Performance Spandex Activewear
One of my big sewing goals this year was to try sewing my own activewear as it is the one type of clothing that my wardrobe is fairly lacking in and which I do get a fair bit of wear out of yet have never tried to make. Why keep making party dresses which only make it out of the house once or twice when I can make something that I will really put through it’s paces and which looks interesting and challenging to sew to boot!
Towards the end of last year I spotted the new range of Max-Dri Wicking Anti-Microbial Performance Spandex on the Mood Fabrics website and that was just the push I needed to get started. Ambitiously envisioning a handmade mix and match sports wardrobe I ordered substantial lengths of the black and grey and shorter pieces of the neon pink and orange, with the aim of using them as accent colours in the form of panels and trims. I’m glad I went for the smaller quantities of these colours as although I might consider wearing a top in the pink, the orange practically glows! That may suit some for sportswear but it isn’t quite ‘me’!
I wasn’t sure what to expect when my package arrived as I’ve never worked with a ‘technical’ or performance fabric before. They’re quite slippery and like a very resilient form of the lycra found in most fabric stores. It’s quite shiny on one side and has more of a matt finish on the other which I chose to use as my right side. It’s got a good amount of stretch in both directions with great recovery. I had expected it to be slightly thicker but once I’d sewn it up it was the perfect weight for this type of sports garment. I was concerned that for the leggings in particular it might be a bit thin and that it might get a bit see-through when stretched (let’s face it, nobody wants that!) but it’s totally fine.
I sewed everything on my machine using a stretch needle and narrow zig zag stitch but finished any visible seam allowances on my overlocker, trimming them down as much as I dared. I used a stretch twin needle to finish both of the hems which worked beautifully. Pressing this type of fabric doesn’t have all that much of an effect but I did give each seam a good steam and squash with my hand to help them sit flat and look more professional.
Around the same time that I spotted these fabrics Sewaholic Patterns released their Vancouver Collection of activewear patterns including the Dunbar Top and Pacific Leggings which are what I have made here. My sportswear is mainly worn for running and a bit of yoga (I’m not a gym kinda girl!) and I’m delighted to say that these patterns are ideal for both. As I’ve come to expect from any Sewaholic pattern (Tasia has guided me through my first dress, coat and now sportswear!) they are cracking well thought out patterns with professional looking RTW design elements which make you feel so accomplished when you’ve figured it out and sewn them! What really appealed to me about the top is that it includes a power net shelf bra. It only requires a tiny bit of mesh but I ordered a yard of this Black Shaper Power-Mesh as I had a feeling I’d want to be making more! I’m now tempted to buy some of the nude to make bodice interiors out of on fitted dresses. The construction of the shelf includes openings to insert bra cups or removable padding. I love this feature and it provides enough support for light exercise if you are not particularly large in the bust but for running I’ll definitely be wearing a sports bra with it.
It was certainly tricky to do the binding around the straps of the top in the the slippery spandex but I got there in the end! It required a lot of pins as no amount of pressing would keep this fabric in place. I was actually a bit confused about the binding process and would love to read a bit about this on another blog. I’m not entirely sure I’ve done it right as the edge doesn’t end up bound which seams odd but I’ve read over the instructions again and again and looked at the sample pictures and it all looks right.
Making the version of the leggings with the zip pocket in the rear of the waistband was an easy choice for me, it’s an essential when I run and this pocket is a great size for phone or keys although I haven’t actually tested it with my phone in yet to see how it holds up to the weight in there. I will absolutely be making a pair without the pocket though for yoga as I love how comfortably they fit and the way they are cut to sit on the body. They do seem slightly long for a cropped variation but let’s face it I don’t have the longest legs and this fabric does have a healthy amount of stretch in both directions. As Sewaholic Patterns are drafted for a pear shape and I’m more of an hourglass I cut the size 4 leggings but the size 6 top. I feel like the top has turned out a little large; I prefer quite tight fitting activewear, at least in this style. Next time I think I will go down a size but this will absolutely do for now; the shelf bra still gives a decent amount of support.
I deliberated for some time over whether to use a pink zip or contrast black. In the end I couldn’t find a pink zip bright enough to match the spandex so I went with the contrast black which was definitely the right choice as I feel like it ties the garment together and looks quite ready to wear. I almost regretted my choice when it came to inserting the zip though as trying to keep nice, clean and straight edges and topstitching in this slippery spandex was not particularly fun! The finished result isn’t perfect but considering it was my first try at sewing this sort of garment and working with this type of fabric I’m satisfied. The fusible web that’s required to stabilise the edges where the zip is inserted is definitely essential to provide some stability. I was worried that I had stretched out these seams and those crossing the ends of the zip as I sewed and that that would mean that this piece would not match up with the interior waistband piece but it all turned out fine.
For a garment which looks so simple when worn there is actually quite a bit involved in the construction of them even without the pocket. Reading the instructions for the gusset caused a lot of head scratching but it was a case of them not making sense until I had those parts of the garment in front of me and ready to pin or sew. I’m not sure I did it quite right as a couple of the notches seemed to be slightly redundant…but it worked! The pattern also has you ease a piece of narrow elastic along the seam allowance of the top edge of the waistband which means that this section sits really comfortably and snuggly across the hips.
Sewing up these garments in a slippery spandex or lycra definitely requires you to have a knack with handling fabric so I’d say they were an intermediate project. The leggings could probably be tackled by a confident beginner if you omitted the pocket and used fabric with a softer/grippier texture. I had some trouble with pieces shifting around which you can see in the pink section of the top where things are twisting out of shape slightly. I’ll take some more time over the basting step next time. Perhaps engaging my walking foot would have been useful.
Despite neither item being quite perfect I couldn’t be prouder of them for a first attempt and know they are going to get a lot of wear. I’ve got plenty of each of the colours left so now I know a little more about what I’m doing with them I can’t wait to get stuck into making more activewear. I’m definitely planning a cropped version of the top and at least one full length pair of the leggings, perhaps with neon orange accents this time! Has anyone got any other sportswear patterns they have tried and would recommend?