I said, DH’s summer pjs got made out of dark green so the joins aren’t that obvious. He also wore, with good humor (the best guy in the world!) summer pjs made out of quilting cottons I was given in both Fourth of July patterns and Halloween. In both cases, each separate yard or so of fabric was a DIFFERENT image from all the others. I matched them up as best I could, and used the largest panels so I didn’t do that much piecing within a garment section. DH wore these until they collapsed and is now in said set of dark greens.

This represents half of the scrap fabric we own; the other half is in the closet underneath the basement staircase.

This represents half of the scrap fabric we own; the other half is in the closet underneath the basement staircase.

This did not work with Younger Son’s current two sets of summer weight pjs. I can’t buy material as I have a mountain of it already, most of it in small sections or blowsy florals. (Those pick-up truck loads, remember them?) I had a lot of smaller sections of lightweight cotton blends, all less than two yards, sometimes just a single rectangle of 2 feet by 3 feet in an enormous variety of colors. I don’t want to turn them ALL into quilts, and I need to make pjs. What to do, what to do.

YS said he was open to bright and colorful combinations. In fact, he wanted wild and crazy. This I could do. I dug through all the boxes and pulled out a selection of pieces in various shades of red, omitting the florals. YS was pleased. I turned back to my favorite pajama pattern, Simplicity 3935. I’ve made this plenty of times, and I know exactly how it goes together.

Simplicity 3935 has the advantage of being a pull-over style top that is pieced to make the v-neck. It doesn’t have a facing, instead using bias tape for the back neck edge, but since I hate that kind of finish, I made a back neck facing. You do this by laying out the back pattern piece, tracing over the neck and shoulder line with pattern paper and then giving it a curved bottom. Cut out of the fashion fabric as usual. I do this all the time.

You may notice when looking at the pattern that the picture shows long-sleeved pajamas in fleece. Lightweight cotton blends work up just fine, as does flannel. To make the pajama top short sleeved, trace over the sleeve pattern and draw the bottom edge to the length you want. Add another inch for a hem. Cut, sew, and install the short sleeve just like the pattern tells you for the long sleeve and give it the same kind of hem. Easy.

The other change I’ve made is to the narrow strip that frames the v-neck. I’ve made this pattern a dozen times, and I learned pretty quick that the pattern piece isn’t long enough to sew in easily, even when cut on the bias (like the pattern wants) and you use fleece (which has some stretch). Cut this piece two inches longer (at the neck edge, not the triangle end) when you lay out the cloth, sew it down and trim off the excess. Problem solved.

So all together, including the added back neck facing, this pattern sews together nine separate pieces for the pullover top (left front yoke, right front yoke, neck band left, neck band right, left sleeve, right sleeve, front, back, and back neck facing. The pants are sewn from four pieces, left front, left back, right front, and right back. That is a total of 13 separate, shaped pieces of cloth.

Why does this matter? When you lay out a pattern like the pattern company wants you to, you have waste. You are also, nearly always, laying out a single layer of pattern pieces on a folded over piece of cloth. This gives the impression that you are cutting fewer pieces out, and it means you don’t have to pay attention to the fact that many of these pieces have a right and a left side. The layout takes care of this for you. But the two sleeves you cut out are not the same! One is a right sleeve and the other is a left sleeve.

This may seem obvious until AFTER you realize you forgot to flip the pattern over for the second sleeve and cut out two right sleeves. You discover this when you go to sew it in. You then have two choices. Sew in one sleeve wrong side out (remember that most fabric has a right and a wrong side) OR cut a second sleeve, this time with the pattern piece oriented correctly on the fabric. You do have enough material left over, right? You can’t just sew in the sleeve as it won’t be shaped right to fit the armscye seam. This is also true of pant legs, both the front and the back, and in this pattern’s case, the yoke. The neck band is the only piece in this pattern that is used twice but not as a mirror image.

This is a supremely important fact to remember as when you sew together strips of fabric to make pieces big enough to lay out the paper pattern, you are going to make one piece of fabric at a time, just big enough for the chosen pattern piece, and then you cut out the pattern piece in a single layer. You MUST cut out, reversing the paper pattern as needed, two yokes, left and right, two sleeves, left and right, two pant fronts, left and right, and two pant backs, left and right. Only the neck band can be cut twice without reversing the paper pattern. The front and the back of the top are cut as a single, folded over layer as is the back neck facing.

You can address this issue several ways. You can buy (cheap at 99 cents) several copies of the pattern. Cut out two sleeves, two yokes, two pant fronts, two pant backs, and two neck bands from two copies of the pattern; flip over one set and LABEL it as right or left to distinguish it from the original printing on the pattern tissue. Then take the extra front half and the extra back half, reverse them, and TAPE them together with their other halves along the fold line. You can now cut the front and back out without having to fold the fabric in half. This is very useful as the seams in your pieced fabric can get in the way of the fold-line.

This is, by the way, a very useful technique if you are trying to match plaids as you can see the image on the fashion fabric rather than wondering if you got the fold exactly right and the paper pattern pieces lined up perfectly.

Your second choice is to cut a pattern piece from the fashion fabric, remove the pattern tissue, reverse it, pin it again, and cut the second mirror image section. Mark your cut pieces as you go so you don’t get confused as to which is the right side piece, showing the right side of the fabric. This works fine as long as you don’t lose track of where you were.

Your third choice is to get out your roll of translucent pattern paper and trace out all the pattern pieces that you need duplicates of. This is far more work and can be hard on the back, and if you aren’t careful, you can introduce size errors. This method has the supreme advantage of ensuring that your right and left sides look different; that is, they don’t look like a paper pattern piece that you flipped over. This can be helpful, but it isn’t nearly as easy or quick as buying a second pattern is.

So you now have a complete set of paper pattern pieces ready to cut out of the fashion fabric. But we have to make the fashion fabric! I always cut out the paper pieces first as this gives me a rough idea of how big a piece of fabric I need to sew together.

So how do we do that? Come back next week and find out!