[SEWING] DIY Pleated Shorts with Pockets

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted but I’m back with an exciting project! I’ve been sewing quite regularly now after graduating back in May. I’m still working on my craftsmanship as usual but am improving gradually.

The summers in Boston have been pretty brutal because of the humidity so I figured I could whip up something practical and comfortable to wear in the sweltering heat. I never made shorts prior to this project so it was a great learning experience for me in terms of 1. installing an invisible zipper, 2. making pleats, and 3. making invisible pockets.

I also decided to make shorts because most don’t fit my figure, are too short, are too long, are too tight, and so forth. Practical pockets also seem to be an issue for pants in general so in reality this project was born out of frustration with a society that refuses to make shorts that are inclusive of all body types. With that I hope you find this post useful and perhaps inspire your next sewing project!!

For this project you will need:

  • 1 yard of fabric
  • 1 zipper (at least 6+ inches)
  • 0.5 yard of lining fabric (for pockets)
  • measuring tape, ruler
  • pins

Begin by finding a pair of shorts that fit you well. Trace the back and front panel of the shorts onto your fabric. To determine the new width of your panels, divide your waist measurement by 4 and add 2 inches. We will be taking in 2 inches on each panel for the pleats so double check your numbers for this step! You should have four panels in total. If your fabric has a right side AND wrong side make sure the panels are mirrored!!!

As for the length of the panels, you can make this as long as you would like. The leg of my shorts are ~ 2 inches from the crotch and has a total length of ~ 14 inches. Draw out a pattern for the waist band (final width ~ 1.5 inches), belt loops (4) and pockets (4, with lining fabric). Allow ~ 0.25 inches for seam allowance and cut + serge each piece as needed.

Sewing the Shorts

Basic shorts after sewing along the crotch and side seams

Start by sewing the two front panels together along the crotch (but not the leg), right sides together. Repeat this step for the back panels. Join the “legs” of the panels along the crotch and then the side seams to create basic shorts.

Creating Pleats

Pleat tutorial, from left to right

There will be four pleats in total, one on each panel. To create a pleat, mark out the midpoint of the panel. Mark out the 1 inch and 2 inch point from the midpoint for a total of five marks. This will help you align the pleats and keep them uniform.

Fold along one of the one inch marks and align the 2 inch mark with the midpoint mark and sew along the midpoint mark. In this tutorial I only sewed 0.5 inches, but for the front panels sew ~ 1 – 1.5 inches and the back panels ~ 4 – 4.5 inches.

Fold the fabric along the other 1 inch mark so that the stitches from the previous step are still visible. Sew along the pre-existing stitch and be sure to back stitch near the end to secure the pleat.

Repeat these steps for the remaining pleats. Make sure that the final waist measurement is correct. If the waist is still a bit large, take in the waist by tapering the new seam into the original side seam to give the shorts a flared style.

Shorts after creating the pleats. Again, note that the seam along the midpoint marks should be 1 – 1.5 inches for the front panels and 4 – 4.5 inches for the back panels

Adding the Waist Band + Zipper

Seam rip a few inches from the top of the joined back panels to make space for the zipper. Sew the waist band along the waist of the shorts, right sides together. Fold the band in half and topstitch along the top of the waist band. Topstitch the bottom part of the waist band. If you don’t have enough fabric to cut out the whole waist band, you can cut out three separate pieces and sew the long piece on the front panels and the other two on the back. Be sure to join the pieces together before actually attaching it to the waist of the shorts. Seam rip part of the top-stitching where the zipper will be added so the waist band can be folded over the zipper during the next part.

After adding the invisible zipper

To install an invisible zipper, sew along the seam-ripped back to the point where you want the zipper to end. Iron out the zipper and position it so that it begins at the middle of the band (~1.5 in from the waist). Use an appropriate zipper foot to sew the zipper along the edges, making sure that you sew the right side of the zipper onto the right side of the fabric. Fold the waist band and re-stitch the top stitches. Be sure to top stitch vertically/next to the zipper on the waist band for a clean look.

Adding Belt Loops

Belt loops

Fold the serged edges ( 0.25 in) into the center and iron them down. Serge the ends so that they don’t lose their shape while you sew the belt loops onto the waist band. Top stitch along the sides.

Attaching the belt loop onto the waist band

Sew the belt loop onto the waist band, right sides together. Fold the belt loop over and topstitch to help the loop lie flat. Fold the end of the belt loop of the other side and top stitch this part down so that the stitching is aligned with the waist band top stitching.

Finished belt loop

Adding Invisible Pockets

Pocket lining sewn onto the pockets

Sew the pocket lining onto the pockets as shown above. Seam-rip 5 inches on each side seam of the shorts (starting ~ 1 inch from the waist). Backstitch the corners of the opening to secure the hole. Align the right side of the edge of the pocket (the side with pocket lining) to the right side of the pocket opening on the shorts. Sew along this opening, start and ending about 0.25 inches before and after the opening.

One side of the pocket attached at the side seam of the shorts

When you flip the pocket over the pocket should be joined as shown above. Top stitch along the seam you just created. Repeat this for the other side.

After attaching the other side of the pocket, sew the pockets together and trim any excess fabric. Repeat these steps for the other pocket.

The finished invisible pockets

The Final Piece!

The finished pair of shorts

Hopefully at this point you now have a nice pair of shorts that fit you well and have pockets you can actually use. As a finishing touch, I sewed a small dart at the center front of the shorts so that the fold you created aligns with the seam that joins the front panels together. I love the fit and look of these shorts so I’m excited to wear them in the summer. I hope this tutorial is helpful for you! If you have any questions please let me know 🙂

Blog · Projects

My First Costume Commission

I made this blog with the intent to make more knitting related posts, but clearly that hasn’t been happening. I do plan to work on more knitting posts soon so thank you for putting up with my now-I’ll-post-whatever-I-feel-like blog. Anyway, today I wanted to share an exciting sewing project that I worked on back in January!

My mom tried to teach me how to sew a few years back, but actually never finished my training. I embarked on a few “easy” tailoring tasks on some pants and a few shirts, but when it came to actually making clothes…that just never happened. Not until I was ambitious enough to try it on my own (cue nervous laughter).

As the closet costume manager for the ballroom dance team, I take care of copious amounts of sparkly dresses that are worn at competitions. We have costumes that are brought to almost every comp along with a few that don’t live to see the light of day. The dresses that collected dust were the ones that I experimented with.

Long story short, I began to play around with the costume design process which brings me to today, actually getting paid to make costumes from scratch.

My suite-mate wanted to get new vests for her Bollywood dance team, but despite traveling everywhere in India she had no luck. She messaged me over winter break to see if I was interested in making them new vests if she gave me the fabric and embellishments. I was a bit hesitant at first because I never made a vest before, let alone get paid to make four.

Eventually I got on board.

I modeled my vests based off their old vests which looked deceivingly simple to make. I quickly learned how wrong I was after lots of trial and error.

It took a few hours of sewing and seam ripping to settle on a good strategy. Once I finalized my method it became much easier to make multiple vests. I didn’t document the process very much, but below is a general schematic of what I did. As a disclaimer, I am by no means a professional, but just wanted to share my design process:

Diagram of how I made the vests

Each vest is made of six pieces: Two pieces for the back of the vest and two pieces for the left and right front parts of the vest (not really sure what the actual name for the section of the vest is, if there even is one), one using the lining fabric and the other using the main fabric. In my case, I just used the main fabric for both.

After cutting out the pattern on the fabric, I positioned the back pieces so that the right sides are on the inside and sewed along the neck, arm holes, and bottom of the back. I flipped the sewn back pieces inside out and ironed down the edges to keep it flat. You don’t have to do this immediately, but I found the vests easier to work with if they were ironed. It also makes the top-stitching step easier later on. Similarly, I sewed along the neck, arm hole, and bottom of the front parts of the vest with the right sides together and inverted it.

The trickiest part was definitely sewing the left and right front pieces to the back part of the vest. Before sewing the shoulders together, I pinned the back and front shoulders together and began to sew them (starting from the outside edge of the shoulder, beginning of the green line in diagram) such that the sides indicated by the green lines were aligned and sewn. I then continued to sew so that the sides indicated in orange were aligned until I reached the outside edge of the shoulder again.

If you leave part of the seam open at the top of the armhole section (front and back piece), you should be able to do this with some ease. This leaves the section that connects the outside shoulder edge and upper armhole open, but this can be sewn together during the top-stitching part.

I used a similar concept for combining the sides of the vest together. I left about an inch of un-sewn fabric from the bottom of the front and back pieces for this step. I sewed together the sides facing the inside first, starting at the point marked on the diagram and sewing up to the bottom of the arm hole (also making sure that the right sides are together for this step). I continued sewing along the same direction which then closed up the sides that were visible on the vest.

After sewing along those edges, I top-stitched the back of the collar, the neck, and the bottom of the vest as shown in my diagram. This also lets you top-stitch together the remaining parts of the vest that weren’t sewn during the previous steps, including the corners of the vest that were left alone when the sides were sewn together. After finishing the base of the vest, I added embellished borders along the collar.

Despite the material limitations (all the fabric and bands were from India) and supply limitations (I used a flimsy card-stock ruler instead of a real one), I’m pretty satisfied with the way that it turned out! I think I could’ve done an even better job with the craftsmanship (using exact measurements instead of tracing/eyeballing), but overall I was satisfied considering that this was my first time making a vest.

Front view of the gold vest

Incorporating the band was a bit tricky mainly because of the rhinestones. Unfortunately I broke a few needles in the past when I worked with rhinestones, so I made sure that I didn’t make the same mistake with this project. Essentially I lined the V of the vest with the band and continued to line the collar up to the midpoint of the vest. I added a small segment to the end of the extended band to for a more “finished” look.

The red vest was made similarly, except for the fact that I had enough of the decorative band to line the whole vest.

Close up of the decorative border

The decorative band had sequins instead of rhinestones, so sewing them onto the vest was much less pain-staking and time-consuming. Back home I had a much wider arsenal of threads to choose from, so working with a more limited supply was slightly annoying. The closest thread color I had to red was maroon, so the stitches are visible on the red vest. Luckily I had just enough gold thread to finish the gold vests seamlessly.

All of the vests!

I’m pretty pleased with how all of them turned out! In an ideal world I would’ve had more material and supplies to work with, but overall I did the best I could. I had a lot of fun thinking about the construction of the vest and coming up with different ideas on how to decorate the vests with the embellished borders. My craftsmanship is starting to improve, and I think with more projects and practice my work will be one step closer to looking cleaner.

Not too long ago my suite-mate’s dance team had a showcase in April that gave me the chance to see the costumes I made in action. It was incredibly satisfying to see what they looked like on stage and felt very proud of myself. I definitely want to keep sewing in the future and am really glad that I decided to pursue this project. As always, thanks for tuning in and see you next time!