Sewing Sportswear March 19 2015

It's not often you see me in sportswear, but I do make an exception for one week a year. For last month's ski trip, I wanted to raise my game a bit in terms of ski style and purchased an entirely new outfit in my new colours of navy and fuchsia.

Here's me out showshoeing in my new togs.

I did feel a bit disappointed when checking out the opportunities for matching base layers; of course, the most obvious choice for me would be to make something. But where to start? I wasn't aware of a huge amount of sportswear patterns or fabric out there, but it turns out, there are several options. I settled on the Fehr Trade Surf to Summit top for my base layer as it's designed specifically for sports base layers, running tops and that sort of thing. I have seen several versions pop up in the blogosphere, but it was Winnie's white version that really sold it to me.

Anyway, after consulting Melissa for some fabric advice, I ordered some samples of breathable jerseys, and decided on this fuchsia Tactel from Tia Knight. It's nothing like the colour shown on the website, the colour is much nicer in real life, and was a decent, if not perfect, match for my new salopettes. It's really stretchy too.

Taping and cutting the pattern was absolutely no problem and I finished it easily during an episode of 'House'. I cut the XS based on the size chart, lengthening the torso 3cm above the waist (totally standard for my figure) and I added about 5cm to the hem to be on the safe side. Having a long torso means tops that are too short are a particular pet hate of mine.

Next came a decision about the stitching. I wanted to try 'flatlocking', like you see on RTW sportswear, and I had heard it could be achieved with only a regular overlocker (not a coverstitch). Half an hour of googling later and I had a pretty good idea about what to do; in the end it took an hour fiddling with the overlocker and lots of samples to produce a passable flatlock.

It's still not 100% perfect but with time running out, it was good enough. The setup is as follows (right to left): remove the right needle completely (lazily I just left it unthreaded...). Set left needle tension to 1, or the lowest setting. Leave the upper looper tension as-is (for me, that was 4.5). Bring the lower looper tension to the maximum, between 7 and 8. Place fabrics WRONG sides together and, crucially, maintain backwards pressure on the fabric by hand while sewing. I was literally pulling it through the machine from the back to get a good, even stitch.

Then, when you pull the fabric pieces in opposite directions, the seam opens out and flattens, and you're left with a stretchy seam with the seam allowance encased, so it's completely flat.

Worth noting is that the most visible of the threads is the upper looper (third spool from left). Being a total cheapskate I had only bought two rolls of blue thread even though three were required - I wound some thread from one of the rolls onto an empty thread spool I had lying around using the bobbin winder on my main machine (does anyone else do this?).

Also worth noting, the seam isn't symmetrical, so I had to be sure to sew the left front seam from top to bottom, and the right front seam from bottom to top, if you see what I mean.

Overall the pattern was an easy sew, but I got a bit over-excited and wanted to flatlock everything, when I should have done a regular overlock or even twin needle machine stitch. The hem and cuffs have twin needle straight stitching in matching pink thread. The only really fiddly parts are the neck facing, which I'm still not convinced looks that good on mine, and the sleeve mitts, because I should have sewn them on my main machine.

One problem I did have was that my flatlocking started to unravel at the ends when under tension. It was fine where I could leave a bit of a thread tail hanging, but when you have a flatlocked seam joining perpendicular to another overlocked seam, when the knife cuts off the thread tail it made the flatlocked part really prone to coming undone. Does anyone have any suggestions for how to avoid this? I ended up strengthening these points with regular stitches, which aren't terribly visible, but it's still bugging me.

Here's my finished top in action. This is above the alpine village of La Clusaz, France.

I seem to be getting a bit of pulling across the front neck and the back shoulders too - possibly I have wide shoulders - this did not affect the comfort. I am happy to report that I skied like a demon in this and remained warm and comfortable all day.

I am tempted to make the XXS next time, but we'll see - it could do with being more like skin-tight overall, I think.

Here's a close up of the sleeve mitts. Because I (wrongly) attached these by overlocker I found them fiddly; I will do them with a zig zag stitch next time.

You can see that I left a thumb hole in the seam joining the sleeve to the sleeve mitts so that I could wear the mitts under my snowboarding mittens. I am delighted to report that this worked a treat - I normally wear silk inner gloves to stay warm but this meant I could do away with them. Perfect for taking selfies (using thumb) because I could remove the mittens without the rest of the hand getting cold. The sleeve mitt folds back onto the wrist for the purposes of drinking vin chaud.

Here's me actually on skis, lest you think I went all the way up there solely for a sportswear photoshoot.

I was intending to make some pink base layer leggings as well, and I bought some navy polar fleece with which I was going to adapt the Surf to Summit into a fleece jacket, but there wasn't time, so they will have to wait until next year. I did have time for a ski-themed White Russian sweatshirt - more on that later - and I made a neck warmer/snood (see below) out of some of the blue fleece to convince myself it wasn't a total waste of stash...

I'm thrilled with my new matchy matchy ski gear and can't wait for next season so I can sew more.