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Monday, July 26, 2010

The DIY John John

If you are a boys' mom, you know that the options for little boys clothes are a bit limited. You can buy inexpensive clothes with words and graphics printed on them (not my always my fave) or you can pay an arm and a leg for one among the handful of traditional offerings that look masculine enough for a boy. I usually settle for shopping consignment sales and haunting the racks at TJ Maxx. [If any of you out there are looking to start a business, please note that there is a gaping hole in this market!!]  Because my life isn't exactly aligned for an entrepreneurial venture at the moment, I'm trying out a different tactic: do-it-yourself boys clothes. And right now, this style is my favorite accomplishment...the John John.

This style goes by lots of names (confusingly many): romper, coverall, jumpsuit... The most common name, however, comes from John F. Kennedy, Jr., who wore these outfits during his father's presidency. Here in the South, little boys wear smocked or appliqued versions of the John John for dress up. You can add those things to it (I'll discuss appliqueing below; Jim does not allow smocking unless it depicts football, trucks, or other equally masculine things, so it hasn't seemed worthwhile to learn:)). The greatest thing about the John John it is that it is relatively easy to make and will only cost you about $15, if you have sewing supplies and another John John (to use for your pattern) on hand. That's right, about $15...not $60 (or more). This is reason enough to learn to sew, my friends!

There are two parts to the process: making the pattern (which you can use over and over) and constructing the John John. My guess is that, if you worked without stopping (not even close to a reality in my life), it would take you about four hours...IF you're a beginner. If you're a macho-sewista, it will likely take you far less.

Little Brother was so thrilled with his new airplane suit that he decided to take a romp in the yard on Sunday afternoon...and then a test flight down the block. He worked so hard that he thoroughly wrinkled himself and sweated through his clothes. So...hurray! Our creation passed the boy test. And now I'm going to go wash it:).

See the full instructions (including a bajillion pics of the process) after the jump.


Materials a Jon Jon that fits your son/nephew/very lucky little friend
Tracing or freezer paper
Sharp pencil
Fabric – I needed a yard for a size 2T John John
Coordinating thread
Fusible interfacing
Fabric scissors
Sewing machine and basic supplies
Seam ripper (because you will mess up, and you can undo it!)
Two cute buttons for the shoulders
Snap tape for crotch (if desired)
Point turner/seam creaser

1. Fold your pre-existing John John along its center seam and trace the front from the top to the bottom of the side seam, as shown.

2. Refold the John John along the side seams (as you would normally), and place it face down on your paper, lining it up with the lines you’ve traced. Now, trace the side seam from under the arm to the bottom of the garment. Retrace all lines and work out the little bumps.

3. Add 5/8 inch for seam allowance all around your tracing, except the bottom—there add about an inch, so that you can have a nice thick hem. Add seam allowance by placing your ruler perpendicular to the traced line and marking a dot every inch or so. Then connect the dots. Mark this piece “FRONT – cut 2.”

4. Repeat this entire procedure with the back of the garment. Mark it “BACK – cut 2.” Now, mark both pieces with the size of your traced John John so that you can use the pattern over and over. (Disregard the little triangular notches on my pattern and fabric--I was trying something that wasn't worth the time).

5. Make facing pieces by drawing a sloped line from the center seam to a point about 3 inches under the arm on the front and back sections (see pic). Trace these sections onto separate pieces of paper with ONE CHANGE: exclude the 5/8 inch seam allowance on the center seam side, as shown. Your original line on this side will become the fold line for cutting facing pieces.

7. Cut out all pattern pieces and pin them to fabric. Fold your fabric as shown, so that selvages (edges of the fabric) run right down the middle like the crack between a set of double doors (you should iron the fabric first, even though I didn’t). Make sure that the facing pieces are aligned with the folds.

Now cut it all out. Before you put up the scissors, go ahead and pin the two fabric facing pieces to your fusible interfacing (wrong side of fabric should face the bumpy side of the interfacing). Cut interfacing to match the fabric. Now it's time to sew.

8. Pin the two front sections together, right (printed) sides facing, and stitch the center front seam, leaving a 5/8" seam allowance. Pin the two back sections together, right sides facing, and stitch the center back seam. Press the seams open.

9. Pin the front and back together by aligning the pieces at the underarm.

Stitch them together at the side seams, and press the seams open.

Here's what we've got at this point. Look how far we've come!

10. Now, following the instructions on your interfacing, fuse the interfacing to your facing pieces.

(Ahhh...finally a photo with some natural light. I wish it had lasted longer...someone woke up from his nap.)

11. Stitch the side edge of facing sections that is directly under the arms. Continue to use a 5/8 seam allowance.

12. Finish the bottom edge of facing. Previously, I’ve used a zig zag stitch over the edge, but it always ended up messy, or led to sewing machine seizures. This time, I stitched ¼ inch from the edge, then turned fabric under along the seam and re-stitched. Much nicer result.

13. Pin RIGHT side of facing sections to RIGHT side of neck edges, matching the side seams and centers.

Stitch the neck, shoulder, and armhole edges. Before you do, MAKE SURE that the side seams are pressed open inside your John John.

14. Now, clip the curves. Clip a triangle off of the squared edges at the shoulders, and clip little triangles into the seam allowance around all curves. Turn facing to the inside of garment, using point turner to form corners. If it’s puckering on the curves, clip out more. Press.

15. To keep the facing from rolling out of place, stitch facing to garment in the seam under the arm. This is called “stitching in the ditch.” Who knew?

16. On the outside of the John John, sew ¼ inch from the edge around the neck, shoulder, and armhole edges. This is optional—it’s reinforcement for the garment, and a tad decorative, but you could skip it if you’re in a hurry.

17. Make the button holes and attach buttons. For this, you’ve got to use your sewing machine manual because I’m guessing your machine is a ton newer than mine and will do the whole thing for you. (Mine is actually my mom's from 1970 and is awesome, minus some of the shortcuts.) So, just use your disappearing fabric ink pen to mark the buttonhole location and proceed according to your manual's instructions. Then use your pen to mark two dots through the button holes onto the shoulder straps where buttons should be, and sew on buttons by hand.

18. Press up the hem as high as you want; then press the raw edge under ¼ inch. Stitch hem as close as possible to the turned under top section. (I forgot to allow extra fabric for this, so my hem is too short.)

You’re SO close now. Can't you smell the completion?? One more step…we're going to apply the snap tape.

19. First separate the knob and socket halves of the snap tape. Now, with the KNOBS face up on the OUTSIDE front of your garment, pin the knob half of tape 5/8 inch over the raw edge at the crotch. Leave 1/4 inch of the tape on either side. Then turn under tape ends and stitch the inner edge of tape. Now, turn the tape to the INSIDE of garment and stitch the remaining edge and ends in place, as shown below.

20. With SOCKETS face up on the INSIDE of the back of your garment, pin the socket half of tape about 5/8 inch over the raw edge at the crotch. Check to make sure that sockets line up with knobs, and leave 1/4 inch of tape for turning under. Stitch close to the tape's inner edge. Now, turn the tape to the OUTSIDE of garment and stitch remaining edge and ends of tape in place.

AND YOU'VE DONE IT!! You made a precious outfit for your little guy. I don't know about you, but I'd like a margarita now. I might have to chase Little Brother instead.

Enjoy your creation!

A late breaking addition: if you want to add an applique, do so after stitching the center seam in the front section of your John John (just after step 8, above). You can use the same method that I did to make the boys' Super Shirts (except that you won't need two layers of applique--so it will be easier!).



  1. LOVE IT! Great job Elisabeth - this is adorable! I'm inspired!

  2. LOVE it!! Your little boy obvious loves it, too! I linked to your tutorial over at Craft Gossip Sewing:


  3. Oh, I just love this too...the airplanes are super cute. I've been wanting to try a john-john for awhile now. Thanks for the inspiration! Nicole

  4. Oh thank you! I have two little boys but only ever see cute tutorials on sewing dresses and the like. I WANT to make these!!!

  5. oh my goodness this is soo cute! Where were you when I had 4 boys?? :) Now my youngest is a girl but you never know..I may still put one on her!

  6. I'm going to have to bring my sewing machine over there and have you teach me some things! This is so cute.

  7. LOVE this, love it!!! I have a little boy and am ALWAYS looking for preppy, dressier options to make for him!
    We have a linky party on fridays- we'd love it if you'd link to this! :)

  8. I have no idea how I stumbled across your blog - but wow, love it. Just got a sewing machine, was going to use it to do simple things at first. But as I've been searching for some nice Feltman Brothers and Strasborg outfits for my little boy, I'm thinknig I better make my own! Love it. Thanks for taking time to show us how! Do you live near Atlanta? I'll pay you to come show me how!! Seriously!

  9. Hye dear.. can i copy your picture in order to translate it in bahasa(Malaysia)?

  10. Hi! You are welcome to translate this post as long as you link to my blog and the original post in the post you publish. Thanks for asking!

  11. THANKS!! This is so helpful! I found your blog through "B is for Boy", and I am thrilled to have some help with making a johnjohn for my little guy. Your children are precious, by the way!

  12. I just found this tutorial and can't wait to try it out! One question, where did you get the airplane fabric from? I LOVE it!!

  13. Thanks for commenting, Steph! The fabric came from Hancock's--I loved it, too. It was from a collection called City Signature by M'Liss, but doesn't appear to be available anymore. I will tell you, now that I've washed the John John several times, that the fabric quality wasn't great. Here's an alternative idea if you're looking for airplanes: (scroll down to the bottom to see them!)

  14. Love this tutorial!! You are a genius!! I have 4 boys and the little one just got a reversible john john. So easy!! Thanks for your awesomeness!! :) I also made the Big Brother Shorts!! More Awesomeness!!! You Rock!!

  15. Thanks for your sweet comment, Stacy--I'm so glad that you found my blog! I just hopped over to yours and got a huge chuckle out of the title--I'm guessing that you have a LOT of wisdom to pass along about raising little boys. I hope you'll stay in touch!

  16. I love this! I am featuring on my blog today!

  17. I have made one for my littlest guy (I used a store-bought one for a pattern) but this looks easier! I used the hammer-together snaps, since I tend to break needles on snap tape.:) Thanks for a great pattern! I'll be trying it ASAP- it might help me get over my fear of buttonholes. Or maybe I'll wimp out and do snaps on the shoulders. Either way, I think it will be cute!

  18. Hayden LichtenbergJuly 21, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    Thank you so much!! I LOVE Jon Jons, but not the price that usually comes with them. I just finished up an adorable seersucker jon jon for my 18 month old for under $10, and LOVE it! Moving on to a madras one now,and hope to make the big brother mathing shorts too! I have a hard time finding cute (not loud, obnoxious) prints for my boys. Any suggestion as to online stores that you have found to have a good selection?

  19. Hi Hayden! Finding materials for boys clothes is so tricky. One of my favorite brands is Fabric Finders (, which is out of Alabama and typically available in the online shops of small sewing stores. I stopped in at this one on the way to the beach last week for boys' stuff:, and their online collection looks good, too! I also like the new children at play collection from Michael Miller and Ann Kelle's Ready, Set, Go collection (you can find the former at Whipstitch on Etsy, the latter at Fabricworm).

  20. I have 4 boys and saddly the 5 year old is too big for John Johns but my twin 2 year olds and my 10 month old will be adorable in these. I have already made a pattern for the 10 month old's romper by using two different outfits. But my dilemma is that the 2 year olds do not have an existing romper that I can use for the pattern. Do you think that I could lengthen and widen the same pattern that I am using for the 12 month size?

  21. Hi Darah! Sorry for the delay--we've been on vacation. I'd be really careful about adapting the pattern. I tried that last summer in an attempt to make a John John for my nephew and it came out all wrong. I think I'd try first to borrow a 2T romper or pick one up at a consignment store. If that fails, adapt it yourself but make a trial version first in fabric you don't care about so that you can make big changes. It may take two tries, but you're likely to end up with a perfect fit for your twins. BTW, I love hearing about a mom to four boys--I'm sure that you are very loved:)

  22. OMG I love this. I am an amateaur sewer so I just have a few questions.

    1. How many yards of fabric did you need?

    2. What did you use for lining?

    Stephanie Huhn

    1. Also, what type of fabric did you find best for this?

    2. Hi Stephanie, I'm so sorry that it has taken so long to get back with you on this--I've been on a long break from my blog as I've learned to juggle three little ones. For this 2T John John I used a yard of fabric. In general, I think light cottons work well--seersucker or gingham, kona cotton, even heavier quilting cotton. I didn't use a lining--instead I made a facings (see tutorial above) from the same material that I used for the John John itself. Had I used something lighter--like seersucker--I might have lined the whole thing with something slightly heavier (see my Reversible John John tutorial for instruction on that). I've also made a romper version of this from corduroy with facings (no lining) that turned out wonderfully. I hope that helps!

  23. I don't know how I got here lol but love this John John tutorial.I have one problem I am in Australia and don't have the item to copy a pattern off!

  24. Elisabeth (that's how I spell my middle name too!),

    Thank you so much for this post. I just used it to make a white John John as a baptism outfit for my 8 month old! I used linen and it is very lovely (albeit a few mistakes here and there). Probably should have used your reversible instructions to line the whole thing, but I didn't see that til just now. It was a very fun project to do. I just started out sewing and I'm looking forward to doing more.

    Thanks again! Wouldn't have been able to do it without your instructions!

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