Active Wear Sew Along – Knits

Look what I found in my stash. On the far left I have a blue polyester spandex(top weight), next a cotton Lycra stripe(top weight), then two pieces of nylon supplex(bottom weight) in slightly different shades of …yes you guessed it batman leotard grey. Additionally one of my current favorite work out shirts in a hot pink which was a gift from a very talented artist who developed a action girl character by the name of Tuff Girl. as you can see they all work well with my shoes…so there you have it. I did order some more pink Lycra from Sawyer Brook as potential piping on something.

This is an early post so that we can all begin to purchase fabric unless like me you have it all in your stash. So this will be our knit education post. What kind of knits should we purchase, What is wicking? What is a stretch chart? What is Lycra, Don’t all knits stretch? Do I need special tools?

Still with me I hope.

To begin with not all knits stretch, but most do. Double knits for instance generally have very little stretch to them but they are still made using a knitting machine and not a loom, and are on of the few knits that can be made up from a pattern suggesting woven fabrics. Most t-shirts are made from a interlock or jersey, and have a comfortable amount of give. When Lycra or spandex is added this supplies added stretch plus memory and these knits are called stretch knits. Memory means that the knit returns to its original shape after stretching. Knits that do not have Lycra or spandex in them will return to their original shape to some degree but not entirely…think of bagging knees on winter tights, or socks that will not stay up.


The Pick a Knit rule: What you will need to insure is that the knits you choose have the required amount of stretch the pattern calls for. If you look on the back of the pattern envelope you will see a stretch guide which will look like one of those shown above.

100_0241To use the stretch chart, fold over the crosswise edge of the knit fabric 3″. Hold 4″ of the folded fabric against the chart and gently stretch to the outer line.

In this photo I have folded the fabric over 3 inches and placed pins along the fold 4″ apart. The stretch chart for the top pattern is sitting above the fold.

If the fabric stretches easily without excessive rolling to the out line or slightly farther, the fabric has the correct amount of stretch for the pattern.

Okay this was hard to do while holding a camera, but as you can see my white pin which was at the 4″ mark can stretch to the outer line of the guide.

100_0243Be sure to look at the suggested fabrics for your pattern. If it uses the term stretch knit, this means it will require Lycra. My New Look Pattern 6160 requires a stretch knit for the top, but suggest a woven for the pants. I plan on using the Nylon Supplex for my pants and will adjust the pattern for the stretch in the fabric.

Stretch knits also stretch in 2 ways, or 4 ways. When a knit is a 2way stretch it generally only has spandex added on the cross grain, which gives you additional stretch around your figure. When a knit is a 4 way, it has spandex in both the cross grain and lengthwise grain, used mostly in dance wear and bathing suits. Your pattern will specify if it needs a 4 way stretch, but for our purposed a 2 way should be sufficient.

Enough about stretch. This brief article explains wicking for us, but the basic issue to understand is that cotton absorbs water well, which means it can cause chaffing. The new micro fibers in nylon and polyester though are made to move your body moisture from the inside surface to the outside where it can evaporate thus reducing chaffing and skin irritation. The nylon supplex I will be using for my yoga pants has this wicking property, but the cotton Lycra stripe will not, and I might consider making it sleeveless then.

Laundering – Certainly laundering active wear is a frequent occurrence, but be aware that you want to avoid detergents with perfumes or additives, as well as liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets because they clog the pores of your fabric inhibiting their wicking ability.

Notions –
Thread: Buy an all purpose polyester thread for sewing your knits. If you have a serger and you want the ultimate in comfortable seams you can treat yourself to some wooly nylon thread. This thread supplies superior stretch and is probably what you are accustomed to seeing in your store bought active wear, but it is not essential to sewing with knits.
Needles : Micro sharps work well for knits size 10 and 12
Elastic: My pattern calls for 1/2″ elastic for the drawsting in the pants. I plan on replacing the narrow casing with a wide one, which will require 3″ wide elastic, enough to go around my high hip. Additionally you might still want to pick up some of that 1/2″ elastic, its always good to have on hand when sewing with knits. A few yards will be plenty.

Resources: There is some reasonable priced appropriate fabrics at They have a poly pique stretch knit that would be great for tops. Dry flex a good choice for pants or shorts, and Nylon Lycra Tricot
a medium weight 4 way stretch suitable for tops or bottoms. Another good resource is Seattle Fabrics, they even have a stretch knit in camouflage!

Looking forward to seeing everyones choices.

Our current Active Wear Sew Along participants are:

Paula H,
Judy T,
Michelle H, and
Candy S.
yours truly.

Of course its never to late to join in. please feel free to ask questions and leave comments.
Until next time,

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