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Making a workout set with Athletic knit

Making a workout set with Athletic knit

One of the reasons I started sewing was to sew sports wear. I have always been active & have played tennis from a young age, but sports wear is so expensive, mostly all looks the same & doesn’t cater for tall or small. More & more these days sports shops realistically are selling leisurewear or gym wear so to find anything sport specific garments is also tricky without the minefield of online purchasing. Of course sports fabrics can be tricky to sew with so I thought I’d share my tips and hacks for sewing a workout set. Let’s dive in!


Northern Monkey Makes has a brilliant new range of digitally printed activewear sports jersey which is perfect for leggings, sports bras, leotards, dance wear, swimwear or leisurewear. It’s bold & bright & beautiful and the fabric has 4-way stretch allowing a full range of movement.

This sort of fabric can be slippery to work with but it’s nothing to be scared of. You don’t even need an overlocker or coverstitch, it can all be sewn on a normal sewing machine so long as you have a good stretch stitch.

Patterns Used
I wanted a workout set as I am rehabbing from injury & am spending most of my time in the gym or in classes at the moment.
I chose the latest leggings pattern from Greenstyle Patterns, the Resolution leggings, although new to me I’ve had good success with their patterns before & it’s a straightforward pattern with some great options including petite, regular & tall & most importantly pockets - why make anything without pockets?

For the sports bra I went with Sinclair Patterns Onyx, again a new pattern to me but their patterns are always well drafted & also come in Petite, regular & tall. This is always a massive bonus for me as it takes out a lot of the modifications, being 5’ 9.

Test Fit versions 
I made test fit versions for both patterns (shorties for the leggings to save fabric!) using some pink/black marl sports fabric that I bought from Northern monkey makes a couple of years ago.
The lining is a random sports stretch fabric from my stash. I decided to sew the whole set on my standard sewing machine, using a triple stretch stitch for the seam construction & a zigzag stitch for the top stitching where suggested by the patterns. This gave all of my seams minimal bulk & makes topstitching easy but you can also overlock which is probably quicker.

My test fit versions were a very good fit, the leggings I made no modifications to. The bra I made the under bust elastic slightly longer as it felt a little tight, I also reduced the height of the pieces under the arms as they were cutting in a little & added 0.5” to the length of the straps as the front was being pulled up slightly.

Adding foam bra cups
From experience, I know that I like my sports bras to have foam inserts (in case of colder days!) but I hate removable ones when it comes to doing the washing so I added sew in bra foam when constructing the lining pieces. I used the pattern pieces to draft pieces for cutting the foam with - removing the seam allowance and then the two pieces of foam were sewed together using a wide zigzag stitch, no pinning or clipping, I just pushed them together & the curves gave me a cupped shaped when sewn together. I pinned the cup onto the lining piece once they were sewn together & topstitched so that the cup stayed in place as well as tacking it down at a couple of other corners.

Adding clear elastic

Both patterns recommend adding clear elastic to some of the seams - in the bra neck & armhole seams it adds support & around the waist of the leggings it really does help keep them from sliding down. Happily Northern Monkey Makes now stocks clear elastic in their new range of haberdashery, 1/4 or 3/8” clear is perfect for this & is sewn into the seam with a zigzag stitch or can also be overlocked into the seam if you’re confident doing that. I really don’t recommend skipping this step, other elastic can be used but I find the thin clear elastic is just right with enough firm stretch.

Adding power net for support

As recommended by the leggings instructions, I decided to add power net to the front waistband panel for extra support. This is cut the same as the lining piece & basted onto the back of it then sewn as one piece. It adds extra compression across those tummy areas that we all have.

Others tips

* For my final outfit using the digital print sports jersey fabric I cut cross grain to prevent whiteout of the pattern. It’s worth noting that the fabric is slightly more compressive when cut this way, so if you’re at the top of your size range you may wish to consider sizing up if you choose to do this. I am mid range & I would probably prefer them slightly looser for everyday wear but they should be good for sports.

* Use plenty of weights when cutting the sports fabric, it’s a slippery sucker!
* I used a 75/11 stretch needle and triple stretch stitch on my regular sewing machine for all of my construction. I then topstitched with a 3.0mm wide x 3.0mm long zigzag or used my coverstitch machine in some places (to test it out mostly!). It’s definitely worth testing what needle/stitch/thread works best for your machines though as mine threw a wobbly with some thread (it was going to have beautiful matching green top stitching but my machine said no!).

* Nesting seams helps keep bulk down which can make topstitching easier. Topstitching isn’t essential but I feel keeps your seams secure when you’re working out.

* Pinning/clipping - use twice as many as usual!
* Basting - it’s an additional step that I know we all like to skip but it really helps with waistbands. When you have 2 layers that you’re sewing to a third it’s definitely worth the extra time. I basted my pocket layers, basted my leggings waistband, the bra main to the underbust band and the elastic to the band before turning it up. Well worth it.
* Wash away tape is great for any smaller bits that are slipping about. I used it on the gusset pieces and also on my pocket seams. It helps stabilise the fabric too.

* An awl is an excellent tool to help you hold on to fabric that bit longer before it goes under the sewing foot, to keep pieces together. Very useful for stretchy slippery fabric.

* Don’t be scared, give it a go 👍🏼
* Basting… did I mention basting everything? Basting, basting basting!

I get great feedback from everyone at my gym/tennis club whenever I wear me-made outfits, nobody can believe that I’ve made them myself. I love wearing bright colours when I workout, it makes me feel energised & happy… the new digital prints are so vibrant, they tick all of my boxes!!

written by Tracey Constant

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