This guide to sewing sportswear has been kindly written by Melissa Fehr, designer of Fehr Trade sportswear sewing patterns. Visit her website here.
In this article, Melissa shares her top five tips for sewing sportswear and handling the specialist stretch fabrics you need for this type of garment.
1. Go Zigzag
If you don’t have an overlocker, you can still make great sportswear! Set your sewing machine to a narrow zigzag with a fairly short stitch length, and sew some lines of stitching on scraps before starting any new project. Stretch the fabric as far as you can length-wise and cross-wise to the stitching, and if the stitching breaks, you need to make the stitching more dense in that direction (i.e. if it pops length-wise, shorten your stitch length. If it pops cross-wise, choose a narrower zigzag stitch). If you’re getting skipped stitches, it’s a sign you need to change your needle to a stretch or ballpoint tip.
2. Don’t Stretch as you Sew
Whether you’re using a sewing machine or an overlocker, stretching the fabric whilst sewing sportswear will result in unsightly ripples. If you’re getting rippled stitching on an overlocker, adjust the differential feed until it lies flat. On a sewing machine, either invest in a walking foot, or use a roller foot with the presser foot tension turned down until there’s no further rippling.
3. Choose an Exercise-specific Pattern
Most commercial sewing patterns are designed to look good while standing, walking, and sitting, but exercise requires different movements and places stress demands on different areas than the average casualwear pattern. Look for patterns specifically designed for your chosen activity, or adapt as necessary. Fehr Trade have a great selection you can browse here.
4. Gussets won’t Fix a Bad Fit
This is a personal bugbear of mine, but the purpose of gussets (those diamond-shaped inserts you often see at the crotch or underarm) is to increase range of motion of the legs or arms. Many people seem to think that the addition of a gusset will automatically improve the fit, or is somehow necessary for activewear. Unless you are doing an activity which requires acrobatic range of motion (like climbing or some yoga), you’re better off fixing an ill-fitting crotch length than papering over the problem with a fiddly gusset insert.
5. Road Test
Sportswear fit is a very personal thing, and you’re unlikely to get it absolutely perfect on the first try. The only way to truly assess if your garment works for you is to take it out exercising! Think about whether the garment is shifting around at all while you move, or digging in anywhere, or whether the pockets are well placed (or where more could go!). I always recommend using cheap fabric of a similar stretch and weight for the first garment before cutting into any pricey wicking fabrics, as you’re likely to get the tweaks sorted on the second or third version!