DIY adjustable waist toddler pants

Apr 15, 2016

My Squeaker is a tiny little guy. Always has been. We are very familiar with the zero-to-tenth percentile part of the CDC growth curve. He’s over 20 months old now, and he only recently started wearing 12-to-18 month clothes.

Despite finally moving into 18 month sizes, the waist on most of his pants is a joke. I feel bad for him. It must suck to run around all day feeling like your pants are going to fall down.

So what’s a mom to do? You know me: Type A personality. Time for a PLAN.

Plan A: Buy Adjustable Waist in Everything

This is the awesome waistband with buttonhole elastic and buttons, so you can bring them in for a skinny kid and let it out as they get bigger. But only khakis, dressy pants, and jeans come in an adjustable waist. Not practical for the entire wardrobe. Next idea.

Plan B: Buy Drawstring Waist in Everything

When you’re shopping, it looks at first glance like this is the jackpot. Tons of comfy toddler pants have drawstrings! Just look at this screen shot from Children’s Place:

Children's Place Toddler Pants

Guess what? Those aren’t drawstrings. They’re FAUX drawstrings. Thanks, Children’s Place. You can go faux yourself. I need real drawstrings, not fake thankyouverymuch.

Plan C: Roll Down the Waist and Hope for the Best

Squeak is so skinny this hardly ever works. It must suck to go through life feeling like your pants are going to fall down. Even more so because the only job a toddler has is PLAYING. Crawl, climb, run, jump, spin, and repeat. Pause to pull your pants up (in Squeak’s case, it’s ‘cry until someone pulls your pants up for you.’).

Plan D: Pull Out the Elastic and Fold it Over

This involves cutting the waistband, using a seam ripper to free the elastic from the waist, and folding it over on itself. Then you throw a few stitches in it, tuck it back into the waistband and off you go. It’s not easy or quick. Now his pants have a big deformed lump next to the back seam. Plus, the damage of this method is difficult to undo later.

Plan E: Add My Own Adjustable Waist

This is what I did, and I’ve gotta say, it’s working beautifully so far. I’m not even good at sewing, and I still figured this out, so you can too.

Here’s what you’ll need. I needed to buy only the first 3 items, so I paid about $18 total:

  • 3/4″ buttonhole elastic ($7 on Amazon)
  • Fray Check ($5.00 on Amazon when I bought it)
  • Buttons (I bought buttons on Amazon, but maybe you’re cool enough to have some on hand)
  • Needle and thread (you’ll want thread in the same color as what you’re sewing, so it’s not as visible)
  • Seam ripper (tiny scissors just won’t cut it; this best-seller is $5.00 on Amazon)
  • Scissors (for cutting thread)
  • A crochet hook ($2) or latch hook ($5)

My subject: a pair of Target shorts I bought for Squeak last weekend. Most of these photos will enlarge when you click them, if you want to see the details.



Roll the waistband down so it’s easier to get at while you work.

Step 1: Cut a slit in the back of the waistband about 1″-1.5″ away from the side seams.

For this particular pair of shorts, I needed to cut through the middle thread. I had to rip that thread out (which you’ll see later) so the elastic could fit through the channel in the waistband.


Step 2: Fold the pants so the two side seams are touching. Then cut an identical slit on the other side.


Step 3: Dab some Fray Check on the edges of the fabric; let dry 15-30 minutes.

I used little bits of cereal box cardboard to keep the goop from getting on the fabric below it.

I used little bits of cereal box cardboard to keep the goop from getting on the fabric below it.

Step 4: Cut a length of buttonhole elastic just wider than the length between the two slits.

Set it aside; you’ll need it in a bit.


Step 5: Rip out any seams that will impede your elastic from going through the channel in the waistband.

These shorts had a seam sewn that would make slipping the elastic through really difficult. So I used my seam ripper to remove it between the two slits.



Voila! No more seam:


Use your crochet hook or latch hook and snake it through the channel between the slits. Make sure you can cleanly pass the elastic through, and if you can’t, use your seam ripper to remove thread/seams until you can. I usually have to tear out a few stitches above the tag, but every pair of pants/shorts will vary a bit.

Step 6: Sew buttons halfway between the slits and the side seams.

I’m embarrassed to admit I never really bothered to learn the right way to sew on a button. So I found this button-sewing tutorial enlightening. It’s written for a dude, so you know it’s idiot proof. 😉

It’s best to use thread that blends in with your fabric, since the stitches will be visible on the outside of the waistband.



Step 7: Pull the elastic through the channel.

Here’s how I like to do it: button the right side of your buttonhole elastic to the button you sewed. Insert your crochet or latch hook into the left-hand slit until it comes out the right slit. Grab your buttonhole elastic with the hook and pull it through.




Step 8: Adjust as needed for your scrawny kid.



When I put the pants on Squeak this morning, they looked perfectly normal.  Happy kid, happy mom!

This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click the links and buy something, I get a teeny weeny bit of cash money. Thanks, friends! 

About Me

Hiya! I'm Lydia. I live in Iowa with my husband and two children, both the result of iVF. I started this blog in 2011, so everything here's a wee bit... old. I don't do a ton of writing anymore... but I'm leaving the blog up, in case it's helpful for those who stumble across it.

Skip to the iVF

If you're going through infertility and want to see our journey, start in June 2011 (first two cycles) or January 2014 (third cycle). Hopefully reading about our rollercoaster with assisted reproduction brings you a little hope, and more than a few giggles. (Keep in mind that this information is over a decade old in most cases; please don't take anything you read here as medical advice. Consult your doctor for facts.)

Affiliate Disclosure is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the TGuard affiliate program. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


  1. This tutorial was perfect – thanks!

  2. Brilliant!!
    I’m not exaggerating when I say this post has changed my life… I no longer have to ask my mother-in law to adjust my son shorts/trousers while admitting that I have no sewing ability!!
    Yeah – dignity restored!!!

    • Aww, thanks I’m so glad it’s been helpful to you! 🙂

  3. Your blog is so cute and funny! I love your bit by bit instructions! You explain things so well that I never question what I’m doing! I like how you have side remarks (made by a dude) which make all the difference in attempting the tutorial. Keep up the good work! My child is like your squeak and has a tiny waist. I have been doing side snip sewing and back snip sewing but this is even better! Thanks again!

    • Thank you, NB! I appreciate your kind words. 🙂 Glad the blog is helpful for your tiny-waisted-one!

  4. This is so awesome. My twin 6 year old boys are tall but scrawny. Thank you so much for this step by step tutorial!!! God bless you.

    • You’re very welcome!

  5. Thank you for sharing this. I need to make the elastic waistband on several pairs of my jeans smaller and I think this method may work!

    • I’m so happy this is helpful for you!

  6. Love this so much. Your instructions are easy to follow!! I’m excited to try this for my daughters pants. I have no sewing experience but this leaves me feeling very empowered to go for it 🙂

  7. Super understandable!! Thank you for sharing!! Your ‘faux’ comment made my day!!

    • Why, thank you! I’m glad my twisted sense of humor brought you some laughter. 🙂 Good luck with your adjustable waist project!

  8. Thank you for this tutorial! Both of my children are skinny and I just purchased a bunch of $2 dollar baby pants on clearance, but the waist bands are far too wide for my child. Problem solved thanks to you!


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