Make Wool Long Johns From Old Sweaters

Recycle sweaters into an economical and comfortable set of woolen long johns this winter using our long underwear pattern.
By MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff
January/February 1979

Recycle old wool sweaters into a pair of comfy, economical long Johns using tips from our long underwear pattern!
ILLUSTRATION: ROSEMARY HANKS
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Don't throw away those old wool sweaters! Instead, use our long underwear pattern from Mary Schantz and recycle your old sweaters into custom-tailored winter "woollies."

There is nothing like a pair of old-fashioned wool long Johns to take the bite out of a cold winter day. A layer of wool next to the skin is, even when wet, about the best insulation imaginable. And, since this material has fibers that lift moisture away from the body, a good pair of "woollies" provides ventilation as well as insulation.

In fact, the only problem with yesterday's answer to the cold is today's inflated economy. It's nearly impossible to find a pair of woolen long Johns for under $25, and even the blended cotton or synthetic imitations (which are often anything but warm when they get damp) are not cheap.

So, how can you afford to stay cozy and dry while you work or play in the snow? It's easy; just make your own set of long underwear! Even the most inexperienced seamster or seamstress can custom-tailor a couple of old sweaters into warm, winter long underwear in an hour or so, and the necessary materials shouldn't cost more than a few dollars (if anything at all)! Here's how:

Where There Is Wool, There's a Way

First, you'll have to locate two or three old wool sweaters, one for the top portion of your long Johns, one for the bottom and a third that can be cut up to extend the arms and/or midriff of the other two.

If you don't have any ready-to-be-discarded sweaters around the house, you should be able to find a few in a quick search of a secondhand clothing store or "tag" sale (You can expect to pay a couple of dollars per sweater, if the prices are higher than that, keep on looking!).

Don't let the appearance of your bargains discourage you. Remember, you want to make underwear, so a few moth holes — unless they're big enough to let in the breeze — won't be a problem.

You might, however, be a little bit fussy about the kind of wool used in your "raw materials." Machine-washable wool sweaters have an obvious advantage, and — if your skin is sensitive — a soft wool helps you avoid that "hair shirt" feeling.  

Some Tips On The Tops

The undershirt portion of your woollies will require little (if any) work. Simply select the snuggest-fitting (but still comfortable!) sweater and, if it's too loose to fit comfortably under your clothes, turn the sweater inside out, gather the "extra" material, seam it off on both sides, and then clip away the excess.

Bottoms Up!

Pick a sweater with long, baggy arms to serve as the "legs" of your long Johns. Then put it on (feet first, of course) and you're ready to tailor the long John "bottoms" to fit your own.

Begin by tucking in the sweater neck to take up the excess material in the crotch area and pin the neck closed, from front to back. Then, remove the garment, run a crotch seam along the pinned line, and trim away the extra "seamed" material from the inside.

When the first seam is in and trimmed, repeat the gathering and pinning process, but this time run your crotch seam from right to left and trim away the excess.

If the underwear bags between the waist and crotch, just fold it in, stitch a yoke seam from right to left across the abdomen, and — again — trim it from the inside. You can repeat this procedure on the backside, if necessary, but be sure to leave a little sitting' room

Finally, should you need to tighten the hips and waist, you can run a seam up each side (or one down the middle) and repeat the trimming process.

Need Longer Long Johns?

The sweater-arm "legs" of these long Johns may not be long enough for taller folks. To extend them, just cut off as much length as you need from the sleeves of the third sweater and sew these pieces to the cuffs of the existing legs.

And, if the undershirt won't stay tucked in when you bend or stretch, simply cut the midriff off of the third sweater and stitch it to the waistband of your underwear top.

That's all there is to it. You've got yourself some inexpensive, super-warm long Johns to help ward off the winter winds. Of course, your homemade underwear might look a little funny, but you'll find it a lot easier to laugh when your teeth aren't chattering!


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