How to Sew Athleisure/Activewear – leggings?

Hello My Lovelies! So your girl is on that challenge herself tip and one of the things I said I wanted to do this year, is learn how to sew swimwear and activewear. This is my start, I would call this my wearable muslin and I actually learnt quite a lot sewing these leggings up.


Sewing knits is a new and wonderful world that I am slowly discovering, I have made a couple of knit items using my domestic sewing machine. I think most of us are discouraged to sew knits as we try to understand how much stretch the fabric has or understanding negative ease for a good fit. Unfortunately I also do not have all the answer to most of these questions, but I am slowly learning. I’ve never drafted a pattern for a knit garment, as I will just buy a pattern and take away the guessing work on what knit types would best work for the pattern style and calculating the negative ease.

The Pattern

As this is my first time making any form of active wear, I decided to pick a beginner friendly pattern and the Seamwork Shelly pdf pattern was definitely that. The pattern only had 3 pattern pieces and it’s a great afternoon sew, I would say it took me about 3.5 hours from cutting to finished garment. I’m a slow sewer, so I would say a speedy and more experienced sewist could do it in under NB 2 hours. Seamwork describes the pattern as follows; “The Shelly leggings offer simple construction and practical details. The wide waistband makes for a comfortable fit all while being easy to sew. A crotch gusset provides a flattering fit through the crotch and derrière.” The instructions were easy to follow and very beginner friendly. I cut a size XL (thick thighs saves lives 😁) and made no adjustments. I used 1,5m cotton lycra fabric though the pattern instructions suggested 1.8m. I like to live dangerously!

Let’s Chat Fabric!

Teal Cotton Lycra Fabric

I bought this beautiful teal cotton Lycra fabric from The Fabric Studio by Mint. I actually bought two activewear fabrics, a cotton Lycra and a nylon Lycra, both these work well for gym tights. The cotton Lycra fabric has a cotton feel, matt finish and is more light weight. I would recommend it more for athleleisure, yoga, or Pilates type of activities. For running and high impact sports I would recommend using the Nylon Lycra fabric as this has more weight and tends to have that glossy finish. The Cotton Lycra was R75/m and the nylon lycra was R99/m.

The Sewing

I used a microtex needle and sewed at a 3mm wide zigzag stitch at a normal tension of 4 and used a 1cm seam allowance as the pattern instructed. This worked well as the fabric maintained it’s normal stretch. Towards the end of sewing the leggings, my domestic sewing machine started skipping stitches, I continued but definitely worried if this will happen again. I read up more on Lycra fabrics and this is one the of recommendations I found in a book called Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina:

  • Sew on a domestic machine, sew using a 4mm wide zigzag stitch
  • For overlocker loosen the tension until no tread breaks, use 4-thread overlock stitch as it is strong and can stretch.
  • Good quality polyester thread is ideal because it has strech
  • Needles: for nylon lycra use 70/10 SUK Ballpoint. For cotton lycra and other lycra blend use 75/11 HS stretch needle.
  • Pressing: Steam or dry iron at medium to low settings.

I finished the seams with my overlocker using a rolled hem finish. I would have liked to use my overlocker to sew the whole garment but the loops were hanging outside the fabric, I am still learning my overlocker and the different functions to sewing different fabrics. I just ran out of patience when I was testing stitches on my overlocker😂🤦🏾‍♀️.

The Finished Garment

Overall I am very happy with these Shelly Leggings, I can see myself making a ton of these for athleisure or active wear. I love the high waist-ed waistband which makes them perfect for Yoga class or Pilates. Next time I will cut the Large size waistband as mine was not and form fitting as I would have liked. Pair them with a crop top and cute sneakers and you can be out and about at the grocery store or Sunday brunch with the ladies. I love the gusset feature, us with thick thighs that rub together, this is a great feature. I would definitely be making these in a Nylon Lycra fabric for high impact sports such as running and The Grid at the gym and I wouldn’t need to worry about chafing. Have you made active wear, what pattern would you recommend for a sports bra, I would like to try that next?

Thank you for visiting, let me know in the comments if there’s anything you would like to know about Lycra fabrics, needles and just to say hi 😁. Blessings my lovelies ♥️

8 thoughts on “How to Sew Athleisure/Activewear – leggings?

  1. Thank you for a great read, these are extremely helpful tips you provided. I’ll be revisiting this article for my running gear. Sooooo excited. 💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾


    1. There are so many fun and funky fabrics that you can use too, at least you will look cute running up the hill. Thank you for reading 🙏🏾


  2. So insightful, I still avoid knit fabric but MAYBE I should try it more now. Your pants are lovely and suit your body.


    1. Actually you’ve got me thinking that maybe I should just do a sewing knits blog post, just to get people started. So many people avoid knits just because they don’t know enough and they so great to work with.


  3. You’re so amazing at this. I actually need more active wear as I’ve returned to gym after maternity. I’m such a lazy sewist though. Maybe I should just commission you for this gig 😉😉


    1. Thank you Mpho, once I figure out the settings on my overlocker to sew activewear products, I will definitely take commissions. 💃🏽🌸


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