Introduction: Penguin Pajamas

Ever see March of the Penguins? Those crazy birds spend two months sitting around in -80 degree weather waiting for their eggs to hatch! Dressing yourself up like a giant polar-fleece penguin will not enable you to withstand such temperatures, but it will keep you pretty toasty at night! With the added bonus that you will look almost unbearably sexy in an outfit that is essentially a bag with sleeves and foot-holes. Think of it as a mitten (as opposed to a glove) for your whole body!

My aunt made me a set of pajamas roughly like these when I was a kid and, sitting in my freezing-cold apartment this winter, I remembered those amazing pajamas and determined to make myself a pair. My original “penguin pajamas” didn’t resemble a penguin at all, in fact they were made of a fabric with owls printed all over it. The name comes not from the appearance, but from the way that you have to walk while wearing these—like a penguin.

My roommate, who has a particular love for penguins of all kinds, was the inspiration for the actual black and white penguin pajamas. It’s up to you whether you want to make your own exactly as described in this instructable, or go for the simpler but almost equally amazing random fleece print look. There are some truly crazy prints available in polar fleece fabric. Why not go all out?

I’ve included a lot of steps here that an experienced sewer could probably easily ignore. he pattern is simple, as are the sewing techniques involved. Fleece fabric is not difficult to work with and the beauty of this garment is that it is quite forgiving—being so loosely fitted there is not a lot of customization necessary and any mistakes are easily fixed. Read only the parts in bold if you're in a hurry; parts in italics are optional extra steps to make your penguin pajamas even more awesome.

Step 1: Gathering Materials

For this project you will need:

Fabric: At least 2 1/4 yards of polar fleece, blizzard or anti-pill (assuming the fleece is 58” wide, but be sure to check and get more than that if the fabric you’ve selected is not as wide as 58”)

If you’re not on a very strict budget, it’s probably a good idea to get more like 3 yards, to avoid the risk of running out. You are going to be cutting 4 rather large solid pieces (front, back, and 2 raglan sleeves), so you have to be careful how you cut so as not to end up with leftover pieces that are large, but not large enough to cut your final pieces. Consider also the height of the person you’re making this for.

About ¼ yard of rib knit fabric, for the cuffs. ½ yard if you want to be on the really safe side.

To make the penguin look shown here, you’ll need 2 1/4 yards black fleece and 1 1/4 yards white or off-white fleece, and 1/4 yard of yellow rib knit fabric.

Thread: choose a color (or colors) that will match your fabric

A zipper: I used a 30” long separating sport zipper.

The zipper doesn’t need to be this long, but it does need to be long enough to be able to unzip to comfortably get into and out of the pajamas. Hold it up to yourself or the intended wearer of the pajamas to figure out what length is best. It also does not need to be a separating zipper because the end will be sewn into the project anyway and it will not be able to separate once you’re finished. The heavy-duty plastic teeth of the sport zippers are nice, though, if you can one.

You will also need scissors, pins, a measuring tape, and probably a sewing machine. Sewing this by hand would not be difficult, just time-consuming as there are a lot of long seams to be sewn.

Step 2: Measuring Your Subject

It’s not hard to fit the penguin pajamas to just about anyone (if “fit” is the right word). The only measurements you need to take are the lucky wearer’s height, the length of their arms, and the circumference of their wrists and ankles.

First measure how long the pajamas will have to be, measuring from shoulders to the floor. Add an inch or two for seam allowances. This is how long the center fold of the back piece should be. Subtract two inches from whatever the length of the back piece is, and that will be the length of the center fold of the front piece. Measure the length of the wearer’s arms from shoulder to wrist, that should be the length of the sleeve piece from one star to the other (as marked on the sleeve pattern piece). See the next step for more notes about the pattern pieces.

Step 3: A Note About the Pattern

I made up the design of the penguin pajamas, using as a rough guide for the sleeves a pattern that I had for raglan-sleeved pajamas. Obviously this pattern needed to be altered, and I have tried to provide rough pattern pieces.

The front and back are each to be cut on the center fold, out of single continuous pieces of fabric. I have not included the entire length so you need to add that on your own, based on the measurements you took in step two. You may also want to measure how wide you want the bottom to be. I measured 16” (giving you a 32" wide bottom, which translates to about 18" from one foot hole to the other, when you get done) from the bottom end of the center fold, at a right angle across the pattern, and then drew a straight line from where the side ends on the drawn pattern down to that point that would make the outside corner of the piece. Do this same procedure for the front and back pieces, using whatever width you feel is best. A wider bottom allows for longer strides, but too wide and the middle part may hang down and get in the way when you’re trying to walk. Don’t worry about the foot-holes, we’ll add those later.

The pattern piece for the sleeves (you’ll need to cut two, obviously), is complete as-is, but it can be lengthened or shortened pretty easily by just cutting the bottom end off shorter or extending it longer.

For the pattern, if you need it, you can download the word document, print it out (note that it is ten pages, also that your computer will yell at you about the margins but just ask it to do the best it can because the images need to be the size that they currently are, if possible), and piece together the parts using the other images in this step as guides. The small squares on the pattern pieces should indicate 1” square, if the pattern is printed out to be the right size. I put those in as a way of checking the scale when you print out the pattern. The larger squares in the images show how the 8 ½ x 11” pieces of paper should be assembled to make the whole pattern. There should be no overlap. If the patterns don’t print quite to the margins of the page, just line them up as shown anyway and connect the lines so that they are continuous again.

Step 4: Cutting Out the Fabric

Be careful to plan out how each pattern piece will fit on the fabric BEFORE you start cutting.

Cut out the front piece first: fold the fabric over once and line up the part of the pattern that is marked “center fold” with the fold in the fabric. Pin the pattern to the fabric and start cutting! Where there are little triangular notches marked on the pattern, cut triangular notches on the fabric that mirror them (i.e., the notches on the pattern would tell you to cut in to the pattern, but instead cut the triangles so that they stick out). These you will use later to line up the pattern pieces when you attach them to each other.

Cut the back piece in the same way as the front. The most efficient use of fabric will be to cut the back piece upside-down from whatever direction you cut the front, since both pieces are sort of triangular in shape with the widest part at the bottom.

Cut out the sleeves last. For this part you need to pay careful attention to your fabric: does it have two distinct sides? Make sure that all your pieces of your project will have the same side facing out in the final project by cutting the two sleeves as mirror-images of each other: either cut them both at the same time by folding over the fabric once before cutting, or cut the first sleeve and then flip over the pattern piece before cutting the second one. This is important for the sleeves because they are not exactly symmetrical (unlike the front and back pieces).

If you are making the black and white penguin pajamas, cut out all the pattern pieces in black, and then cut one extra front piece in white. Alternately, you could omit the black front piece and just cut a white piece, but be aware that the white fabric tends to be somewhat less than opaque.

Once you have cut out all the pieces, you will need to cut out the place for the zipper. Fold the front piece (or pieces, if you have 1 black and 1 white one) in half again and cut in a straight line down the middle the length of your zipper. Keep the zipper handy for comparison and stop at least two inches sort of the end of the zipper—it is always easier to cut more later than it is to undo a cut that is too long.

Step 5: Start Sewing (Pockets and Zipper)

If you are smart and plan ahead (as I did not) you will decide at this point, before you do any actual sewing, whether or not you want your pajamas to have pockets. They are not difficult to make.

I chose to insert pockets between the layers of the black and white penguin pajamas. To do this, I cut 5”x5” squares (with the inside corners softened) of black fabric. Sew these pockets to the outside of the black front piece, just below the triangular notches used for matching up the front and back sides of the pattern. Sew the three inside edges, as shown, leaving the side open. We’ll finish the pockets later, so don’t forget about them!

(If you don’t choose to use two layers of fabric for the front and sandwich the pockets between them, you can still have pockets, just attach them to the inside of the front (the seams from them will show, like pork chop pockets), or cut two rectangles of fabric for each pocket and sew the inside edges just to each other. Those can be inserted into the side seams of the garment later, when we sew the side seams.)

Next, pockets or no, we sew the zipper!

(This is basic zipper insertion, poorly executed and poorly explained. Skip over this step and figure out the zipper yourself if you’re any good at sewing. If you're having trouble understanding the steps, look at the pictures.)

Spread the front piece of the pajamas, unfolded and right-side up, on the table and match up your zipper, upside down, with one side of the opening that it is to be attached to. Match up the outside edge of the zipper with the edge of the fabric and pin it into place. Sew, using a zipper foot if you have one and keeping as close to the zipper teeth as you can, along the length of the zipper on one side, then fold the zipper over to check your work. The zipper pull should be facing out, and the seam that you just sewed should be hidden on the inside. Fold the front piece in half down the middle, keeping the seam you just finished opened (i. e. unfolded), and line up the other side of the zipper with the other side of the fabric it’s being attached to. Pin and then sew along this edge as well. The bottom end of the zipper may need a little work at this point. If there are still several inches of zipper below the bottom of the cut you made for where the zipper should go, at this point you can extend the cut (carefully!) to almost where the zipper stops, but not quite so far, because you want the end of the zipper to be inside the garment where it can’t be seen. To make the fabric lie flat, when you get to the end of the cut, you can cut two little diagonal bits to form a “Y” shape, then fold the triangle formed by the top of the Y under and, if necessary, sew it in place by hand (it is difficult to use the machine to sew over the heavy duty sports zippers).

If you’re doing the black and white penguin pajamas with pockets between layers of the front, you should finish up the pockets BEFORE you proceed to the next step, which is to line the zipper. To do this, turn the garment right side out and fold the white of the outside fabric under along the length of the pocket opening. Then fold the black of the patch pocket under to meet the white fabric, so that no edges of the fabric will show. Flip the black fabric over so that you’re looking at the inside between the two layers of front fabric (which are not yet attached anywhere else, though momentarily they will both be attached to the zipper). Pin the fabric together and sew just along the edge of the pocket, so that when you flip the black fabric back over to line up with the white again, the top part of the pocket along the outside (side) seam will look finished. The bottom part will be sewn into the actual side seam itself so that it too will look finished in time. The next step will attach the zipper to the black lining fabric.

Another optional step is to line the zipper—if you plan to wear this against your bare skin, this is an especially good idea as sport zippers are not the most comfortable. The black and white penguin pajamas, having two layers of fabric on the front, are ideally suited for self-lining. Fleece does not unravel, so there’s no need to hem it except for aesthetic reasons. I used black inside front fabric to line the zipper by NOT folding over or hemming in any way the edges of the cut made down the middle to accommodate the zipper. Spread the black front piece, face up, on the table, and then spread out the white front piece, with zipper attached and unzipped, also face up on top of it. Match up the black and white pieces along the outside edges and smooth them so that they line up at all points. The black around the zipper opening should come out to just beyond the zipper teeth—this is as it should be to allow it to properly line the zipper from the inside. Holding the zipper and black fabric in place, flip over the white fabric to expose the inside of the zipper and pin the black fabric to this inside zipper piece. To sew the pieces together, you’ll need to have them opened out in opposite directions and sew along the middle—this is awkward but not impossible.

(If you don’t use two layers for the front of the pajamas, you can still line the zipper simply by attaching thin strips of leftover fabric to the inside of the zipper. Do this carefully—it is important that the strips not get in the way of the zipper teeth but they should still overlap so that they fully cover the zipper teeth from the inside.)

Step 6: Still Sewing (putting It All Together Now)

First, there is one seam on each sleeve that needs to be sewn—fold the sleeve pieces in half so that the two sides of the top V-shape (with a star marking the bottom of the V) line up, and sew straight along those lines. This is to make the shoulders of the raglan sleeves. Next, sew all four major pieces together.

You can do this in whatever order you choose—start with an arm and a front or a back piece and work your way around the four seams that will attach these four pieces. Line up the sleeves and the front and back pieces using the triangular notches as guides. Note that the back piece edges have double triangles to correspond with the double triangles on one side of each sleeve, while the front piece seams have single triangles to line up with the other sides of the sleeves. Be sure to put right sides (or outsides) of the fabric together so that when you unfold the seams you’ve sewn, all the right sides will be facing out. If you’re making the double-front black and white penguin, be sure to include both layers of the front when you attach it to the sleeves—there will be three layers of fabric, black-white-black, to sew through.

Next, sew the side seams. Turn the whole garment inside out and pin along the sides, starting at the ends of the sleeves and working your way down the sides, matching up the triangular notches on the front and back sides near the armpits.

Important: When you sew these seams, be careful around the pockets (if you’ve included any). For the black and white penguin pajamas, you can continue right along sewing the entire side seam as long as you are careful not to catch the outside, already finished, edge of the pocket. Be sure to catch the inside edge (which will be from the black front lining) otherwise you’ll have a hole in your pajamas instead of a pocket.

If you’re inserting pockets into an unlined garment, sew the side seams leaving a space for the pockets and attach them after. To do this, turn the garment inside out and put the pocket between the front and back layers, in the hole in the side seam that you have left open. Pin the two halves of the pocket opening to the two halves of the side seam and sew each separately, careful not to catch any extra layers while you’re sewing. Then turn the whole thing right way out and fold the pockets into the inside. For pork chop pockets, you will have to fold the front piece under a bit at the side seam and sew it like that to finish that edge, then when you’re sewing the side seam, be careful to catch up the inside of the pocket, but not the front piece of the garment, in the seam.

Once the side seams are done, line up the bottom (if the front and back pieces don’t quite match up, length-wise, you can carefully trim one or the other down until they match. Then sew straight across the bottom (we’ll cut out the foot holes in the next step).

The corners of the "bag" are a bit rough at this point—to finish them, turn the garment inside out and pull the layers of the corners apart as shown (careful if you have a double front layer to pull it all to the right side!). We are going to cut off the corner by sewing across it. Measure about 2.5” from the corner of the seam on each side and pin. Then pin straight across to create an isosceles triangle. Sew straight across. You can cut off this corner, or leave it as is. Turn the garment right way out to see your finished corners.

Step 7: Finishing Up

Now it’s time to cut holes for the feet and attach ribbed cuffs at the wrists and ankles. Measure the intended wearer’s wrists and ankles and add an inch or two (depending on how tight or loose you want the cuffs to be). Measure a square of the ribbed fabric that is this length (i.e. the circumference of the wrist plus 1 or 2) by about 6” wide.Cut two squares like this and two more for the ankles (using the ankle measurements plus 1 or 2). Fold each piece lengthwise with the outside in, and sew along the edges that match up so that you form 4 rings of fabric. Fold each one over width-ways with the seam on the inside, so that you have your basic cuffs.

To attach the cuffs, you need to do a process called “quartering”. Mark the seam, and the place directly opposite, with pins. Then fold the cuff so that these two pins that were opposite now match up, and put pins at the folds at the new opposite ends, so that the end result is for you to have 4 pins at 4 equidistant points around the circumference of the cuff. Do the same thing to the fleece sleeve of your pajamas. It’s easier to do the sleeves first, but the same basic principle applies to the foot holes.

Now, with the sleeves right way out, stuff them into the cuffs so that the unfinished edges are lined up with each other. Take the extension table off your sewing machine and stretch the sleeve around the arm of the machine. The pins act as guides to match up the sleeve and the cuff—the cuff will be smaller, but it is stretchy. As you sew, stretch the cuff so that it lines up with the pins on the sleeve fabric and in this way, work your way around the sleeve. You can repeat this same quartering procedure with the other sleeve and both foot holes.

First, though, you will need to cut the foot holes. We will be cutting a circle of fabric out of the bottom of the bag, basically. To allow the most freedom of movement, you want the foot holes as far to the sides as possible. Calculate the diameter of the circle by dividing the circumference (i.e. the size of the wearer’s ankle) by pi (roughly 3.14, we’re going to be rounding this anyway). Then measure about 1.25” from the cut-off corner along the bottom seam, and mark that spot with a pin. From there, measure the diameter and mark that with another pin. Use a tape measure to mark out a semi-circle on the fabric : first mark the center with a third pin, then measure the radius (half the diameter) from there to several points, which can be marked with pins. Then carefully cut out the semi circle, and repeat on the other side. Using the instructions above, attach the cuffs.

Now all that remains is to finish up the collar, which you can do simply by folding the edges of the fabric under once and sewing around the edge for a more finished look. Fold the top ends of the zipper under so that they won’t show, and catch them in with the rest of this collar hem.

Step 8: Optional Hood

My roommate chose to make a detachable hood to go with her penguin pajamas. This is easy enough to do: find a garment with a hood and use that as a pattern to cut out two pieces black and two pieces white fabric. Sew each pair together along the top of the hood, then turn both so that those unfinished seams face out and sew them together along the front of the hood. Turn the hood right side out and fold both parts under along the bottom edge of the hood and sew along that seam to finish. You can sew on hook and eye closures by hand to hook the hood to the pajamas. A simple way to make the warmest pajamas ever even warmer!

Step 9: You're Done! Time to Wear It.

The final step is simply to learn how to walk, or waddle, like a penguin. People will laugh, but you’ll know they’re just jealous. Everyone wishes they could be this fabulous.

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