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If you've noticed that your toddler's or preschooler's favorite winter sweatpants are becoming threadbare at the knees, but you can't quite get yourself to throw them out, here's an easy way to give them new life and a bit of whimsy. You can even enlist your child to assist you with this "patch 'em up" project.

Here's how to cover and protect the knees of sweatpants that aren't completely torn:Dig through your fabric scraps with your child and choose a design or pattern that complements the color of the worn pants. Or, choose and buy a small piece (about 1/8 yard) at a fabric store. Yardage with prints of your child's favorite storybook or cartoon characters are especially fun. Many designs feature the Little Mermaid, Mickey Mouse and Babar the Elephant.

Cut out two patches that will amply cover the knees of the pants, allowing an extra 5/8-inch on all sides. Fold the edges back 5/8-inch and press the fold with a hot iron. Pin the patches to the knees of the pants. Stitch around the patch, leaving a 1-inch opening. Remove pins, and press. Stuff a handful of polyfill through the opening. The extra padding will add comfort and protect knees and the pants. Stitch the patch closed. Repeat on the other leg of the pants.

If your child has a plain sweatshirt that matches the sweatpants, applique a coordinating design or character on the bodice. Embellish it with ribbons, buttons or lace if you wish. For example, if you use Minnie Mouse, stitch a small piece of Velcro on her hair or dress. Sew matching pieces of Velcro on several small bows. Your child will enjoy choosing a bow to accessorize Minnie to fit any occasion.

Donna Erickson enjoys receiving your comments and ideas for family projects. Write to her at P.O. Box 16188, Minneapolis, MN 55416.