Sewing Activewear : Before you sew

One of my favorite things to sew is activewear. When i was really getting into apparel sewing in 2015, I got curious about trying to make leggings. I wasn’t a big fan of paying, what I felt was, a ridiculous price for quality made leggings. I’m the type of person who believes (when it comes to sewing) if I take my time and do the tiniest amount of research I can sew just about anything. I’ll share with you what I’ve learned from that first pair which weren’t even a fail to my currently leggings which I think are right up there with Lululemon and Athleta except they are a custom fit and drastically cheaper.  So let's jump right in. I’m going to cover all the questions I’ve been asked on Instagram as well as the tricks I’ve learned along the way.

My first pair of leggings... and my ever messy sewing room... 
Originally I thought this information could fit into one post but as I started constructing my outline I quickly realized that was naive on my part. With all the information I want to share I’m splitting it into three parts. First this post which is  before you sew, which will cover: fabric, thread. The next will cover patterns, machine settings, needles and stitches as well as construction techniques, short cuts, finishing as well as some things I’ve changed up to make sure I get the best end result. Finally i’ll have a post about drafting, hacking and really personalizing your activewear. I hope that organizing the information this way will ensure that i’m not missing or rushing through information. The second post will go up sometime next week.








Okay, first things first,  let's talk about fabric. Selecting the correct fabric is essential to sewing activewear you love. Its especially important when sewing leggings since no one wants pants that show your underwear or worse split or pop when you try to actually work out in them- think deep squats!

leggings made from pinecrest supplex purchase on fabric.com, stripe fabric from mood. 


    First focus on the properties of the fabric of your current activewear pieces that you love wearing; are they wicking, are the antimicrobial, do they have good recovery, does the fabric feel heavy, is it shiny when stretched or does it stay matte. If you get do some research online to see what they are made of. Companies like Lululemon have some in house fabrics which they give some special names but with a little google search you can usually figure them out and what other names they might go by. For example Lululemon’s new Luon is 86% nylon and 14% Lycra, Athleta has Pilayo- nylon/spandex, and Underarmour has SudioLux which is polyester/elastane- it took me minutes to find this information on google. Now i can use these blends to begin searching for fabric by the yard.


To start, I’m going to assume we all want to talk leggings since 90% of the questions I get are about sewing those. First will talk content. Most tech fabrics are made from synthetic fibers since they tend to hold up well to the the abuse of working out. Your activewear fabric has to have good stretch, think about 60+%. Here is a helpful link on determining stretch percentage. The stretch should be 4-way and not just mechanical vertical stretch- you will not like the feel or fit of leggings made without 4 way stretch. When you are checking stretch percentage its a great time to check recovery, basically when you stretch the fabric does it retract or does it seem wavy or bubbly- tell tale signs of poor recovery.  On your body this will translate to baggy knees and butts- no good. Some residual stretch is fine because leggings have a good bit of negative ease (which we will get into in the next post about construction). When I hold a fabric, test the stretch percentage and determine recovery I also take a minute to push my knuckles up and through the fabric as I pull it- this gives me a good idea of how sheer the fabric can become when stretched. Obviously this is only possible when i’m shopping a brick and mortar shop the the fabric weight isn’t available or I ordered fabric that didn’t clearly describe the weight of fabric. I always do this with fabric destine to be leggings.

      So i mentioned above that sometimes you can actually find the weight of a fabric. I find medium/heavy weight fabrics to be the best. My preference is to buy fabric that has a number in grams per square meter or ounces per square yard. I find gsm much more frequently. My rule for leggings is typically 300gsm or 9 oz/yd but for me the heavier the better.  If you want to know more about fabric weights in terms of activewear fabric I highly recommend you go to Fehrtrade’s website - she has an abundance of great information on her website and she has a fantastic book which i’ll touch on more at the end of this post as well as in both the upcoming blog posts. I also buy a lot of fun mesh fabrics to add some accents to my leggings plus this is very on trend. Make sure you buy power mesh not power net or the stretch percentage can become an issue.


My favorite activewear fabric for leggings and sports bras is Supplex (which is a trademarked name for nylon fabric). I also like spaced dye fabric which tends to be mostly nylon with some lycra. I find supplex to be the most opaque and it is extremely durable. If you do invest in quality activewear fabric try to be aware of the care instructions. I do not dry any of my activewear as i know it make is deteriorate at a more rapid pace and usually the elasticity and recover suffer, not to mention piling. I also wash my activewear with special detergents - always cold gentle cycled and again NEVER DRY THEM.
  
These are made from fabrics I found at Joanns. 



First off on where to buy your fabric. Many of you asked if you can quality activewear fabrics at Joanns and the answer is: Yes. I frequently get fabrics there. I’m going to share with you some of the fabrics are a safe bet. And don't worry these aren't  affiliate links, it’s totally my opinion. First there is this superflex compression performance fabric- this is actually the first fabric I made leggings from. I used the gunmetal foil superflex, they were pretty sharp leggings but then i took them apart and use the wrong side of the fabric for the outside after multiple people asked if they were Halloween leggings… no, no they are not. Also, I have used this performance apparel jersey fabric in space dye. This fabric is super soft but still has some good compression. These are the top two i’d recommend from Joann's but there are definitely more. I also have use lots of their meshes with good results. Some of it you’ll have to test out. I can squeeze a pair of leggings out of a yard of fabric so I always hit up the remnants. This is great opportunity to get some inexpensive activewear fabric to practice with- even if its not enough to make a pair of leggings for you, it might enough to make a sports bra or even just play with stitches and thread. It never hurts to have some extra fabric right!?

        Okay I do have one more kind of weird thing that I do when I'm buying fabric in person. I debated about sharing this because I feel like its a little crazy but then again you all probably know I'm sort of bananas. So for this "test" I will wet the tip of my finger with water or spit ( I know I know I'm terrible) and then put it to the fabric- this will give you an idea if your fabric is going to change colors if you sweat in it. I usually do this to both sides as some wicking fabrics don't have a drastic change on the right side of the fabric. My sister watched me do this and mood and was slightly horrified and then I explained that I wasn't trying to make sure no one looked like they peed their pants at spin class and it clicked. All that said, I'm not married to the idea of sweat not showing on my activewear when I work out- it seems ridiculous to have that goal when I'm forcing my body to work hard. Its really up to you and this little trick might help you before you hit the gym especially if you want to run errands etc after...  Anyways, this is the end  of the extremely bizarre portion of this post.. phew.

So now for some online vendors. There are tons of options on line to get great tech fabrics so please make sure you hit up google as well. I have utilized Harts fabric, fabric.com, fashionfabricclub.com and Zenith & Quasar.

* Zenith and Quassar is a great place to start because they will send you a pack of samples so you can get your hands on a lot of different fabrics for the cost of shipping. Here is link to their page. My preferred fabric is their heavy supplex and i just checked, they have lots in stock at the moment. I did poke around their website today and wasn't able to find the listing for the samples so you might need to contact them to see if its still possible. If it is, its totally worth it!


* Next is fabric.com. It’s important to know what you’re looking for since there is so much to go through on this website! When i look for fabric for work out tops i look for good wicking, lightweight fabric with good stretch. When shopping for leggings i typically search supplex first (this is the term I use most anyway) and I love fabric.com’s pinecrest supplex, it feels extremely close to expensive activewear leggings you’d find at the mall and pay over $90 for. Fabric.com is pretty good about putting a weight in their description, and through its not in oz or grams which is definitely my preference, you can still trust it. If you’re interested in learning more about pinecrest supplex check out Lara’s post here.  
* Mood Fabric is great and i’ve purchased several different fabrics throughout their online site. They pretty much always include t a g/m or oz/yd in their description as well as what its suitable for. They will also send samples which is helpful.


* Harts Fabric has an activewear fabric section though at this moment it’s not very full. They do sometimes have designer cast off which is great- you'll see “just do it” fabric and i’m sure you can figure out what brand they are talking about.

* FashionFabricClub is also good about putting weights in their descriptions as well as suggesting garments to make with the fabric. Fashion Fabric Club actually has a ton of fabrics and is really really cheap across the board. There is lot to look through and their shipping can take longer (example; i placed an order 9/10 and received it 9/25) so be aware if you need something quickly you will have to upgrade your shipping (which i’ve never done).  


* Occasionally Knitpop carries some nice activewear fabrics - i got an athleta cast off from here. I will admit their descriptions are brief- don't expect any information on weight in terms of light/medium/heavy or by actual weight. So proceed with caution if its a textile you’re not familiar with.


* Finally i’ve heard amazing things about Peak fabrics in Canada however it hasn’t been very economical for me with their shipping to the US- they have a lot of designer castoff, if you look for LLL I bet you guess which company were are talking about.


One of the best resources i found early on was this blog post by Melissa at Fehr Trade, its a global list of where to get good quality fabric. Also i’d highly recommend poking around her blog as well as following her on instagram- she really knows her stuff.


Next up is thread. Thread is so important when sewing activewear! I really can't stress this enough. It's definitely as important as the fabric you are used. First, you should be using polyester thread as it won't break as easily as cotton. Investing in new/quality thread will help you (and your machine) avoid many issues. You want your thread to be able to handle a good bit of tension. All that said you’re only using the regular polyester thread in your needle. In your bobbin you’ll use a wooly nylon or maxi lock stretch thread- this gives your stitch a lot of flex. You’ll be using a stretch stitch that you know stretches well but we’ll get into that next post. I wind my bobbin as normal when i use this, i haven’t run into any issues doing it this way but as always play with your machine and some scrapes and see if it works. If you run into issues you may have to hand wind your bobbin. Trust me though, it’s will be worth it!  When you’re using a serger thread is equally as important- i like to use wooly nylon or maxi-lock stretch in my loopers. This again gives good stretch and it's very comfortable against your skin.
Image result for maxi stretch thread cone 


     Though you don’t  NEED a serger to create quality athletic wear that is durable it certainly makes it much easier and you get  more professional outcome. If you are using a sewing machine you will probably need to invest in a walking foot. This device helps your machine pull through both the top and bottom pieces of fabric at the same rate and prevents the fabric from getting stretched out while sewing. You also don’t need a coverstitch machine, of course it helps if you do have one. When I started sewing activewear I was using my janome sewing machine and my brother 1034d serger, both of which did a great job. I've since upgraded to a janome serger and a brother coverstitch.


Janome  1100dx Pro Serger
Janome Memory Craft 6300 

This is the newest member of the gang and so far so good. 

The next post will go into construction focusing on tips that i have to share to get better outcomes and some tricks I’ve stumbled on during the process of making a million leggings. I’ll also share some of my favorite patterns for leggings, sport bras and other activewear pieces. In the meantime, I’d grab some activewear fabric, stretch thread, stretch needles for your machine and start playing around. I think one of the main reasons I’ve had such positive outcomes is that I’m always happy to pay around with needles, settings, stitches and fabrics until I’m satisfied and i try to get this all squared away before I start the actual project!




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