Susan from Measure twice cut once has worked in the garment industry all her life. A simple conversation about cycling over dinner became an eye opening discussion about many aspects to sewing activewear from this one incredible lady. Susan is a sewing gem in my books.
Here’s what she’s happy to share with us about making your own activewear.
Grab a cuppa and read on…
Active wear – Where to start.
I work out/cycle/do triathlons but I want to make my own gear but sewing lycra is new to me.
What basic designs shapes should I choose?
Go with what you already use. If you wear a singlet and tights to run in then go with that. Reason being is you know how those clothes work for you. How long you like your tops so they don’t ride up, how loose or tight you like it across your chest.
This is very helpful if you are learning to work with some of the stretch and lycra fabrics for the first time. If you can try them on and go “oh wow this fits like the top I wear or those tights I do yoga in” then you have a great point of reference to start from.
If you are starting to work out and sew work out wear at the same time, then perhaps pop down to your local sports store and try some RTW pieces on. I may think running shorts are the cutest things ever but they look terrible on me and I feel more confident and secure wearing ¾ tights. That’s being realistic with your needs.
Go with what works for you or what ever will make you kit up and do your workouts. Sometimes cute workout wear is all the incentive we need to get moving! #smallsteps
Where do I find basic patterns to start with?
Sportswear specific patterns can be found at Fehr trade, Papercut patterns, Jalie and even in the big 4 ie Kwik Sew or McCalls.
Think about what you want? High performance for running, swimming or cycling or some tights and a top for walking or getting back into exercise? Choose what is going to suit you and what is going to motivate you to get going.
Also think about a regular pattern in an active wear fabric. Consider the possibilities in the patterns you already use just by changing the fabric. A simple t-shirt goes from a t-shirt to workout wear if you use a moisture wicking fabric like polyester knit. Try a merino jersey or bamboo knit for a natural fabric with many similar properties as a starting point.
Is all lycra the same?
Not all lycra is the same. If you are looking specifically for active wear fabrics look for fabrics that have moisture management or moisture wicking properties. These fabrics have been created to pull the moisture away from you. This keeps you cooler for longer meaning you can work harder for longer.
Other common treatments in sports fabrics are
Sun protection – has a high SPF factor so you keep protected from the sun. Some super lightweight almost mesh like fabrics can have this treatment so sun protection need not equal thick dense fabric all the time. Be careful as the Sun Protection ratings can differ between countries and standards and it’s not the same as the sunscreen ratings we already know. If you aren’t sure then look it up, far easier than ending up sunburnt after a day out cycling.
Anti Microbial, Anti bacterial – treated to help keep bacteria and microbes away, Not only high in general ick factor but these little nasties can be the reason you end up with stinky workout wear.
Silver or other metals. Silver has a natural antibacterial property and it can be knitted and woven into fabrics. Most often seen in things like socks it is available in some fabrics.
And possibly the biggest one to look out for is that not all-active wear has lycra. Plenty of cycling jerseys, run tops etc have no lycra content at all. They can range from mesh’s, soft knits and even super stretchy knits but don’t actual contain lycra. Non-lycra ones can be less clingy which is a slightly more forgiving look and depending on which weights are available to you can be cooler or more breathable.
If I want long lasting active wear, what should I look for in workout fabric? –
Long lasting active wear is not only about the fabrics you choose but how you take care of them. Try and get out of anything you work out in as quickly as possible. Warm and damp is a breeding ground for nasties, which will make your garments, smell and in some cases increase the rate in which they break down.
Get out your gear as soon as you can. Don’t ball it up and leave it. If it can’t go in the wash straight away try popping it into a mesh bag. It helps it dry faster, and the airflow will help reduce smell and bacteria build up.
Wash and if at all possible hang in the sunshine. Be careful about fabric softeners/certain cleaning agents. Some active wear has been pre treated and certain cleaners can strip all of those treatments out of your fabrics.
Look for fabrics that have good recovery, so when you stretch them they bounce back quickly and not misshapen. This is an indicator that it will continue to recover after you wash and wear.
What lycra doesn’t show sweat?
Look for a polyester lycra or nylon lycra blend. Almost all cotton/lycras will show up sweat as the cotton holds onto the moisture, which creates sweat patches.
Look for fabrics that have been treated with moisture management or moisture wicking properties. These fabrics are engineered to pull the moisture away from your body.
What fabric helps keep me cool?
Certain fabrics are actually developed to help reflect heat and keep your temperature down, but for the most part keeping cool is about fabric positioning and layering.
Fabric position can be as simple as using 2 different weights of fabric. Higher heat areas will have a lighter weight fabric or even a mesh insert.
Layering seems counter intuitive when it comes to keeping cool but it works. Take a look at a professional cycling peloton and you will notice that many of the riders have a white singlet on, even on days when their jerseys are flapping open in the breeze.
This singlet is a base layer. Its tight fitting and highly moisture wicking. It pulls the moisture away from the skin allowing your body to stay cool and dry. When worn with a jersey it creates an air pocket between the base layer and the jersey, which helps the moisture, pull quickly to the outside of the jersey and dissipate. This double layer of moisture wicking ensures that the skin stays mostly dry. This feels cooler and more comfortable. Only on the very hottest of days do they go without (there are certain temps and humidity levels where the fabric technology struggles to work).
You may find a base layer works or even that a sports bra and then a top is cooler for you than a top with a built in bra.
Combine layering with fabric positioning for best results.
Are there special elastics I should buy for swimwear, cycling, running gear?
Certain garments are often made with particular elastics, but you can substitute so don’t despair if you can’t find them.
Rubber elastic is often used in swimwear and hems of some tops. Clear elastic is another one you will find in swimwear and some tops.
|Cycling chamois from shop of goodies on ebay
The legs of cycling knicks or bibs and running tights sometimes have a silicon gripper on the inside. This allows the hems to stay in place and keep the fabric taught across the body and not wrinkle up. This is important in certain sports, as you don’t want the fabric creating rub points. These rub points can get incredibly painful after many hours and cause abrasions, sores and other problems. If you want silicon gripper but can’t find it take a look for the grip paint you use to paint small children’s socks with (for when they are learning to walk). This makes a decent substitute.
|First attempt at sewing on silicon gripper elastic
Try looking at folded elastics for edges, wider soft elastics for waistbands and self-fabric binds and bands. Take cues from what you already know and like. Hate a waistband that cuts into your stomach? Then substitute elastic for a folded self-fabric in a yoga style band. It still keeps your pants up but can be more comfortable. Alternatively substitute a very wide elastic and remember to increase the waistband pattern piece for this larger size elastic.
Are there special zippers I should use?
The zippers aren’t special but there are a few things to consider
– Sportswear zips tend to be chunkier
– The zip pull is either larger, has a tab or special puller added
– Plenty of open-ended zips being used especially if it is an outer layer.
|A right royal 6am mess ready for work out wearing Kwik Sew jacket, top and leggings.
All of these are pure function (and a little bit of aesthetics). You need to open your garment while you are on the move, so it needs to be a nice big zip that can open smoothly. You have to be able to grab the puller and just unzip, no fumbling, no looking down and consider that in cold weather or in certain activities you will be wearing gloves so dexterity may be impeded. You need to open the garment and get it off without having to pull it over your head as this would mean you need to stop working out to do this, an open ended zip solves this issue.
– Try exposing the teeth (especially if you can find a nice chunky plastic zip) for a different look.
– Try using zippers with contrast colours to draw in some colour to your clothes.
|Activewear can be sewn on a sewing machine.
What lycra is easy to sew on my standard sewing machine?
Pretty much anything can be made on your standard sewing machine. Use stretch needles and experiment with your stitching types and techniques. Find needles that suits your chosen fabric and achieves a neat, clean look.
|Special lycra for activewear
Are there special trims I should look for and use or should I make my own?
Special trims would include things like reflective elements. Reflective trim is made from thousands of microscopic beads. These beads take a light source (like a headlight or street lamp) and reflect it back again. This creates the illusion of glowing and is one of the most effective ways of staying visible in dark and low light level conditions.
|All sorts of reflective trims for cycling gear
Colour blocking, where you use more than one colour can be highly effective, look very sporty and use correctly can draw the eye to your strong features and cover up other areas.
Fluoro or Neon trim is very on trend and can really add a pop of excitement to your outfit. Look for piping, tapes or make your own using neon lycras.
If you want to see the most innovative activewear jacket for training at night, here’s a link to Melissa’s jacket.
Impressive collection of specialist bits & bobs. Where did you get them all?
Have you done any decent rides in the new knicks? How was the chamois? How do they compare to commercial RTW knicks?
Wow Maria. You are an inspiration. There nothing you can't sew – I've seen you make amazing formal dresses, gloves for goodness sake, sew with leather and lace and everything in between plus this post is such a good round up of some of your activewear makes. Plus you are so fit!
Very informative post Maria. You have certainly made up some nice active-wear.
Lots of great info here and I'm planning on picking your brain when we meet up in person!
I've been buried in new patterns for a few days and I missed this the day it came up, am so sorry. Thank you for your lovely compliments, so nice to hear.
Happy to share information about sportswear, it's such a passion of mine and it's so good to see so many sewists taking the plunge and making their own.
Great information and perfect timing!
Thank you for some great tips!
I've been given the pipings from Susan of Measuretwicecutonce. I did find the reflective tape in Hong Kong last week. Places like Metro fabrics, the Remnant Warehouse and Pitt Trading will let you know if they have them when you give them a call.
Thanks so much. I love making anything really.
Thanks for that. I have more that I really want to make now that it's cold again.
Thanks for taking me around Sham Sui Po last week. I hope you can make a start now with the fabrics you bought.
You know so much this was a worthwhile post to share and keep for future reference.
You're welcome. I think you've done lots in this area for the family.
Happy to share.
Great post Maria. Excellent detail. 🙂