Technical Fabrics

Claire-Louise Hardie is sharing her tips for sewing technical fabric

One of the recurring themes in Sewing Bee, since the second series, has been the introduction of tricky or technical fabric. As the former sewing producer for the show, I introduced nylon anoraks, wetsuit refashioning, lycra and activewear. I was really hoping to add a swimsuit into series 4, but it sadly didn’t make the cut. In last month’s Love Sewing interview with Judge Patrick Grant, he revealed that there’s a dog coat and a tent refashion to come, so definitely some tricky fabric. He’s also promised more menswear, so I think since athleisure, or ‘the post-workout look’ as it’s been described by Business of Fashion, is a strong menswear trend, that we may see some men’s sportswear popping up.

What is Technical Fabric?

So what defines a technical fabric? Usually this is fabric that have been designed for a specific functional purpose. Ski suits for example are constantly being redeveloped to make them more waterproof, lighter, stronger and better suited for the job. No-one skis in heavy wool anymore. Technical fabric like wicking spandex was originally exclusive to the brands that developed them, for example Gortex, and therefore rare and expensive. However since there is more and more demand for activewear and technical fabric, this has reduced the cost and increased the availability, making it much easier for home sewists to find these types of fabric.

sewing technical fabrics

FABRIC FIRST

Whatever your chosen activity there’s a technical fabric out there. However, there are a lot of terms that may be unfamiliar to you if you’re new to sewing with technical fabric. It helps to do a little research in your wardrobe and make a note of the materials your ready-to-wear clothes are made from, including fibre content. Here are a few common terms:

Lycra/spandex

Lycra is a brand name for spandex which is an elastane fibre. The term lycra has been used as a catch-all description for stretchy fabric, but spandex is actually added to another fibre to create a fabric with greater stretch. Hence you can have woven stretch denim with a 5% lycra/spandex mixed into the cotton, or stretch viscose where the lycra/spandex is blended with viscose and then knitted into a stretchy cloth.

Wicking

This means how well the fabric will take moisture away from the skin. When running, for example, you will sweat and if the sweat stays between your skin and the fabric, then you will be uncomfortable, hot and prone to chafing and discomfort. Technical polyester fabric can allow the moisture through to the outside, this is sometimes called breathable fabric.

Supplex

Wicking fabric is often sold under the name Supplex, which refers to a breathable, fast-drying stretch fabric. Supplex is in fact a brand name for this type of fabric.

Waterproofing

This is fabric that has been coated on the right side of the fabric to repel water. Wax cloth coats are a traditional material used for working outdoors. Modern waterproof fabric can also have wicking or breathable qualities too. I regret wearing a non-breathable waterproof jacket last time I went walking… it felt like I was in a hothouse. Gortex was a leading pioneer in waterproof breathable fabric. It’s important to look at how waterproof a fabric is, for example a padded mountaineering jacket may only be showerproof or weatherproof, meaning you’ll get wet if you’re in a torrential downpour.

Tactel

This is the brand name for an adapted nylon fibre that’s very soft on the skin and lightweight yet strong and durable. It dries up to eight times faster than cotton and can be up to three times as strong. Often used in lingerie/underwear.

WHAT TO MAKE

Since sewing activewear has been a rising trend in the sewing community for a good few years I thought I’d share some project ideas with you if you’re looking to sew something new or diving in for the first time.

Leggings

Probably the best project for anyone new to sewing their own activewear. Leggings can be made in wicking for hot yoga, or in cotton spandex for “lounging”; I mean making your own leggings must count as a workout right? Way back in series two of the Sewing Bee, the contestants were asked to make a simple pair of leggings in under three hours, and they produced some pretty great leggings.

leggings pattern
For the beginner/newbie I’d recommend Kwik Sew 3636 as it is made from just two pattern pieces and a band of elastic.
If you’re a more adventurous beginner, jump into the Steeplechase leggings by Fehr Trade. There are no inseams which makes these chafe-free for riding! Plus the curved seamlines and deep waistband make fitting easy, and there’s a handy back zip pocket.

Not forgetting you might want to make men’s leggings – Jalie 2216 would be my choice. Sewing Bee presenter Patrick is a keen cyclist, so form an orderly queue to make and fit a pair for him. This is a great value pattern with a top and shorts in there and sized for both men and boys.

simplicity-mens-athleisure-pattern-8705-envelope-front (1)

You can get this pattern at Minerva Crafts for just £4.75 at the moment!

Tracksuit trousers/sweatpants

Not everyone wants to wear tight running leggings, and the ‘trackie’ bottom is now an acceptable fashion piece. Let’s just say that doesn’t apply to the shell suit! I’ve been lucky enough to see Mr Patrick Grant in a pair of joggers after he cycled into location, but there are sadly no photos!
The Hudson pants by True Bias are a great pair of smart style tracksuit trousers available in both women’s and men’s sizing. They even made an appearance in the last series of the Sewing Bee in Charlotte’s yoga outfit.

Sleeveless tops

These are an essential bit of workout kit, especially for activities that make you warm and sweaty!
For an easy/beginner make pick up the PDF pattern for the baseball singlet by Measure Twice Patterns. It’s a great intro to sewing stretch for women. And for men, try the FREE Arrowsmith singlet pattern on the Thread Theory Patterns website.
For you intermediate sewists, you could try an interesting top that combines a vest and an integrated sports bra: the pneuma tank by Papercut Patterns has great strappy details and helpful instructions.

stella hoody dress tilly and the buttons

Sweatshirt/hoody

It’s good to have a warm piece of clothing to wear post-workout or when exercising outdoors.
For an easy-to-follow design try the Stella hoodie from Tilly and the Buttons’ hit book Stretch. And if you’re looking for something with custom elements try the surf to summit top by Fehr Trade. It has lots of practical features and is available for both men and women!

free mens t shirt pattern

It’s great to be able to sew for the men in your life and sportswear is always genuinely useful!, This classic mens t-shirt is a real wardrobe staple created by our very own columnist Claire-Louise Hardie. Download it today – Free Mens T-shirt pattern and join over 10,000 people who have already downloaded it!

download free sewing pattern

TOP TIPS

If you’re new to sewing technical fabric and activewear, here’s a couple of general sewing tips:
• Always check that you have the right stretch percentage for your pattern, as well as the right type of stretch. A leotard made with a two-directional stretch will be very uncomfortable through the length of the leotard. This type of garment has to be sewn in a four-way stretch fabric, ie stretches up and down as well as side to side (see our guide on page 10).
• Ensure you buy swimwear lycra and elastic when making swimwear as this ensures your costume will survive any contact with chlorine.
• Use a needle designed for your fabric, eg a microtex for fabric with a high elastane content, or a ballpoint needle for sweatshirts.
• If sewing with waterproof fabric, consider heat-sealing the seams as needles cause holes in this type of fabric.
• Choose a pattern that suits your activity – Raglan sleeves are great for lots of sports as they feel less restrictive over the shoulder joint.
• Invest in a good quality thread like Gütermann polyester. Technical fabric is best sewn with a polyester thread as they are usually mixed fibres, so a cotton thread is unsuitable.
• If swimwear is on your list of activewear, then do check out my pattern round-up in the post: Dive in to Swimwear.

Swimwear sewing tips

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Categories: Dressmaking, Great British Sewing Bee Series 5, Learn to Sew Tags: , , , , ,
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