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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Basic Boy Shorts (w/ FREE Pattern!)

Around here, a new pair of big boy shorts is enough to make a guy very happy. And when they look super cute and cost only an hour of time and some scraps of old fabric, they make mommy very happy, too. Over the last week, I've made Big Brother three pairs of these little shorts, refining and editing the pattern every time, and I've finally come up with something that I really like. And for the first time, I'm going to share the size 4T pattern with you--for free! Not being a trained (or even experienced) sewist, I'm a little nervous about this move, but I'll trust that you'll give me a little grace if what you download here doesn't strike you as "professional grade."  What I can assure you is that the Basic Boy Shorts will be a fun and uber-cheap addition to your little man's spring/summer wardrobe.

And if my experience means anything at all, he will be huge fan.

We call shorts like these "big boy shorts" because they are a little longer than the shorts Big Brother wore during previous summers, just skimming the top of the knee. They have a nice wide hem at the bottom (so that, theoretically, I could let them down if he grows before summer ends), and a 1.5 inch elastic band at the top, which I find to be stronger and sturdier in look and function than the thinner varieties.

 And they fit well over the cute bum, which is important to mommy even though I rarely see it.

Most importantly to Big Brother, Basic Boy Shorts are fully equipped for action of all kinds.

We had great fun testing their endurance in all sorts of acrobatic endeavors,

as well as a variety of poses. Isn't it fun to have a model to photograph?

What is most significant to me about these shorts, however, is that they are simple to make, requiring only an hour from start to finish (for this novice sewist, anyway). And because the sewing is uncomplicated, they make a perfect project for a beginner.

Are you convinced?  Read on to download the the pattern and to follow the detailed instructions. 

Addendum: if you have any trouble at all downloading the pattern, just shoot me an email at and I'll send you the link directly. 

  • Basic Boy Shorts pattern in size 4T (DOWNLOAD HERE). You can adapt the pattern to fit a smaller or larger child by printing it out and measuring the pieces against a pair of shorts that currently fits your little guy. Make sure to fold the shorts along their center seam and pull the crotch out. Use the folded shorts to make adjustments to the pattern's waist size (top line), width, and inseam (length).
  • 1 and 1/4 yards of cotton fabric (for 4T)
  • Coordinating thread
  • One yard 1.5 inch thick elastic
  • Safety pin
  • Basic sewing supplies
1. Print the Basic Boy Shorts pattern on regular printer paper. Use the numbers on the sections to line the pattern up correctly (once printed, turn the sheets on their sides and line them up vertically). SHEETS SHOULD NOT OVERLAP AT ALL--LINE THEM UP ALONG EDGES AND TAPE. You should have two pattern pieces, one marked "front" and one marked "back." Use these to CUT TWO  front pieces and TWO back pieces from your fabric. Now you should have two little stacks (containing two pieces each) that look like this:

2. Pin like pieces together, right sides facing, and sew front to front and back to back along the center seam, using a 5/8 inch seam allowance. The center seams are those facing inward in the picture above; you'll be sewing all the way down the sides that have the curved line, a "point," and then a short straight line.

Press seams open. Now you should have two pieces, a front and a back, that look like this:

Yes, those are my sneaks in the picture. I have no shame about standing on the table to get a good shot:).

3. Pin the front and back sections together, right sides facing, along the crotch/inseam, and sew with a 5/8 seam allowance. Make very sure that you pin seams open and that you reopen them on the front and back sides as you sew. Press the new seams open.

4. Pin the side seams of shorts together. As you pin, smooth the shorts from the inseam until the front and back lay flat against each other (this may require pulling the crotch out). Sew the side seams with a 5/8 inch seam allowance and press open.

5. Create a casing for the elastic waist. To do this, fold the top of the shorts over 1/2 inch all the way around and  press.

Then fold over another two inches and press.

Now, pin the fold all the way around except for a space approximately two inches wide around the center seam on the back of the shorts. Use colored pins to mark this open space so that you won't sew it!

Using a 1 and 3/4 inch seam allowance, sew the casing all the way around the shorts, excluding the marked space. Helpful hint: my seam guide wouldn't adjust to 1 and 3/4, so I made my own out of cardboard that was lying around. It's really important to get this stitch straight, because it will define the look of the shorts' waist.

Your seam should look like this:

6. Use a pair of shorts or pants that fit your child well to "measure" their waist size (I prefer using shorts to the child himself because it gives you an idea of fit vs. true waist). Pin elastic at the measured waist size, add one inch, and cut.

Attach safety pin to the unpinned end of elastic and use it to guide your elastic through the casing. This will require a bit of pushing and pulling--just make sure the elastic doesn't turn before you get all the way through!

Pin the safety-pinned end of the elastic to the opposite end at your straight pin (that's confusing, see what I mean below).

Use machine to sew the ends of the elastic together, then pull back into the casing.

Fold a scrap of contrasting fabric and press to create a "tag" that distinguishes the back of the shorts from the front.

Pin this tag into the open space in the waist seam, then sew the space shut.

7. Hem the leg openings. I suggest either trying the shorts on your son or measuring them against a favorite pair of shorts to determine the best length for his body. For my pairs, I folded up the legs 1 inch, then 1 and 1/2 inches, and sewed a hem with a 1 inch seam allowance. Obviously, the pattern contains a lot of length, so you have space to make your shorts much longer if needed. Note that my folds didn't match exactly with this pair--that's okay, the only thing that matters is that the seam allowance is the same on both legs.

When sewing the hem, always start in the "ditch" of the inseam. This will prevent the extra thread at your start/end point from showing.

And, once shorts are hemmed, you're DONE! So easy, right?

Turn them inside out to expose the beautiful outside.

Then present them to your thankful son and tell him you need a big hug.

Now, leave a comment and let me know what you thought of the pattern. Was it helpful? Do you like how your shorts turned out? I'm curious, and excited about making these better.

Here's hoping that your big boy is thrilled by his fancy new duds.

Happy Thursday!


  1. Great tutorial! I'm hope to make my son a pair of shorts out of some gingham material I have. I hope it's not too thin. I don't know if I could add a lining. My sewing skills are very basic! Thanks!

  2. thank you for this pattern.
    i just sew one for my girl and boy.

  3. That's great, Ira! I'd love it if you would upload a picture to the GH flickr group ('d love to see a girly version!

  4. How do I download this pattern?

  5. Just click on the "DOWNLOAD HERE" link in the materials section. That will pull up a Google document that you can print or save by clicking on the "file" menu on the top left hand side of page. Enjoy!

  6. I'm looking for a pattern like this in a 6/7??

  7. I love the little boys' shorts from Mini Boden because they have such cool patterns and colors, but I cannot and would not pay $30 for a pair of shorts for a 3 1/2 year-old, especially when that 3 1/2 year old is as hard on his clothes as mine is. Thanks to this pattern, I can make something that satisfies my yen for the unique without imploding my budget. This striving-to-be-frugal mom thanks you!!

  8. Well, haven't started yet but I got involved in a project Little Dresses for Africa and apparently the little boys (and understandably so) are very disappointed to see all the little girls getting wonderful new dresses so the group in which I am involved wanted to start sewing little boys shorts - this looks exactly what I was looking for - excuse me - have to get to my sewing machine! Thanks - I'm sure these will be perfect!

    1. I am going to use this pattern for the same thing as above. I am sewing "little dresses for the world" a similar group started here in Australia.

      I have made 11 dresses in the last couple of weeks, and decided to have a go at shorts for the boys. It was interesting to read the above comment that the boys are envious of the girls new dresses, which confirms my thoughts. I will now make 11 pairs of shorts to keep the balance, before I do any more dresses.
      I made my first pair last night, from a pattern I was given, but not real happy, so I did a search for a free pattern, and came up with yours Elizabeth.
      Thanks so much, it looks great and I will try it out today.

      Bless you for sharing

    2. Me too!! I was looking for something very easy and clearly illustrated in all the steps...your pattern is perfect!!:) Just shared this page with our Pastor's wife who is heading up a group to sew dresses and shorts for shipment to Fiji where we sponsor a missionary family. We have already seen photos of the little girls receiving the dresses...they are so precious!! Thank you so much for this pattern!

  9. Y'all have gotten me so inspired to get working on shorts for my boys for this summer. Thank you! I love the idea that you are going to incorporate this pattern into the Little Dresses for Africa project--what a fantastic idea! Please let me know how they come out.

  10. Hello:
    I printed off the boys shorts pattern and since I am a beginner I thought I would use a scrap piece of material for a trial pair.
    I found when I pinned the front to the back, the back was at least 1" higher. What do I do with the extra length in the back? Do I trim this off or turn it under to match the side seams and then make my casing?

  11. Hi! Make sure that you pin the front to the back along the inseam/crotch first, then the side seams. If you get all the way to step 5 and still have that much difference between front and back, it's fine to cut off the excess before you make a casing.

  12. Super-awesome pattern and instructions! Thank you so much! Making the kids matching outfits for Disney just became much more affordable thanks to you!!! I really appreciate it!!

  13. How can you tell the back from the front? I am not sure exactly where to sew the tag...

  14. What a GREAT pattern with alll the details !!!! Our church group is going to make shorts out of T-Shirts but this pattern is GOOD . Last year our church group made dresses for little girls out of Pillow cases . This is a great web site with all the details Keep up the good work . THANKS!!

  15. Hi! To tell the front from the back, you have to keep up with the pieces you cut from the pattern labelled "back." That can be tricky, so I recommend attaching a colored pin or safety pin to the back pieces as a reminder.

  16. Gonna give this a wee go for my girl. Your wee fella is just gorgeous!

  17. Nice pattern, I put elastic at the bottom too and they make lovely little girl bloomer shorts. Thank you. Keep them coming.

  18. great! haven't actually made them yet but your instructions are great, very easy to fallow. haven't sewn anything in years and just got a new sewing machine. these will be the first thing i make. :)

  19. Hello Elisabeth ~ I came here from another blog to check out your boy shorts pattern/tutorial. She just used the pattern for her own children and they looked great so I had to wander over here since I have Grandchildren that will be needing shorts when they grow to this size and your pattern looks so easy. Thank you so much for this and the great instructions too.

    I am not sure why but the download or printing of your pattern isn't working; at least for me it didn't. I was able to sucessfully get it however by using the 'email to me' option. I've never had that problem before but was very happy the email thing worked as I'd never used that before now.

  20. You did a wonderful job! I make my daughter shorts every year and these days I add a topstitching line to the top of the waistband. That helps ensure that the elastic inside the casing doesn't roll. (got that tip from Liesl, pattern designer of Oliver & S).
    Happy sewing and thanks for sharing!

  21. What a lovely tutorial, it's so clear to follow and your pattern is great. Thank you for taking the time to do this. Kath

  22. Great pattern! I'm making shorts to add to my 50 Samaritans Purse Christmas gift boxes to be sent to children who will otherwise nothing.

  23. Im getting ready to try my first pair!!! Thanks for a wonderful tutorial!!! Im new to sewing & often feel overwhelmed "reading" how to guides but yours with pictures was wonderful even made me smile with the hug beng the last step :-)
    Thanks & God Bless!!

  24. My Grandson needs shorts and I go running around online trying to find a pattern and this one comes up first. Didn't have to go far. Thanks for sharing. I too am a newbie with sewing machines. So I think I can handle this one. I just made 3 of the pillowcase dresses for my Great Niece. Will be making more for the Africa project. If these shorts are as easy as the dresses will make those for the project as well.
    Thanks again

  25. These are great! Thank you! You're so good at taking something complicated and making it easier to understand. Almost done with my first pair. Do you mind if I share them and your site on my facebook page? Thanks again!

  26. Wendy, I'm so glad that the tutorial worked for you! Of course I don't mind your sharing it at all. Thank you for asking! Elisabeth

  27. Thanks for sharing your great pattern. I've adapted it to make some shorts for my little boy. You can see them here...

  28. Adorable, Emy! Thanks for showing me!

  29. I have attempted it 3 times now and for the life of me cannot get the pieces to line up .. the top of the back comes out almost an inch higher and the bottom of the back is an inch shorter :\

  30. @Pamela Ann: If I'm interpreting right, you're saying that once you get all the way through step 4, your front and back pieces aren't lining up at the waist, correct? If so, don't worry--this won't affect how your shorts come out at all. As long as you've already sewn the two pieces together at the inseam and on the sides, go ahead and trim the back piece to match the front and then make the casing as discussed in step 5. It's been such a long time since I used this particular pattern that I can't remember exactly why that's happening, but I do know that you will not jeopardize your result by trimming them to match AT THIS POINT (sewing the inseam and sides first is really important, though). I hope that's helpful!

  31. Twenty-five or more years ago I made these for my boys, back then we called them "jams". I have misplaced my paper pattern which looked alot like the one I printed off of here! Your pics and step-by-step instructions are great, just hope I can remember how to make making for my soon to be 4 year old grandson! I make things for his two sisters (6 & 7), but there is very little you can actually sew for boys! :(

  32. wow, I love these! I don't really know how to sew, but I think I'm going to try them.

  33. Thanks so much for sharing the pattern. I put together a few pairs this past weekend and blogged about them here: . I added cargo pockets to the front, I'll be posting the pattern and directions for the pocket in the next day or two.

    I had a little trouble also with lining things up and length (probably a printer issue?). My solution, because I'd read the comments here first, was to measure the inside leg lengths and make sure I taped the pattern pieces so both the front and back had the same inseam length, then adjusted the rise from there so the total length was the same for the front and back. No problem at all from there.

    Thanks again!

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  35. Thank you! I have finished making a bunch of these and they are cheap, easy, and comfortable. I lined up the two pieces about an inch apart, straight side to straight side, and just cut out one larger piece, on the doubled fabric. Less work to sew and cut, plus an easy way to make them a bit fuller.

  36. really cute, thank you! I'm gonna go make some for my little guy :-)

  37. For some reason I cannot open the pattern =(

  38. Thank you, I used your instructions and pictures to make my little boy a pair of white shorts for his Xmas concert tomorrow.

    1. Oh that's great! Thanks (belatedly) for letting me know!

  39. I am unable to open the pattern :-(

  40. I, too, am unable to open or download the pattern. Please help.

  41. Your instructions were great! I am a volunteer at a community centre affiliated with a church and tonight the class of sewing students is going to make your shorts. Then we are going to send them to an orphanage in Mexico. Thanks for posting the pattern for free and sharing this tutorial. Little boys far away will be blessed with some cute little shorts and teens and adults in Canada are learning to sew using your project! Thanks again.

  42. Cutting fabric...could you clarify the cutting process? I cut pieces to look like the ones pictured (stacked in two piles) but they will not correspond when right sides are together. Should I have cut them out with 2 sheets of fabric RST in the first place?

  43. Hi! You haven't done anything wrong (see previous comments), it just has to do with the way the shorts are sewn. Initially, only worry about lining up the pieces at the inseam, sew along the inseam, then line up the pieces along the sides and sew the sides. Once you get this far, you may have some excess at the waist which you can trim without affecting the final shorts. But don't trim until this point! Fronts and backs of shorts and pants don't ever line up precisely b/c they have to allow for the curve of a little bottom:). I hope that helps!

  44. Thanks for the great pattern! I was searching for one for my almost 4 year old son. These fit him perfectly with some room to grow. I just used 1" non-roll elastic and made the casing just 1.5" with a narrow seam. I also only hemmed the bottom 2" (1" folded twice)-I like shorts that are below the knee. I love the roomy crotch area so they don't split. The rise is excellent, too.

    It's unfortunate some people are having trouble with the pattern-as long as I did it step by step the way you instructed everything matched up for me perfectly. It's easy to tell which is the front and which the back-after sewing all pieces together, lay out the shorts so the waistband is even. The side the comes lower at the crotch point is the back.

    The BEST part of this pattern is the tag idea. Genius! makes it so much easier to tell which side is the back when dressing a squirmy dude. Also looks professional and adds hidden interest. You rock!

  45. Couldn't open the pattern- said it wouldn't fit in a frame? I also am making little dresses for an orphanage in Honduras and can make shorts if I have an easy pattern. Help? Betty

  46. Wearing my stand-ups as I read this! Great post

    Men Cotton Shorts

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  53. Great tutorial. I featured it here:

  54. Thank you for the tutorial, that eactly what I need to sew for my little boy!!
    Unfortunatly I can not download the pattern, could you please tell me what I can do? Thanks

  55. I did everything exactly the way written here, but still my inseams did not match up and the legs were WAY off between front and back when I went to hem it up. How do I trim the bottoms so they are even? Why did it do this? It is incredibly frustrating. I did not have any trouble with extra at the top, but the bottoms did not match in any part, they were angled funny, almost like an x between the two. How do I fix it?

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  57. I can't download the pattern either - any hints?!

  58. Hi ,having problems with the inside legs of the shorts.Did you notice that the back and the front don't match up.Do you just cut off the extra ?