How to Sew Shorts & a Matching a Tote Using an Old Beach Towel

Jessica Shaw
by Jessica Shaw
10 Materials
30 Minutes

Today, I’m going to show you how to sew shorts and a matching tote bag by doing a really fun upcycle on an old beach towel. This is the ultimate summer DIY project. Let’s get started!

This post was transcribed by a member of the Upstyle editorial team from the original UpstyleTV episode.

Tools and materials:

  • Towel
  • Shorts
  • Ruler
  • Tailor’s chalk
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • Clips and pins
  • Iron
  • Elastic
  • Straps
Placing folded shorts on a towel

1. Fold your shorts and place them on the towel

I’m going to show you how to make shorts first. Lay your towel out flat and place a pair of stretchy shorts that fit you well on the towel. Fold them in half so that the front side of the shorts is facing up.

Tracing the shorts pattern

2. Trace

Trace along the outside of the shorts with some tailor’s chalk to create an outline. 

Straightening the lines with a ruler

Use a ruler to straighten up the lines while also adding seam allowance all around, adding an extra inch at the top for some elastic and at the bottom for the hem. 

Cutting out the shorts pattern

3. Cut

Now you can cut it out.

Towel DIY

Lay the piece you just cut out onto the towel and use it as a template to cut so you have a right front leg and a left front leg.

Tracing the back pattern

4. Repeat

Repeat steps 1-3 for the back side of your shorts, starting by folding them in half so that the back side is facing up.

Matching the front and back sides

As you’re cutting, you want to make sure that the front and back sides of the shorts match the side seams and the inseam. They need to be the same length. To keep track of which pieces are on the back side of the shorts, I put little X’s on them.

Clipping the front and back sides together

5. Clip the front and back sides together and sew

Lay the back side of the shorts down and lay the front side right on top, right sides together. Attach them at the side seams and the inseams using some small clips. Do the same thing with the other leg of the shorts.

Sewing the side seams

Sew the clipped edges. 

Ironing the seams

6. Iron

Once it’s sewed, press the seams nice and flat with an iron and your two legs are done.

Aligning the leg pieces

7. Align the two leg pieces, clip, and sew

Take one of the shorts’ leg pieces and put it inside the other leg piece, right sides together. Match it up at the inseams and make sure the back sides of the shorts are touching and the front sides of the shorts are touching.

Clipping the center seam

Clip along the center seam.

How to sew shorts


Marking the elastic

8. Mark elastic

Take a piece of 1-inch elastic that’s cut to the width of your waist plus seam allowance and mark at the center point of the elastic.

Marking the quarter points

Fold each end in and make a mark at the quarter point, so you have four lines marked on your elastic.

Pinning elastic to the shorts

9. Pin your elastic to the shorts

Now, we’re going to pin the elastic to your shorts. Match up the center point of the elastic to the center of your shorts.

Matching up the quarter points to the side seams

Then, match up the quarter points to the side seams. You want to evenly distribute the elastic around the waistband of your shorts.

Sewing the elastic

Now you can sew the elastic. Make sure to pull on the elastic gently as you sew to help bunch the elastic up.

Pinning the waistband

10. Pin and sew the edge down

The waistband is almost done. Now just fold the edge down onto the wrong side of the shorts, just to give us a nice, neat edge and pin.

Sewing the waistband

Sew, and again, gently pull along the elastic as you sew it.

Hemming the bottom of the shorts

11. Hem the bottom edge

To finish off our DIY shorts, let’s hem the bottom edge. 

Sewing the folded hem

Fold the bottom up twice by about half an inch and sew it down.

Pattern for the tote bag

12. Cut out rectangles

Take the rest of your beach towel and cut out a rectangle. Our next towel DIY is going to be a little tote bag, so make it whatever length and width you want your bag to be. You’ll need two pieces, one for the front and one for the back.

Making a pocket for the tote bag

Cut out an additional rectangle so you can make a little pocket for the front of your tote bag.

Cutting out the bottom for the DIY tote

13. Cut

Cut out 3inch x 3inch squares in the bottom of your tote bag. Do this for the front and back pieces.

Pressing the edges of the pocket

14. Press the edges of the pocket rectangle

Take the rectangle you cut out for your pocket and press down each of the edges by about half an inch except for the top edge since it’s already hemmed and ready to go.

Pinning the pocket to the tote

15. Pin and sew the pocket 

Pin the rectangle to the tote bag and sew.

Pinning the edges of the DIY tote together

16. Pin and sew the front and back of the tote

Now place the front and back sides of the tote right sides together. Pin along the bottom and sides of the tote. 

How to sew a tote bag

Sew those three edges.

Pinning the corners

17. Pin and sew the corners

Once that’s done, take the corners that we made and pull on them a little bit diagonally. Lay them nice and flat and then pin them down. 

Sewing the corners of the tote bag

Once we sew these little edges, it’s going to create a bottom for our bag and it’s super easy.

Making shoulder straps for the DIY tote

18. Attach shoulder straps

Next, cut some shoulder straps.

Pinning the straps to the bag

Place them onto the bag.

Sewing the shoulder straps


How to sew shorts and a matching tote bag

How to sew shorts and a matching tote bag

Now, we have this adorable matching set! It’s so comfy and so easy to throw on for a pool day. It’s a really fun way to upcycle an old or unwanted beach towel.

Suggested materials:
  • Towel
  • Shorts
  • Ruler
See all materials

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