Search This Blog


Thursday, May 5, 2011

The DIY Reversible John John

I've mentioned that I've been doing some wild-eyed, off-the-reservation sewing lately.  When I said that, did you picture a sweet little boy's john john? Probably not. The reason I've felt like a renegade is that this is the first sewing project I've figured out entirely on my own (with the help, of course, of some related projects on the Internet, a lot of trial and error, and my seam ripper). All of this means that what you'll find here may not be the foolproof, time-tested instructions that you would get from an experienced seamstress--but it works. I'm sure because I did it twice; once as a test case and once to take pictures for you--and twice to outfit my baby boy for summer because once he turns two, Jim isn't going to let me dress him like this anymore. (Although, as far as john johns go, I think this is about as masculine as they come. Are you with me?)

Ever since I began making little boys' john johns last summer (see a link to the basic version here), I've been itching to figure out how to make them reversible, and now that I've done that I have to say that I like these so much more than the regular john johns. For one obvious thing, you get two cute looks for your little man out of one piece of clothing--nice for your budget, your washing routine, and your drawers--but it goes way beyond that. Having two layers of cotton makes the entire john john more sturdy and tailored looking, and the inside layer peeks out at the legs and arm holes, which gives the outfit a punch of contrast and makes everything more interesting.

Moreover, in a reversible john john, all of the seams end up between the layers, which means that no one will ever notice my novice stitching AND I don't have the I-am-not-a-sewing-stud-and-don't-have-a-serger fraying seam issues. I also didn't have to deal with preparing facings or applying snap tape, which are the most annoying parts of the basic john john process, in my opinion.  Now, I will admit that snap tape is absent because I couldn't figure out how on earth to use it and make the john john reversible, and there is obviously a way because several fancy clothing companies sell them that way. Honestly, I was proud of myself for getting this far and didn't think I needed to jinx myself. BUT if you know how to do it, please do comment and share your expertise!

Another thing I love about a reversible john john is that it carries infinite creative possibilities. Both of the pieces that I made have a fun pattern on one side with a contrasting solid on the other. The solid is a great place for a machine applique like this sailboat (see instructions for machine applique here), or a monogram, OR you could put complimentary patterns on both sides. On this particular one, I also used two different sets of buttons (the red side has white buttons, the blue side has red), which means that the straps can be used both ways (back over front or front over back), as you can see in the pics.

Thanks to the adorable fabrics that I found at Whipstitch, Little Brother is also a huge fan of his new duds. When he sees this particular one, he points and exclaims "Animal!" (although it sounds more like "aminah!") Appropriately, we conducted our little john john photo shoot at the local duck pond. Can you see the ducklings just in front of him? Little Brother was desperate to pet them and became very upset when they ran away. I tried to explain that baby animals, like mommy, do not appreciate being shrieked at, but it didn't sink in.

The playground was more of a hit.

After holding up to a virtual sea of duck poop and several wet slides, I'm pretty sure that our new reversible john johns are going to be the perfect thing for summer evenings and celebrations. I hope you'll find the same thing! Find the full instructions and a boat load of pics explaining the process below.


1. Your john john pattern will have two pieces, a front and a back. Folding fabric in half, cut two backs and two fronts out of each of your fabrics. In total, you will end up with eight pieces--four in each fabric (in the picture below, each pile contains two pieces). Group the fabrics as you see them here, so that you have four pairs, the fronts in each fabric and the backs in each fabric.

2. Turn pieces so that right sides are facing, and pin each pair along the center seam (the side with the curve on the bottom). Sew all the center seams with a 5/8 seam allowance and press open.

Now you will have four pieces total, two fronts and two backs. This is the time to add an applique or monogram to one of the front sections, if you want. I used the remaining life preserver fabric to make a sailboat applique and sewed it on using this method.

3. Position fronts and backs in like patterns together with right sides facing, as though you were making two separate john johns. Make sure that you line the pieces up along the center seams and at the underarms.

Pin the right side seam of one john john and the left side seam of the other, as shown below.

Now, sew the pinned side seams with a 5/8 inch seam allowance and press open the seams. When you're done, each section will look like this:

4. Open the two john johns along their side seams and position them one on top of the other, right sides facing. Again, make sure that the two pieces align on the sewn side seam, the neck and shoulders, and the crotch.

Pin the bottom of each leg, taking special care to open the two sewn side seams (in the middle). Now, sew along the legs, leaving about 5/8 inch (a seam allowance) of space between the stitching and the raw edge on either side of the john john. To sew (or "hem") the legs, I used a two inch seam allowance--but this totally depends on how long you want your john john and how you drew your pattern.

Note: Until this point, I used red thread for the red pieces and blue for the blue; once you're sewing the two sides together, though, you have to pick one. I found that even a contrasting color didn't matter much because it all ended up between the closed layers. And that's good...look at my ugly stitches!

5. Pin the top of the john john, from one underarm to the other, and sew the pieces together with a 5/8 inch seam allowance. LEAVE A TWO INCH LONG OPEN SPACE ALONG THE NECKLINE ON THE BACK OF THE JOHN JOHN. As before, you also want to leave about one seam allowance (5/8 inch) of space between the side edges and the beginning/ending of your stitch.

See that opening? It's key to this project--don't forget it!

Now, clip the corners and the curves so that you get a nice, even edge up top. 

Also, press the seam at the leg up. This isn't entirely necessary, but will make the finished project so much sleeker because all the excess will be inside the two layers of the john john. 

6. Okay, now it gets exciting. Find that opening you just left in the neckline and use it to flip the whole crazy thing inside out.

Press the whole thing well on both sides, and lay it flat so that you can see how things line up. You'll see that I found a slightly disturbing-looking uneven-ness in the two layers of my john john's crotch.

If you find the same, just use your scissors to even things up.

Now, pin the inside layer of your john john together at the open side seam and the crotch. The right sides of the inner layer should be facing.

Sew with a 5/8 inch seam allowance along the areas you just pinned (side seam and crotch), being very careful to meet the seams you sewed along the underarms and the legs, so that you don't leave funky holes in the corners of your outfit.

Now, to the best of your ability, press those two seams open. 

7.  Find that oh-so-important hole in the neckline and flip the whole thing inside out again. 

This time, it's going to look a little funny. At the top, the layers will be squished inside of one another, and under the arms, the two layers will be laying on top of each other. Don't worry--you're doing it right!

Pin the un-sewn layer along the side seam and the crotch and sew with a 5/8 inch seam allowance. 

If you're like me, at this point you're thinking, "There's about a five percent chance that this is going to be awesome and a ninety-five percent chance that I am about to flip this thing again and end up with a big snowball of sewn fabric that I wasted my afternoon on and I'm going to be really, really mad at this stupid woman with her john john project that she said was easy..." 

And then you're going to flip it inside out one more time (reach up in between those layers to find the hole again) and you're going to start singing. 

Do you see it? Pretty neat, huh? You're not quite done, though. One final burst of energy....

8. The final step is to close the hole. When I made this second john john, I also ended up with a funny little place under the arm where my seams didn't quite meet and a hole resulted. So, pin said funny place and pin the raw edges of your flipping hole inward to mimic the neckline and then topstitch all the way around the top of the john john with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. 

All of that will bring you here. 

And that means that the only thing left is the buttons. Now, I'm not going to instruct you on buttons because that varies by machine and my machine is a little behind when it comes to technology (we specialize in steel over here, not computers). I will say, however, that I intended to sew the buttons on the back strap and put the button holes on the front strap because I prefer that look, and after a glass of red wine, I forgot what I was doing and switched it. So don't necessarily follow my lead. And read your sewing machine manual to figure out how to make a button hole.

And now, super-sewers, you've done it! Flip it in and out a few times just to prove to yourself that you made this wild, flippy thing and then go show it to your family so that they can tell you what a great job you did. And send me a picture! Sewing like this needs to be appreciated.

Happy Summer, friends!

p.s. I've also made a long-legged version of this basic pattern, which I call the DIY Boys Romper. You could easily use exactly the same method to make it reversible.


  1. Love these! I assemble them slightly differently, which makes it easy to add snap tape, if you want:

    Sew both the outer and the lining at side seams. Press open.

    Place right sides together, with the side seams lined up, lining inside the outer fabric--the crotch seam is not sewn at this point, just the side seams.

    Pin around the straps, then stitch all the way around, leaving no opening. Clip curves and corners.

    At the crotch, stitch a 1/4" seam with right sides touching.

    Turn right side out and press like crazy, both at the straps and at the crotch. Apply snap tape to the crotch line, pip/male side on one fabric and pop/female side on the other. The snap tape will be reversible, too!

    Fold under the hem allowance on each leg, on each fabric separately. Make sure they're the same length, with the folded hem allowances touching. Hem from the outside--hem line will be visible.


    I love the fabrics you chose, so glad you were inspired at the shop!

  2. these are too cute -- i'm so impressed!

  3. Deborah, THANK YOU for the fantastic advice! I have another one of these on the docket for my nephew, and I'll use your method and see how it comes out. He's younger, so I know my sister-in-law will be thrilled to have the snap crotch:).

  4. This is such a great tutorial. Thank you for sharing this..:)

  5. Thank you! I can't wait to try this!

  6. Ok I love this tut! I have been racking my brain trying to figure out how to make a Jon Jon w/o having to use snaps in the crotch! Thank you for doing the guess work for me!!! This opens up a new door for me!!!

  7. thank you Elisabeth - and Deborah! My 8 month old needs the snaps, for sure. Now that I can make it reversible, *with snaps*, there'll be no stopping me... :) thanks for the great boy tutorials!!

  8. Elisabeth,

    You may call yourself a novice sewer, but I think you're a genius! I've been sewing for about 30 years, and have a baby boy (I started sewing young, and having babies late!), and I've been trying to figure this out FOREVER! I kept ending up with donuts. Thanks so much.

  9. Thank you you save my life, jajaja I cound not do it before now I am getting better thanks a lot

  10. LOVE this! it was my first boy romper and went so well. Thank you so much!!

    I made this for a 1 year old and just flipped the inseam hems to the inside at the end, stitched them down, and hammered on the snaps.

    Hope it fits him well :-).

  11. I have made one jon jon with this tutorial and three with your original one. I love them all, but the reversible is my favorite. Maybe due to the lack of hemming lol. I HATE hemming! What tricks have you discovered for putting on the buttons? I found if I put them both on in the same place, it is very hard to actually get the button in the button hole (two buttons make it too stiff I think). Did you stagger your buttons?

  12. I just paid $10.00 for a pattern like this only to find it's not put together correctly!!! Thanks so much for this Tute! It will help me do it the right way.