Upcycling Adult Sized Sweatshirts/ Sweatpants into a Toddler Sweatshirt – Tutorial

Why hello again!  I know it has been quite a while since my last post, but now that our family is settled in our home after the big cross country move I’m itching to get back to sewing and creating!

Today’s tutorial is one out of necessity for me.  As you already know I have my small ETSY shop and do custom orders for family and friends.  I have ALWAYS had an issue finding nice “blanks” for embroidery- that is blank t-shirts, sweats etc.  Either they take too long to ship, they’re too expensive or they just do NOT have a good selection of colors.  I recently had an order for a friend of mine- two sweatshirts for her toddlers to wear during an upcoming memorial walk/ run honoring a Soldier of hers that was unfortunately KIA (killed in action) in Afghanistan.

I knew that I would have to make the sweatshirts, as I was on a short time line and did not want to use a white or grey blank (with 2 year olds? HA!) I headed over to our local Wal-Mart and picked up the necessary supplies- a womens’ sweatshirt in size small to “upcycle” for the little girl, and a 2XL pair of sweatpants to “upcycle” for the little boy (they did not have a sweatshirt in the color we wanted to use).

I scoured the internet for a tutorial, but without paying for one, I could NOT find an example of how to turn these items into a toddler sweatshirt… so, here is my tutorial!

Header Photo

Find an item of clothing similar to what size and shape you are trying to make the sweatshirts.  In this case, we happened to have a 3T sweatshirt from a recent vacation with Chunky Pants.  I used this sweatshirt and some sewable swedish tracing paper  (best 12 dollars spent EVER) to trace a rough pattern of the back of the sweatshirt and the arm. No judgment on the tracing, ok- I’m not an artist with the pen/pencil, I can tell you that!

Rough Pattern Body

Once you have your main body pattern, it’s time to cut up that sweatshirt/sweatpants!  I like to cut along the seams (with the sweat shirt there are usually NOT side seams- so just cut carefully up each side to the sleeves.)  Then, remove the sleeves from the body of the sweatshirt (again, cutting in the seams) and open them up as well.  Cut the sweatshirt at the shoulder seams as well (as the neck line will have to be resized). You will also want to remove the ribbing from the bottom of the sweatshirt- to reuse again when you shorten the top.photo 3 (3)

Here is what you will be working with, for the sweatshirt upcycle: Two pieces of the main body (with this upcycle I already embroidered the front of the shirt), two sleeves, and the bottom ribbing of the sweatshirt (you will cut this to size and add it on before sewing the shirt together at the side seams. Deconstructed Sleevephoto 1 (5)


For the cutting of the main body, you can see the chalk line in the above photo- I traced the paper pattern onto the front of the sweat shirt and then cut out the pattern- remember, if you’re adding ribbing at the bottom, this will be about 2 inches SHORTER than the pattern you cut out (which has the ribbing waistband) already attached. Again- give yourself some space for your seams at the side and shoulder seams.  About 3/8″ is what I use, since I will be serging/overcast stitching this shirt.  Here is the finished cut out product:Finished body pieces

For the arm there are two ways to get your proper size.  If you are using a sweatshirt to upcycle, you can line your paper pattern up against the bottom of the arm and cut the sleeve from that pattern.  The ribbing will still be attached around the wrist (one less step to deal with) and you will simply attach the arm to the sweatshirt main body.  Here is a photo of THAT example.

photo 1 (3)As you can see, I’m keeping the rib knit on the bottom and cutting the sleeve from that length.  I did make sure to mark WHERE on the sleeve the rib knit is, because if you are upcycling a pair of pants you will need to ADD rib-knit to the end of the sleeve, so your sleeves will be a bit shorter when cut out.  Make sure you leave a little on the side and top for your seam allowance (usually 3/8″).

photo 2 (3)


If you are using PANTS to turn into a sweatshirt, the process will be a little different.  In this case, my pants were large enough to keep the waistband in place and use that as the bottom waistband of the sweatshirt.  I simply cut the pattern for the top and back UPSIDE DOWN (so that the bottom of the pattern was the top of the pants waistband).  For the sleeves, I used one of the already cut out “complete” sleeves from the top as my pattern, but cut the length about 2 inches shorter as I would be reusing the waistband ribbing for cuffs 2 inches long on the sleeves.  For the neckline ribbing, I simply cut the waistband ribbon in half length wise, and then pressed it in half again to give me a nice finished edge.

To attach the neckline ribbing to the shirt, simply pin in place and overcast/ serge the neckline.  Make sure you’re using the proper ball point needles!

photo 4 (3)When you’ve sewn the neckline on,turn it right side up and top stitch about 1/8 of an inch down.  This will help keep the collar in place and also gives it a professional finished look.

Topstitch Collar


Repeat this process with the back collar, and then with the sleeve ribbing as well.  If you’re upcycling the sweatshirt, this is when you would sew on the ribbing to the bottom waistband as well.  From here on out, it is the same process for both upcycles.

Join the front and back together at the shoulder seams (remember, right sides together!).  Then, pin your sleeve in place and serge along the shoulder seam (it is easier to sew an open sleeve than to try one that is already sewn into its shape.

photo 4 (2)


Once you have both sleeves attached, you are ready to sew the body.  Starting from the bottom (ensure you match the waistband up on both sides) sew one continuous line up the body and down the sleeve seam. Repeat on both sides. This is what your sweatshirt will look like after completing this step.

photo 1Now- on to an important step with your overlock/serger- finishing off your serged ends!  It is important to secure the serged ends so that your sweatshirt doesn’t fall apart at the seams… literally!  The method I prefer most is to take a large needle, thread the excess serger end thread through it and run it back up the serged channel.  I then tie a knot at the top to prevent it from coming out in the wash as well!

photo 2Do this with any serged end that could come apart (for me it was both bottom waistband sides, both wristbands, and both shoulder/neckband seams.)  Now trim off any excess threads, turn it right side out and admire your handiwork!!


photo 4 Finished Products

Thanks so much for reading- I hope you enjoyed this tutorial!  As always, if you have any questions or comments- please feel free to contact me!

Happy Sewing!


I’ve linked this tutorial to the “link up” over at www.makeit-loveit.com- head on over and check out all of the other tutorials!!









  1. shantel says:

    Looks good!

    1. Thank you! – stephanie

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