Start your sewing adventure with us.    Join Seamwork

Articles on this site were all published prior to 2017 and this site is no longer updated. Please visit our current Articles, Patterns, and Classes for the most up-to-date content and products.

Sewing activewear with Melissa Fehr, part 1: Fabric and patterns


Recently, I was chatting with fellow blogger Melissa of Fehr Trade about sewing activewear, a subject I’m keenly interested in.

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.

Finding Fabrics

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!

Choosing Patterns

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!

[images: RTW activewear shown (all made in the US or Canada!) includes Prismsport lace tank , Solow quilted diamond bra, Michi anti-gravity bra]

Sarai Mitnick


Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.


Jet Set Sewing

March 18, 2014 #

Thanks for this informative series! I just scored some beautiful NZ merino from the new outpost of The Fabric Store in L.A. and I’m dying to stitch it up. I would love to make a Claire McCardell-style jersey bathing suit.

Steph Skardal

March 18, 2014 #

Yay! Thanks for this series – this is also something I want to try out and I’ve come across the Fehr Trade blog/website before.


March 18, 2014 #

I’ve been getting more and more interested in sewing yoga wear and already bought your top pattern – now I just need to find time to do it! Thanks for these tips!


March 18, 2014 #

Thank you so much for this post! It’s so timely for me since I have several races coming up this spring and I’ve been really thinking about sewing my own active-wear, but I wasn’t sure where to start!


March 18, 2014 #

Thanks so much for doing this! I always love these things that challenge me to look at another type of garment as something I could make. I do need a new pair of yoga pants and top, so might just sew along! I enjoy both of your blogs immensely.


March 18, 2014 #

Thanks for sharing this!
I planed to sew some of my ballet class clothes but never did it yet…

Donna Wyatt

March 18, 2014 #

Thank you so much for your fabric suggestions! Finding fabrics can be challenging here in my community, and I’ve been reluctant to buy online as I make my choices by touch as much as sight. I’ll be checking out some of your suggestions, as well as your patterns.


March 18, 2014 #

Would swimwear fabrics work for the most part?

I went to my local, yet huge, fabric store yesterday and noticed an entire section devoted to swim and active wear, with rolls of super-stretch Lycra in every color imaginable. They even started bundling pre-cut yardage for some of the prints – like the swimwear version of fat quarters.

Can’t wait to get started!


March 20, 2014 #

Hi Becky. Swimwear fabrics essentially fall into the “plain ol’ lycra” category – they’re perfectly fine for shorter or cooler workouts IMHO, but because they don’t wick sweat away, you may feel a bit confined if it’s super hot out. In London it’s rarely hot though, so most of my workout clothes are non-wicking and it’s fine for me.


March 18, 2014 #

Thanks for the link to the Jalie skort! I like to wear skorts to walk. I’m a bit overweight and my thighs rub causing a heat rash if I wear skirts or causing the inseam to creep up if I wear shorts. I didn’t really want to try to draft my own pattern from my favorite one – this will give me a starting point.

Also thanks for the fabric recommendations – I’ll have to look for Supplex or Tactel since Orlando gets a bit hot – I’m usually a puddle by the end of a 3 mile walk even now (can’t wait for August to get here – then I’m puddle by the end of the block).


March 18, 2014 #

What about breathable/wicking wovens (or stretch wovens)? Can these be found as yardage anywhere? I’d like some slightly looser tops – and find wovens to be cooler than knits most of the summer (I live near Houston, TX).

My activewear is mostly used for dressage. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love my CoolMax socks! I have one cotton blend show shirt w/ CoolMax (but it’s not something I would wear when not showing) feels like a typical oxford cloth shirt, and another that is a jacquard weave (yellow/white/tan) that is the most breathable shirt I have ever worn. Sooo comfortable in the Texas summer! The fabric label is not very forthcoming, lol.


March 19, 2014 #

Good article. I have found finding the fabric the most difficult part of sewing gym wear. Living in Australia, I find how it copes with sweat and having wicking properties to be a very high priority for me. I was so happy to get a link to Runner’s Fabrics from Melissa’s list of suppliers and it was the key to me trying to make my own active wear. Thanks Melissa!

Miss Crayola Creepy

March 19, 2014 #

Thanks so much for this post! I HATE buying exercise clothes because most of them are made overseas (at least at the stores around me) and they aren’t really my style. This post is super helpful and when I start making my own workout gear I will definitely be referencing this page!

Louise K.

March 20, 2014 #

Amazing article! Great tips on how to get started on sewing my own the gym clothes. I wonder though, what you do with the seems? I have a serger (Bernina 800DL), so that should cover the elastic-seems needed, but what do you do to make them flat like industrially-made workout wear?
Thanks Louise.


March 20, 2014 #

Hi Louise. I’ve actually got that same overlocker! If you want to flatlock, you just have to adjust the tensions on your overlocker in 3 thread mode. But to be honest, I have NEVER had any issues with chafing from regular overlocked seams, and I’ve run marathons and sweaty 20 milers in mine. So I’d suggest trying out regular seams first, and fiddling with flatlocking if you encounter problems.

Louise K.

March 24, 2014 #

Hi Melissa. Thank you so much for your answer. I’ll trust you on this one and go for it with normal overlocked seems for a start :)


March 25, 2014 #

I’ve been sewing for babies lately and I’m pretty sure that the wicking fabrics used for cloth diaper liners would also work well in active wear. Feels just like my work out shirts! Great article. Thank you!


March 25, 2014 #

Melissa’s knowledge of activewear is very thorough.
She was my ‘go-to’ activewear sewing blogger before her fabulous pattern line. I can voucher for her XYT top. It’s so versatile and it ‘holds everything in’.