Sewing activewear with Melissa Fehr, part 1: Fabric and patterns
Melissa is also a runner and even has her own patterns available for workout gear! Since knits are a huge subject around here lately, I asked Melissa if she’d be willing to give us a few tips.
Today, in part one, Melissa will talk a bit about fabric and patterns. In part two next week, we’ll get into her favorite finishes and road testing your handmade activewear. Take it away, Melissa!
Hello! Sarai asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing some of my exercise sewing tips with you all since I’ve been both sewing and running for well over ten years now. I only started sewing my own running gear in the past few years, however, as I got fed up with both the fit and styles available in RTW exercise clothing – sound familiar?
Once I got started though, I quickly found a combination of fabric, styles, and finishes that really worked for me, and so far I’ve run two full marathons, five half marathons, and countless shorter races and training runs in me-made-Lycra.
Stretch and recovery
The first thing to consider when looking for fabrics is whether the fabric has good recovery – most of you will already realise that wovens don’t really make for good exercise gear, but not all jerseys will, either. In order to have your leggings stay put and not gradually bag out as you work out, you need a fabric that will spring back into place when you stretch it. This is difficult to judge when shopping online as you can’t feel it, so look for the spandex (or Lycra – the brand name) percentage in the fibre breakdown – anything with 2% or more is usually fine.
Fibre and sweat
The next thing to consider is what main fibre you want to wear. In my general sewing, I tend to avoid man-made fibres like polyester, but in sportswear, polyester is one of the best because it doesn’t chafe like cotton, and often has sweat-wicking properties to help keep you cool and prevent sweat patches from forming. If I know I’m going to be exercising on a really hot day, or running a long distance like a marathon, I always make sure I’m wearing wicking fabric – Supplex or Tactel are often the brand names used to denote this. Bamboo and merino can also be great natural fibre choices if you can find them at a decent price!
However, if it’s going to be for a shorter race or training run, I utterly LOVE wearing wild prints! In the big London and NYC running clubs there’s an arms-race going on at the moment for the runners who turn up in the craziest leggings on a given outing, and you can really set yourself apart from the RTW crowd by going for the loudest fabric you can find – or even custom, digitally-printed lycra! For me, the trade-off point between fashion and wicking is usually around 13 or 15 miles – I’ll happily wear non-wicking polyester or Lycra for a half marathon on a cool day, but if it’s hot or further, I bring out the wicking fabrics.
Where to shop
One of the most commonly asked questions I get is “Where can I buy exercise fabric?” so in response, I gathered together a list of worldwide online shops. I’ve had lots of new shops pointed out in the comments, so if you know of a good supplier, please add it in!
One of the reasons I started my own line of exercise sewing patterns is because I worked my way through the basic designs on offer in existing patterns, but found myself customising them more and more – “What if I could introduce some colourblocking here? Or a pocket there?” But when you’re starting out, there’s definitely something to be said about starting simple!
A few of my own favourites are:
- KwikSew 3636 – This is a basic, one piece pattern for leggings and capris that can help you go from fabric to gym in the shortest time possible. It comes in two fit options, and seems to work well on a lot of different bodies, and the lack of side seams is ideal for showcasing prints.
- Papercut Ooh La Leggings – These aren’t advertised as activewear, but I loved the curved waist yokes and mid-leg seaming so much that I’ve made these over and over and over again for running. The instructions are really well written and these are much easier to sew than you’d think from the design!
- Jalie 2796 – A lot of us aren’t comfortable wearing tight-fitting shorts in public, so running skirts have recently appeared in shops at premium prices to cover this need. This pattern is for a skirt with side pockets, wide waistband, and biker shorts (or briefs) underneath, and is a great alternative to shorts.
- FehrTrade XYT Top – Not to toot my own horn, but the reason I developed this pattern is because I’d tried a bunch of workout top patterns and was just really unhappy with all of them, especially with the support provided by built-in bras. This pattern is for a sleeveless top with three different back options, and a built-in bra that uses power mesh (normally used in bra-making) to provide enough support to actually go running in without bouncing all over the place!