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March Sewing: Activewear

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Well, this (very, very long) post is a month overdue since I finished my activewear projects in March. But it’s taken me about that long to get over the trauma of trying too much new stuff at once (sewing with stretch thread, experimenting with a three thread flatlock seam, drafting my own sports bra pattern) and now I want to write down all these notes before I forget them. Also, I keep not taking better photos of my leggings and that’s a dumb reason not to write about them—maybe someday they’ll get a refresh? I truly don’t know how sewing bloggers (especially the ones with kids…) find the time to get better pictures taken!

Before I get too far into the (many!) challenges I faced with my activewear projects, I want to note that I wear these pieces All The Time. They work really well with a lot of movement (specifically: spin, stretching, weight lifting, and TRX), they’ve held up in the wash, and I’m not embarrassed to wear them to school drop-off before I go to the gym. I originally wanted to attempt activewear because I am a new gym-goer—I have recurring back problems (thanks babies! thanks sewing!) and I find that I can keep them at bay with a solid gym regimen and intermittent trips to the chiropractor. My activewear stash needed an update since I just had a couple of sports bras and a couple of pairs of leggings and I was doing way more laundry than I wanted to be doing in a week in order to have clean workout clothes. I go to my local YMCA so it isn’t a fashion show or anything but it’s also nice to feel motivated to go to the gym because your workout clothes are cute. I guess that’s how I feel about working out now.

Anyway, my first pick was the Avery leggings by Helen’s Closet. Everyone loves these and basically every review I read said that they’re great for working out because they don’t slide down (spoiler alert: it’s true!). I also liked the super wide waistband options and flattering lack of side seam down the outer thigh. I got all of my fabrics from The Fabric Fairy, which I’d highly recommend! I really wanted solids for my leggings and I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t heathered or space-dyed, so my friend Emily suggested I check out their website. They’ve got a great selection of activewear fabrics in a variety of colors and prints. I sewed up my first pair (pictured above) in this navy Dri-Fit Lycra French terry fabric, which is still available on their site. These leggings feel super sleek and have a bit of sheen to them, just like Nike leggings (I don’t know why I expected anything else..?). I was nervous that they would be too see-through when I got the fabric in the mail, but they are totally opaque. I had actually selected a different navy fabric on their site but the stretch percentage only said 75% without specifying whether it was four-way stretch. I’m glad I emailed to clarify because the representative that got back to me double-checked the fabric and found out that it wasn’t 75% four-way stretch, so she recommended the French terry instead.

I did a little bit of research about flatlock seams and decided to try that out with the navy pair. I spent quite a bit of time reading/watching tutorials by Johanna at The Last Stitchhere’s a good one that covers the basics. After reading her tutorial I decided I needed to incorporate woolly nylon or stretch thread into my flatlock experiment (see Johanna’s post about that here), and I’m still wondering if it was worth it. After quite a bit of research about woolly nylon vs. stretch thread, I bought a bunch of Maxi-Lock Stretch thread from Wawak, which is really reasonably priced and ships quickly. The short story is that while it kind of has a nicer look if you get the tension right, I don’t really notice a huge comfort difference with the stretch thread and it is a PAIN IN THE BUTT to thread your serger with it. I had SO many problems using it. Apparently it’s helpful to use a thread net with any kind of stretch thread (according to some people at least—that Pattern Review forum is very divided), but Maxi-Lock threads come on a cone so I didn’t think it was necessary. Stretch thread has a bunch of tiny fibers in each strand, making it very flexible, so it’s very easy for them to get wrapped around your serger spindles and it ends in heartache every time. If I decide to use my stretch thread again… I’ll use a thread net. Aside from my stretch thread woes it was a pain figuring out the right amount of tension for the three-thread flatlock seam. I sewed up the entire pair of pants with too much tension so the seam is rolled a little more than I’d like, but it really only bugs me. I also wanted to add a front cell phone pocket in the waistband and couldn’t find any tutorials on how to do that, so I winged it and closely examined a pair of my Lululemon leggings to copy their technique. And of course I didn’t think to take any pictures of it. Oops! But, you probably don’t want to know how I did it because it was a bit of a hack job. They look fine but I don’t know how structurally sound the pocket is. No unraveling yet!

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Now, my self-drafted bra… THIS WAS ALSO A PAIN IN THE BUTT. (Though I’m VERY happy that I chose the Beyond Cream Supplex from the Fabric Fairy. This fabric is so great for activewear—more on that later.) I was very sad/happy to see the Cottesloe swimsuit released a few weeks later, because it has a silhouette I would have been happy to have for a sports bra. But it wasn’t out yet, and I just traced off a sports bra that I already had and then added a few inches to the bottom to make it a crop tank. My goal was to make this top seamless (a la the Girlfriend Collective Paloma bra), but I have no idea how any machine, industrial or not, could achieve that. I basically used this method of construction I found over at Sewing Rabbit, but I stitched the arm and neck holes together with right sides facing, where she stitches them together at the shoulders. I ended up with some janky shoulder seams that I covered up with a ring of fabric (you can see in the picture above), and I couldn’t figure out how to insert the elastic at the bottom of the tank without the zig zag being visible. SIGH. Is this the world’s worst sewing recap or what?? 😂

Okay, how about something a little more straightforward? Let’s talk about my second pair of leggings:

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I used this Beyond Coral Supplex from the Fabric Fairy—I’d say it’s more pink than coral—and I LOVE it. It’s very compressive with a good amount of stretch, and the quality is just really fantastic. The description on the website says that it is overstock fabric from a yoga wear company, and the wrong side of the fabric is soft and feels so good on the skin. The Fabric Fairy has a decent selection of Supplex in very Valentine-y colors, which might have been fun to mix and match with rather than full coral for the whole ensemble.

As you can tell I made the second pair of leggings with the narrower waistband. Rather than a front cell phone pocket I added two side pockets using this tutorial from The Petite Sewist, which worked really well for the Supplex and wouldn’t have worked as well with the Dri-Fit. I goofed a bit while drafting the pattern pieces, because I wanted a full stripe down the side of the leggings (like these Lululemon leggings) rather than having a separate leg piece like the tutorial has, and I didn’t make the fabric piece under the pocket narrower. Consequently, the side seam creeps over to my front thigh/shin, but it’s not a deal-breaker. I actually sewed this pair up with a flatlock seam and it looked really bad so I unpicked it and did a regular serged seam and I feel good about it.

The top is a hacked Noelle bra, a free(!) pattern by Madalynne Intimates. I saw several people on Instagram sew this up as a swim top and one woman sewed it up as a dance top. The only change I made was to cover 3/4″ elastic with fabric, widen the racerback and attach the elastic directly to the fabric without rings. Since the elastic meets such a narrow piece of fabric at the racerback it’s not a super clean finish, but again—not a deal-breaker. If you want to sew the Noelle for yourself as a sports bra I’d highly recommend sizing way, WAY down. I saw one person note this on Instagram and sized down one size, but could have gone down more (I wear a 32 band and would have fallen in the small size according to the directions). I am a super newbie to bra-making but I have sewn one other Madalynne pattern and didn’t have problems with sizing, so it could just be because of the stretch of the fabric you’d need for a sports bra.

Okay, I’m super bored reading this recap but now it’s behind me and I can move on with my life. Next up: bras!

TL;DR

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P A T T E R N S : Avery Leggings by Helen’s Closet; Noelle Bralette by Madalynne Intimates; self-drafted crop tank

F A B R I C : Supplex and Dri-Fit Lycra French Terry from The Fabric Fairy

M O D I F I C A T I O N S : Added cell phone pockets and flatlock seams to leggings; omitted rings and used covered elastic for Noelle bra straps

O V E R A L L : The Avery Leggings on their own are a quick sew with great instructions—Helen does an awesome job writing out tips that will help beginner sewists, like using a three-step zigzag to finish the legging waistband. I made it way more complicated by adding my own modifications! I would love for Helen to add tutorials or pattern extensions for things like adding a cell phone pocket, like she has for patterns like the York Pinafore. It was just way too much brain work for me to figure out how to add these details to an otherwise simple pattern, but I guess that’s what helps you become a better sewist!

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