Herringbone Shorts Tutorial!

Hey, hey everyone! Are you ready for a herringbone shorts tutorial? Because I am! This is a quick and easy tut that ANY sewist can conquer. You just need a little time and patience, and a big desire to sewing something INCREDIBLY AWESOME. Do you have those? Good, let’s get started!
To make these herringbone shorts you need:
  • 5 to 10 different prints or colors of cotton fabric. Read my section on CHOOSING FABRICS below for some guidance on what to pick from your stash.
  • A shorts pattern. This tutorial does not include an actual pattern for making the shorts. This is a guide for making herringbone quilted fabric and using it to make a pair of shorts. I will be releasing a shorts pattern shortly (haha, do you like my pun?) for use with this tutorial but it’s not ready just yet.
  • Lots of thread! First, you need a basic color (white, gray, black,) for sewing the strips of fabric together. Second, you need a contrasting color for when you quilt the top fabric to the lining. Pick a color that looks good with all of your fabrics. 
  • Lining fabric. Something lightweight is best.

This is the fun AND scary part. I don’t know why, but I had total stage fright when choosing which fabrics to put together for these shorts. The key is to just get started and see where the fabric takes you!
I used 10 different fabrics and this is what I learned:
  1. I don’t suggest using more than 10 fabrics or the shorts will look too busy.
  2. Combine solids with sketch or striped prints, but be careful that the stripes aren’t too bold.
  3. Make sure to use some neutrals or whites to balance out bold colors.
  4. Keep to a certain “theme.” For example, I used mostly primary colors with some black and teal thrown in. 

First, trace and cut out your shorts pattern. I recommend using a pattern you are already familiar with. The herringbone fabric takes awhile to create so don’t waste all that hard work on shorts that don’t fit correctly!
Here are my pattern pieces from Happy Homemade Vol. 2 (my fave boy shorts):

Pick the larger piece (usually the back) and fold it in half vertically like this:

Now measure the width of the pattern piece from the far-most left point to the far-most right. As you can see below, my pattern piece measured 12 inches along. This measurement = the width of the herringbone panels you will create. This measurement is very important!

Take your measurement and divide it by 3, then add 1/2″ to that number. For example, my measurement was 12, so…

12 divided by 3 = 4
4 + 0.5 = 4.5

4.5 is my magic number. To create the herringbone panels we will be sewing three columns together with 1/4″ seam allowances. The finished herringbone panel must accommodate your shorts pattern or you’re outa luck!

Now it’s time to start cutting! Cut the full length of each fabric (from selvage to selvage) in different widths. I cut the following sized strips for these shorts:

  • 3″ by 42″
  • 2.5″ by 42″
  • 2 by 42″
  • 1.5 by 42″

I can’t really give you a guide of how much fabric you need for this, or how many strips to cut, because it depends on the size of shorts you’re making. Just make sure you have an even number of strips.

If you are using scraps for this, just piece together what you can to create long strips of fabric. Lay them out on the table in the order you want them sewn.

For the next few steps I followed this tutorial. Please take a moment to visit Stitched in Color for her excellent instructions on piecing pairs together to make herringbone columns. Below are some photos of my process.

Working from the top, sew two strips of fabric together with a 1/4 seam allowance. Work in pairs like this until all the strips are in pairs. Now piece all the strips together at a diagonal using these instructions .

Make sure your pieced fabric will accommodate the length of your shorts. If it’s too short, add some more strips. Iron the seam allowances however you decide is best.

Use a clear ruler to cut your strips to the desired width (the number you established earlier in this post).

How to find the correct angle:
Find the 45 degree angle line on your ruler and line this up with your straight seams. This will set your ruler at a diagonal. Now line it up with the correct width and start cutting your determined width. (Remember, mine was 4.5″).

Cut 6 columns in this direction.

NOW REPEAT THE STEPS ABOVE to piece more long strips together. This time, stagger your strips in the opposite direction and make your 45 degree angle cuts in the opposite direction. Cut six columns in this direction.


Now it’s time to create the herringbone panels! Sew three columns together on the long side using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Stager the panels so that on one panel your strips to down-up-down, and in the next panel they go up-down-up.

You should end up with a panel that looks like this.

Press your herringbone panel until it is nice and flat.

Now it’s time to cut out the pattern pieces! Lay your pattern pieces on top of the herringbone panels and cut them out.

Use a solid color, such as black, for the pocket pieces, fly, waistband, and any other pattern pieces. This will help balance the color in the shorts.

Cut out your lining pieces.

I’m sorry I don’t have great pictures of this step! First, pin the lining to the herringbone fabric with wrong sides facing. 

Use straight lines of stitching to outline the blocks of fabric in your herringbone design. This part takes a while, but it’s so satisfying to see the fabric come alive with the lines of quilting! Take a look at the images below to see what I did:

To add bias tape to the bottom of your shorts, simply cut off the extra allotted in the pattern for a hem and bind the raw edge with bias tape. Read this post for instructions on how to make your own bias tape, and read this one for instructions on how to sew it on!

Finish your shorts according to the pattern and voila! You’re done!

Good luck! Please leave a comment below or email me if you have any questions. I’d love to hear from you!

One last thing before I go: my kids are running around at top speed and full volume right now. I proof-read this post to the best of current ability, but if something doesn’t make sense please let me know and I will fix it! Thank you for understanding!


  1. says

    Thank you sooooo much for explaining it all!!! I am NOT a math- sewer, so this is going to come in very handy! Can’t wait to go shopping for colors!

  2. says

    I LOVE these! There are simply not enough cute boy clothes patterns in the world. Thanks so much for sharing! Any chance you’ll do a tutorial on the shirt?! 🙂

  3. says

    Wow, wow and wow – simply amazing. I was wondering about how the inside would look and now I see that you lined the whole thing so beautifully. I love them! Congrats on winning – well deserved!! x