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Cheap and Easy Ways to Stretch The Kids' Wardrobe Another Year

Updated on July 20, 2012

When my daughters were small, I found it quite easy to whip up a new outfit from the fabric remnants purchased at fabric stores. Often the ½ yd length left over at the end of a bolt was sold for pennies compared to the full retail price I would have paid had it been cut specifically for me. In the 1980's, making your own clothes was a much less expensive way to build a new wardrobe. With children, it was even more inexpensive because their clothes required such small amounts of fabric. I remember spending less than $5.00 for fabric remnants and turning them into 3 shirts and 3 pairs of pants for my three year old.

Those days are long over. I began to look for fabric remnants again when I became a grandmother and was shocked to find that remnants are no longer discounted. With the cost of patterns now over $10 and the average cotton fabric running anywhere from $4 to $15 per yard, there's no real savings to be had. Of course, sewing your own clothes means better quality and a sturdier clothing piece that will last. But when it comes to kids, we know how quickly they grow. Consider me cheap if you like, but I was never willing to spend as much for a child's outfit that would only be worn a few months, as I would for something I would wear for a few years.

As my grandchildren got older they became harder on their clothes. Ryder and Aurora are the two oldest girls and only 10 months apart. They share all their clothes which causes problems. Ryder is much more about being pretty and Aurora wants nothing more than to hang upside down from a tree limb. Needless to say, Aurora is always tearing or staining up the shared clothing. Noah is a lover of all makes of vehicles. After two or three wearings, the knees in his pants would be worn through from crawling around on the floor with his miniature cars and trucks. Or, huge holes would appear due to his need to crawl under his tricycle with tools for imaginary repairs. Nikolai is somewhat studious, and spends hours drawing bright colorful illustrations of his favorite cartoon characters. He doesn't own a single shirt or pair of pants that don't have ink or marker stains splashed on the front. Needless to say, the expense to keep them well dressed has been a challenge for my daughter and her husband.

Eventually, favorite clothing pieces that seemed to be ruined were finding their way to Grammy's sewing room. The pile of “can you fix this?” clothing was growing faster than I could sew. Some of the clothing were just beyond salvage, or so I thought, until I decided to start merging them and creating other fashions out of them. Before long, another pile of clothing appeared in the sewing room. This one was clothing deemed too small. These I used for making repairs or creating new fashions out of favorites.

The girls had outgrown a favorite long sleeved red jersey t-shirt with a cute holiday print on the front. Their arms were too long and the bottom was too short to keep their tummy covered. A plain white t-shirt was cut up for repairs and redesigning. I cut the bottom of the white T off (about 5 inches wide) leaving it's hem in tact. After finishing the raw edge of the bottom piece, I stitched it to the bottom of the red shirt to create a layered affect. Using the stitched hemline of the red shirt, I attached the white bottom. This way the red shirt hem rested over the top of the white bottom by about an inch.

I cut two more strips from the white T and gathered each one to add to the ends of the red sleeves. I used the same technique to attach them as I did with the bottoms. The raw edges of the ruffled additions, I hemmed under and used a decorative edging stitch in red thread. I also attached the same type of ruffled strip to the neckline, creating a collar affect. The end result was the look of a long sleeved red shirt over a plain white shirt with ruffled collar and sleeves.

Sometimes jeans are just beyond repair. My son-in-law managed to get battery acid on two pairs of jeans. I couldn't save them for him, but I found a multitude of uses for repairing and creating fashions for his children. One fashion was a flapped closure denim purse. I removed the back pockets and the zipper. Then I cut the legs off and tore out the inseams. Cut as close as possible to the folded edges of the double seam to create a strip from them. From a leg piece, a long rectangle is cut. Stitch one of the pockets to the right side of the top third of the fabric. This portion of the rectangle will be used as the flap closure, so be sure the open end of the pocket is positioned correctly when the flap is folded over the purse. On the opposite end of the rectangle, use a decorative bias tape to finish the edge or sew a narrow hem to finish the edge. The bottom third is folded up onto the rest of the fabric to create the body of the purse and baste into place.

Sew completely around the raw and basted edges of the rectangle using more of the bias tape to cover the raw edges. At this point you will have a length of denim with a folded pocket on one end, and the stitched in place denim pocket at the other end on the opposite side of the fabric.


Now, fold the flap down over the purse and mark the fold. On the wrong side of the denim, sew the strips made from the double seam so they can act as a shoulder strap. Put one end of a strap in the center and sew completely out to the side edge, then do the same with the other. I find it gives more body to the purse and helps it to keep shape when being worn. If you don't like the stitching that shows on the outside of the purse, cover it by sewing a length of the matching bias tape used earlier. Tie the raw ends together in a bulky knot to finish the strap. What Daddy's Girl wouldn't want a purse made from something of Daddy's?

When jeans get holes in the legs, the answer is to patch them. A creative way to do this is to make applique patches to cover the holes. The problem is that patching only the hole or tear makes them look like exactly what they are...patched. Using old sweatshirts for fabric, I cut several different sized hearts in red and pink. After removing the inseam for better control in sewing, I placed the hearts in a cascade pattern beginning at the top of the leg. Using the applique stitch, each heart was sewed into place, some of them overlapping each other. As an added measure, I added a bit of “bling” in the form of small gemstones studded here and there. Sequins and beads can also be used. The same technique was used with a moon and stars, rainbow and clouds.

Tights were another problem. Sometimes the girls became too tall but the tights were still in good shape. Other times, they had torn a hole in the toes or heels. Cable sweater tights are a very easy fix. Cut the feet off of them at the ankle. Using a very close zigzag stitch in a complimentary color, stitch along the edges, stretching the fabric as you go. The finished item becomes a pair of leggings with ruffled hems. If there's a hole in the knee, cut them off at the knee. Use the same zigzag stitch and they can be worn under a short skirt for the layered skirt and shorts look. If there are no holes in the feet, those can also have the cut raw edges ruffled. Just tack on a ribbon bow or novelty button and you've got a pair of socks or slippers. If using for slippers, be sure to use a hot glue gun to place small dots of glue over the sole area to protect against slips and falls. These same techniques can be used for the thinner nylon type tights, but be careful during the stretching process as they can run. These kinds of tights have many cute patterns and make a wonderful addition to an already cute outfit.

For the boys clothes, I made geometric applique patches out of different colored heavy duty fabrics like jeans and twills. These appliques were made to be as wide as the pant leg. After opening up the seams of the legs, I would applique the piece over the entire knee area so that it became part of the pants leg, and then close up the seam.

When Noah's arms became too long for his sweatshirts, it was time to redesign. It was a relatively easy process. Cut the sleeves off about midway between the shoulder and the elbow. Using the cut off sleeves from another non-hoodie sweatshirt, sew the new sleeve in place of the old one. Remove the ribbed cuffs from both sets of sleeves and sew the original cuffs to the newly replaced sleeve. Cut the ribbing from the bottoms of both sweatshirts. Add the desired length of matching shirt to the bottom of the first so it matches the sleeves. Sew the original ribbing back in place.

If you don't have two sweatshirts, no problem. It's easy to find them at thrift shops or use another heavy fabric to insert stripes that will add length. Instead of sewing a different sleeve to the original sweatshirt, add a length of fabric to the raw edge and then sew the rest of the sleeve onto the bottom of the stripe. Do the same thing about ¾ of the way down the length of the body. This adds the necessary length to get another year's wear. I like to make my own “ribbon” from a print fabric to sew over the seems. Car, animal, or sports prints work well to give it that finished, store-bought appearance.

There is no end to the possibilities when it comes to redesigning clothes for kids. All it takes is a little ingenuity and imagination.


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    • Terri Meredith profile imageAUTHOR

      Terri Meredith 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks Pauline! You may be right about my granddaughters being the envy but I found out something I feel is so sad. When the other kids asked them where they got their clothes, they didn't believe my grandkids. They didn't believe anyone could make those kinds of clothes. The art of home sewing is definitely becoming a thing of the past. My own daughters claim not to have the time. The problem is that they have less and less free time because of working, housekeeping, etc. I guess it's just easier to buy something in a few moments compared to spending a few hours to make their own.

      @teggie10: Congratulations on the new little one! You're going to have your hands full. I had daughters who were 20 months apart and then several years later I had my two sons, 26 months apart. It was a little crazy for a couple of years! As for sewing, you'll find more and more things you can do to stretch that clothing budget! Trust me, you'll start coming up with lots of your own ideas....and then you'll have to write about them. :)

      Thanks to both of you for taking time to chat!

    • teggie10 profile image


      6 years ago from Evansville, IN

      Love this!

      I have a 22 month old and soon to be newborn and I can't wait to try out these tricks as they get older. Thank you for the tips!!

    • Pauline Davenport profile image

      Pauline Davenport 

      6 years ago from Isle of Man

      This is brilliant Terri - totally brilliant. I'd like to bet that your granddaughters are the envy of their fashionable friends, You could start a business sewing all those cuts of clothes. I particularly love the way you did the heart decorations.

      I keep all old clothes that have knees worn through, grown out of and the like - jeans are great aren't they? some of the material just doesn't wear out for ever. Definitely going to incorporate some of your ideas. A lovaely well written fascinating hub - thanks


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