sewing activewear

XYT top and Steeplechase leggings (patterns by Fehr Trade), made by Small Bobbins

There’s a constant pull with sewing (for me at least) between wanting to sew something very pretty and impractical but oh so fun, vs sewing something that is a necessity in one’s wardrobe and maybe not so fun even though, gosh darnit, it’s super practical. Some of us have probably heard of the Cake vs Frosting analogy, where a “cake” project is considered more practical and wearable and the “frosting” project is the sweet and fun and “you know it’s really not healthy for you to have only frosting, but it’s fine to have every once in a while”.

(One can’t live on cake either, I know, I know. It’s not a perfect analogy.)

So, on the spectrum of Cake to Frosting, these completed garments are… a hearty kale salad. With lentils. And like… I don’t know, a zingy lemon dressing. Okay, too far with this? Anyway.

I mentioned previously that I started running last Autumn. I held off on buying any fancy running clothes (of which I owned approximately zero before suddenly deciding to take up a sport) until I felt like I would stick with it, but the combination of the New Year, my Make Nine plans, and January’s Sew My Style theme (activewear!) kinda meant I just had to try my hand at making my own.

I shopped around a lot for patterns that spoke to me. I wanted a fairly basic top and bottom, something that was meant as activewear (not just a standard leggings or tank top pattern, although there are plenty of good ones out there!), and something that maybe offered some variations. The XYT Top and Steeplechase Leggings from Fehr Trade met the criteria for me.

XYT top and Steeplechase leggings (patterns by Fehr Trade), made by Small Bobbins

(I also considered buying Melissa Fehr’s book, “Sew Your Own Activewear“, or Johanna Lu’s book, “Sewing Activewear“, but both just seemed way more packed with patterns than what I needed for my first dip into activewear sewing! Both of them look like great resources though.)

And, following along with my sewing resolutions for this year, I made each pattern twice. (I’m already really pleased with this idea!)

I bought moisture wicking Lycra from UK Fabrics (which I found from Melissa’s very extensive list of activewear fabric suppliers on her blog). I bought…. way way way too much. On the one hand it’s great that I have so much leftover, because I certainly can use a couple more sets (especially capri’s and shorts for when the weather warms up), but I was a bit overwhelmed by the quantity! The top calls for less than one meter of fabric, and the leggings call for 1.2 meters of fabric. For some reason, I bought five meters?! I overestimated my enthusiasm, I guess. (If anybody in Belgium wants to do a fabric swap for some of my extra Lycra, feel free to get in touch!)

XYT top and Steeplechase leggings (patterns by Fehr Trade), made by Small Bobbins

For the first top:

  • Made the “X” back
  • Cut an XS at the bust and graded to S at the waist/hips
  • Lengthened the top to the largest size (#sewingtall)
  • Ignored the instructions for finishing the edges with elastic, and tried to wing it and overlock on some neckbands/armbands with self-fabric. It’s wonky for sure! There’s a slight v-neck at the front that I botched completely. On the inside portion of the X-back, I cut the band wider than I did for the rest of the top, and it doesn’t quite look right. (So, Kirstin, why did you ignore the instructions?) Laziness??! I get precious about my elastics supply, I don’t have a whole lot of the elastic that the pattern called for, and typically I’m not so terrible at assembling neckbands (Lycra can be shifty to work with!).

XYT top and Steeplechase leggings (patterns by Fehr Trade), made by Small Bobbins

First leggings:

  • Cut the S with no mods
  • Lengthened by an inch or so (just eyeballed it)
  • Used navy for the yoke, black for the legs, and pink for the inner pocket. I had my doubts about whether my giant phone would fit in the pocket, which seems small at first glance, but my fabric is stretchy enough that it does fit in there, and stable enough that I don’t think it would fall out during activity (although I haven’t tested this, I use a little clip-on pouch to hold my things while running).

XYT top and Steeplechase leggings (patterns by Fehr Trade), made by Small Bobbins

Second top:

  • Did a small bust adjustment (SBA) on the bodice piece. I noticed with the first top that I had a bunch of weird wrinkles on the top, and I blame this on my (ahem) small bobbins. The built-in power mesh bra does a great job of smushing down my chest, but the result was that then the bodice wasn’t filled out enough. I’m probably the only person who would be bothered by it, but the first top makes me look like a deflated balloon. The SBA on the second top definitely helped (although, again, I’m probably the only person that would notice).
  • Added more elastic length on the built-in bra lining. I think the power mesh I used on this top was stiffer, so I needed more elastic to not feel like I was being slowly crushed by a boa constrictor. (There are instructions for testing your power mesh and making smart adjustments based on the stretch percentage, but I skipped it because #lazysewist)
  • Made the “Y” back (which is easier to construct, and I like the shape, but the downside is that it hides my tattoo!)
  • Followed the instructions for finishing the edges and YES OKAY it was easier and I like the finish much better!
  • Used a zig-zag to hem the bottom instead of a twin-needle, which gave me a less-wavy finish.

XYT top and Steeplechase leggings (patterns by Fehr Trade), made by Small Bobbins

(Here’s a peek at the inner pocket and the built-in bra lining. Most edges are still wavy when not worn, but you can see below that it looks fine when I’m wearing it!)

XYT top and Steeplechase leggings (patterns by Fehr Trade), made by Small Bobbins

Second leggings:

  • The leggings are so freaking easy. Once you wrap your head around how that one giant blob of a pattern piece folds around itself to become a leg, then you’re left to attach the yoke, sew the legs together, attach the waistband elastic and hem (if you’d like, anyway, since lycra doesn’t fray). So, finding nothing to improve fit-wise or construction-wise, I took it upon myself to color-block the pattern. What else is a gal to do with so much shockingly pink fabric!? I needed to break it up a bit, so I put on my first pair of leggings, determined where I wanted to add a style line, traced the pattern piece into two new pieces, and added new seam allowances. For construction, I sewed up the two pieces and then treated it like the same pattern piece as before. Super easy!

Overall, I’m so pleased with how these sets turned out, and as long as the weather cooperates, they do end up getting a lot of use in real life. Would I sew more activewear? Possibly! I could use warm-weather gear eventually, and I’m tempted to recreate some sort of outer layer since my 13+ year-old college sweatshirt will probably not last much longer getting worn and washed so often. If you have any ideas for activewear jackets or sweatshirts, etc., let me know!