Thursday, April 26, 2012

Paperbag Balloon Shorts Tutorial

This summer is shaping up to be a “tight” one in the way of finances.  We are graduating from school and starting a great job but there is a bit of lag time between the two.  So I decided a way that I could save money while using my creativity was to make Lucy some shorts and skirts for summer out of my collection of thrifted fabrics.

I was really intimidated to do the former but I found a great tutorial here for making a shorts pattern.  The pattern is for some pretty simple boy shorts so I tweaked it to become more girly and stylized for my daughter, Lucy. 

After I perfected the pattern it turned out so cute that I had to share so here they are, the "Paperbag Balloon shorts"!

Step 1
First I made my main pattern piece for the four sides of the short (to learn how to get the shape for this refer to the previously mentioned tutorial).  In measuring for the width of this pattern piece I took Lucy’s waist size, multiplied it by 1.5 and divided that by four.  This gives some volume for the bubbliness. 
 (enjoy my ghetto piece of poster board/pattern piece, Lucy draws on everything;P)

When cutting out the fabric I fold the fabric it in half twice so that I can cut all four pieces at once.

Step 2
After my pieces are cut out I put the pieces together in two sections, the front and back of the shorts.  For each section I put two pattern pieces together with the right sides of the fabric together.  Now I sew a seam down the crotch on both sections.  I used a zigzag stitch to finish off all of my seams since I don’t have a surger.   This should be done to all the seams so that you don’t have any unraveling.   Iron out your seam (this adds to the professional look).

Step 3
Take one of your two newly sewn pieces and make pleats along the waistline.  This will become the front of the short.  To make my pleat I took a pinch from the material four inches away from the crotch and brought it over to the three inch mark since that puts it a about half way out.  You’ll have to figure out how far out that will be for you.  Then I steam iron the pleats (or using a spray bottle of water for extra crispness).

Step 4
Now it’s time to cut out your waistband pieces.  Both pieces should be 5-6 inches in height depending on how dramatic you want your paper bag look at the waist to be. 

The front piece and back pieces are going to have different lengths.  To figure out this length you take the inches across the two pieces you have now sewn together at the top.  The back piece is going to mimic that length since it is going to simply go across it.  The front piece however is going to be two inches less than that length or it’s length with the pleats taken out. 

Now fold both waist-band pieces in half height-wise and iron flat.  Pin the waist band pieces to the shorts, raw edges together.  Make sure that you keep the pleats pinned shut when you do this. 

After sewing the pieces together you’ll need to do another stich on the back waistband.  This stich will need to be ¾” up from your seam.  This will make the casing for the elastic.

Step 5
Now I am ready to move onto sewing the inner leg pieces together.  Taking the front and back pieces with the right sides together I pin the “arch” between what will be the leg holes together.   Sew this seam.  Iron out the waistband seam and this last seam. 

Step 6
Time to put in our elastic and ties.  For your ties you can choose to use whatever kind of tie method that you want.  For these shorts I took an old knit shirt I got thrifted and cut it into three strips.  Then I braided it and made sure to sew the three pieces together on each end, one of the ends in a fan shape.   (for different tie refer to bottom of tutorial on the variations section.)

Take your ties and pin them on both sides of the waistline.

Step 7
Knowing that the front of these shorts are going to stay the same width that they are now, the elastic that goes through the back should be your child’s waistline minus the front width.  For example:  my daughter’s waistline needed to be about twenty inches, the front piece was 11 inches across so the elastic needed to be nine inches (allow for a one inch seam allowances if you want more of a loose fit, I wanted mine to be snug since my daughters pants like to fall down so I didn’t;)

Thread your elastic through your casing and pin on both sides. 

Step 8
Now you can take both sides of your shorts and pin the right sides of the fabric together on both sides of the shorts.  Sew down the sides and finish.  Iron out side seams. 

Step 9
Now you’re going to make the cuffs for your leg holes.  Take the width around your child’s thigh and add five inches for movement.  Then cut out a piece of fabric that is that number in length and 3-4 inches in height.  Fold in half across the length, right sides facing together, then sew with a 3/8” seam along the end.  Fold in this piece like a bias tape and iron crisply.  This will be your cuff. 

Now take your leg openings and do a loose stitch for gathering.  Gather so that the cuff fits inside the leg opening.  Put the cuff in the leg opening while the shorts are right side out, make sure the cuff has both folds showing and sew the gather along one of the folds, as shown. (always sew on over the gather so there is no odd pulling)

After this is done, fold over your cuff to incase the gather, steam iron, then sew along the top. 

Step 10
Your shorts are almost done.  You’ll want to put belt loops on your shorts to keep the ties from getting up over your waistband.  I do this by taking two pieces of fabric about 3 inches in length and 2 inches in height.  I fold in the pieces (as if making  a bias tape) and then fold it over.  Iron this flat so that it doesn’t move.   

Then place above the pleats.  Fold in the bottom and do a stitch across.  Then fold over the top (which should be about ¾ up from the bottom of the waistband).  It’s very simple and shouldn’t budge!

Here are the beautiful shorts in action!  My daughter loves them. 

I made some variations on some of these shorts:

Classy Grey:  For the ties I took a piece of fabric, the same height as the waistband piece but twice as long.  I folded the piece in half height wise, right sides together and sewed a seam, making a tube,  fold so that seam is in the back and sew across the end.  Reverse it to make a long tub with the seam down the back.  Iron flat then top stitch around the three sides of the strip, leaving one side raw.  Do all these steps for the second tie.  Gather on the raw side and pin it in like shown in step 6.

Berry Cute: Instead of doing the paper bag waistline I simply made the waistband half the size.  I made the bow look on the front by making a strip like I made the ties in the above directions but I didn’t finish off either end.  I gathered it in the middle with a gathering stitch and made a little casing to hide it.  I also didn’t make cuffs for these shorts, instead I made my pattern a little smaller so it wasn’t so voluminous and did a normal hem. 

Southwestern Chic:  For these shorts I used the shorter waistband like the above shorts and used a 1 inch black bias tape for the cuffs on the bottom of the pant. 

I hope that this is helpful, it’s my first tutorial so I hope it’s not too confusing.  If you have any questions feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to clarify!  Also, I would love to know if you use it and how it worked out for you!


  1. SO cute! I wouldn't change a THING!!! You NEVER seem to have had an "only-a-mother-could-love" stage in your sewing!!! You just hit the ground RUNNING!! Your MODEL, of course, also makes EVERYTHING look good, so she would save your sewing,even if it wasn't AMAZING!!! You rock!!

  2. I second what your mom said!

  3. Thanks Mom! That means A LOT coming from you! Thanks Sarah!

  4. I meant to comment when you first posted this, but got distracted...just wanted to say that I LOVE LOVE LOVE these! Maddy needs more shorts, and I was just gonna make the boring kid shorts from MADE but I love these so much more - now I just have to decide which fabric to use! I've got some vintage sheets that would probably look really cute.

  5. Cass, you totally should! That would be awesome, I just made a dress for Lucy out of a sheet and it worked beautifully, I need to get more of those. Can't wait to see what you do!

  6. cute shorts. I featured them here: