The ultimate guide to the best activewear fabrics as well as prints and patterns to choose for activewear

Active material that does the job

The most important thing we look for when choosing these types of fabrics and workout clothes on sale is something that will keep us cool and dry. These types of fabrics you’ll find in stock are moisture wicking fabric: 

What to look for in active clothing materials

Make sure to take the following into account when choosing activewear fabrics:

  • Do the fabrics cope with sweat? You need to make sure that the fabric you choose is a moisture wicking fabric. These fabrics keep sweat away from your skin so that you stay comfortable while exercising. It also reduces stains and smells, which would make you feel self-conscious while working up a sweat. Cotton and linen have these capabilities.
  • Does the fabric breathe? Air must move through the fabric when you’re exercising. You are going to get hot, so you don’t want fabrics that are going to make you even hotter. You’d prefer something that keeps you cool, like cotton.
  • Do the fabrics move with you? Activewear doesn’t only have to be dry. It needs to stretch with our bodies so that we’re extremely comfortable while exercising. The best fabrics for working out are those with a 4 way stretch. Cotton jersey does this well.
    .   Is it regularly washable? You want fabrics that cannot only withstand stretching, sweating and abrasion, but can also be washed regularly to keep them fresh.

    Consider this when choosing material for active gear

    Make sure:

    -       It works well for whatever type of exercise you’re doing. There are no one-size-fits-all fabrics; it all depends on how much you’re going to be sweating, stretching and moving. This is why lots of cotton fabrics are used for less strenuous exercise.

    -       Is breathable and keeps you dry.

    -       Moves when you move. 

    -       Works as hard as it looks good. 

    5 popular textiles to choose


    This is a popular choice on sale for many activewear swim and gym manufacturers, as this synthetic fabric effectively draws moisture away from the body. Polyester wicks moisture – ie it takes the moisture away so that we are comfortable, dry and odour-free. 

    It also doesn’t crease, is hard wearing, quick drying and lightweight. It’s not only great in the summer – polyester insulates the body in winter. The only downside: make sure to wash it after every use, as it can hold onto odours. 

    Best for: all types of sports fabrics and workout clothing and any type of exercise.

    Spandex/sports fabric

    This high quality stretch synthetic fabric stretches up to eight times its size. It’s used as a garment for sports that require a lot of flexibility, like yoga, pilates and weight lifting. 

    Best for: leggings, sports bras, socks and running shorts.


    Look for soft stretch fabrics on sale that perform well and are resistant to mould and mildew. They move with your body, are moisture wicking and resist mildew. Lots of activewear is made out of nylon, or reused nylon, or blended with other fibres to create workout gear.  The downside: like some other dressmaking fabric, you need to wash them regularly to get rid of odours. 

    Best for: This fabric is an all-rounder, found in many types of activewear and used all seasons. Nylon garments include undies, sports bras, shorts, T’s, tops and leggings.


    This is a form of plastic. It’s thin, flexible and is extremely waterproof breathable and versatile. It’s very hard wearing and crease-resistant and ideal for wearing in humid or very cold weather (it’s thermal in cold climates). Unfortunately, it needs to be washed regularly as it holds onto smells, like polyester. 

    Best for: rain jackets, skin-tight base layers, socks and sports undies.

    Merino wool

    This natural lightweight high quality wool cloth keeps you extremely warm in winter and cool in summer. It’s also a moisture wicking fabric that keeps sweat at bay. Thinner and softer than regular wool, this expensive wool fabric is usually blended with other fabrics (polyester included) because it’s soft and breathable. Sadly, this wool fabric is not as durable as other fabrics. 

    Best for: leggings, tops, jackets.

    The best materials and prints for your body shape

    Don’t discount your own body when choosing sports gear fabrics. We’ve done our research to come up with a guide to which patterns, fabrics and prints work best for different body types. Read this before you look what’s on sale.

    The Apple 

    Apple-shaped women usually have slim arms and legs. They retain weight in their middle and upper body areas – their backs, breasts and stomach. 

    Fabric types: As shiny, body hugging fabrics will draw attention to those areas you’re hoping to hide, avoid them when sewing. This type of cloth includes chiffon, rayon and satin. Make a list of fabrics that are less unforgiving, like viscose, cotton and wool.

    Pattern types: Draw attention away from big busts with scoop necks or V-necks. Choose lightweight cotton tops that sculpt the body and give an illusion of a small waist. Tops with zips are much more flattering than cotton sweatshirts with high necks.

    Print types: Wear dark or plain colours on top, and then go wild with eye-catching patterns and prints on your legs, which will detract from your bosom. 

    The Pear 

    Remember when sewing: pear-shaped women have small upper bodies and are curvier on the bottom. 

    Fabric types: Only wear heavy fabrics on the top to increase bulk. Jersey, polyester, cotton and viscose are excellent for sewing for this body shape. They flatter the pear shape’s lower body best. Remember: flat, smooth textures decrease the size of those areas you’re trying to hide.

    Pattern types: Choose designs that draw the eye upwards and highlight your waist. You can be daring with tops when it comes to colour, print and pattern, but make sure to avoid drawing attention to your bottom half, which is heavier. Avoid tight-fitting leggings if you’re very self-conscious. Sewing a flattering track pant is a better choice.

    Print types: Opt for bolder prints and patterns on the top, and smaller patterns on the lower half of your body. Avoid an all-over print. Even out the body by adding neutral and pastel shades to your bottom half.

    The Hourglass

    Flaunt your perfect curvy hourglass figure with light, natural body-skimming fabrics like cotton that can reveal all your curves.

    Fabric types: You’re so lucky – form-fitting fabrics seems great on your shape. Highlight curves by sewing activewear using spandex and cotton jersey. Use heavyweight fabrics sparingly, as these could make you seem more bulky.

    Pattern types: Flatter your bust with a V-neck, show off your waist in a crop top and choose high-waisted leggings for extra effect. Make sure when sewing to choose patterns that will keep your clothing a little loose. The secret is leaving something to the imagination…

    Print types: All prints and patterns work for this body shape, with its perfect symmetry. However, you are curvy, so perhaps avoid really busy patterns, as these will put on a few pounds, and make you seem larger.

    The Rectangle 

    If you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, you probably think you’re too ‘straight up and down’. But being slim with a small bust isn’t all bad. You can get away with murder when sewing activewear – in fact, all types of clothing!

    Fabric types: Opt for fabrics for sewing that will skim the body rather than bulky fabrics – we’re talking about silk, spandex, you name it. You can wear them as tight as you like. Remember: shiny textures reflect light and emphasise any curves. 

    Pattern types: Play with layers. You’re lucky enough to be able to wear what you want without worrying about looking heavier, so take full advantage when you’re sewing active gear.

    Print types: Wear tops and bottoms in contrasting hues, and play with layers. Choose bold prints and patterns that make you curvier. A heavier cotton could do the trick.

    maake's top textile choices

    Select your choices of our versatile, quality activewear fabrics selection:

    Active Eco Lycra: Lightweight fabric, a blend of polyester and elastane, ideal for activewear. 

    Eco Lycra: Made from fabrics that have previously been used – (rPEt) and elastane. Excellent choice of fabrics for activewear.

    Heavy Lycra: The heaviest of our stretch fabrics is made from elastane and polyester. It’s perfect for leggings and activewear.

    Eco Glitter Dot Lycra: This gorgeous, shiny rainbow foiled spot fabric made from rPET/elastane fabric is often used for dancewear, leggings, swimwear and other activewear.

    Organic Jasmine Lycra Jersey: Lightweight organic cotton jersey fabric, popular for leggings.

    Poppy Lycra Jersey: 89% cotton and 11% elastane blend, lightweight cotton jersey fabrics are a great choice for leggings.

    Stretch Lycra French Terry: 90% cotton 10% elastane stretch material blend. This cotton and elastane blend is often used for sweatpants and hoodies because of its durability and versatility.


    Some quick inspiration

    Before you start your fabric selection, make sure to read our informative guides on what is lycra? and  how to sew stretch fabrics.

    To whet your appetite, we included here a tiny sample of the gorgeous designs we have available in our library of 15,000+ designs. Remember, each time you choose a design to print on one of our fabrics, we pay the independent artist who created it.

    Browse our Design Library, check out the product, include in your cart, then order.

    Or print your own design

    Need help on the technical fabrics side? Contact us right away and we’ll help you transform your designs into wearable art on fabrics. Then choose your fabrics, and let us print on them for you.


    September 22, 2022 — Alexander Wills