Published on October 15, 2023

Must-Know Sportswear Fabric Types for Optimal Performance

Stretch Fabrics

Stretch fabrics are soft and flexible, making them ideal for clothing that moves with the body. These materials are usually knitted, and some contain elastane (lycra), which gives the fabric elasticity. They are also lightweight and breathable, perfect for workout clothes and dancewear.

There are several types of stretchy fabrics, and their elasticity depends on the yarns used in the fabric and the way the material is made. For example, polyester-spandex blends often have a 4-way stretch because the strings can be stretched both crosswise and lengthwise.

Natural fabrics can also have some intrinsic elasticity, which improves recovery. For instance, wool is naturally wavy and has some elastic qualities because the fibers are curly or wavy, which allows them to rebound more easily when stretched. However, this type of elasticity is limited and may need more to provide optimal performance in sportswear.

When sewing a garment with these kinds of fabrics, it is important to use a twin needle stitch that can accommodate the stretching and movement of the material. This stitch is available in most sewing machines and can be adjusted to your preferred setting to achieve the best results. It is also recommended to sew with a zig-zag stitch because straight stitches could break or come undone when the fabric is stretched.

Moisture-Repellent Fabrics

Waterproof and water-resistant breathable fabrics protect the wearer from rain while providing active ventilation. They feature an outer layer of tightly woven fibers separated by spaces filled with air or gas and are very light in weight. They are used in various applications, including protective clothing, multilayer wound dressings, tree shelters, wheelchair cushions and beds, textile membranes for roofs, etc.

The human body releases around 60 of sweat vapor during normal activities, and the humidity must be transferred to the fabric surface for evaporation to provide cooling effects. This process is called capillary action. Purely hydrophobic fibers don’t wick away the moisture, so they must be combined with hydrophilic ones. One popular sportswear fabric used for this purpose is polyester, which can be made more hydrophilic by treating it with a special chemical coating.

It is also important that the fabric be quick-drying. Quick-drying materials sit on top of the skin and act as a sponge, absorbing the sweat and pulling it towards the outside of the garment, where it can evaporate faster.

Moreover, the breathable fabric must be resistant to wetting (when it comes into contact with liquid water) and have good resistance to pilling. To achieve these properties, it must be treated with a DWR finish.

Drape Fabrics

Fabric drape is pivotal in shaping a garment’s aesthetic and desired look. Whether you’re looking to produce flowing, elegant dresses or structured suits exuding sophistication, fabric drapes can make or break the overall aesthetic of your designs. Good draping allows the fabric to fit over the body, hiding its structure and imbuing it with its visual elegance.

Different types of drape fabrics are influenced by the type and style of garment, fashion, personal taste and the fabric’s innate properties. For instance, silk’s lustrous sheen and smooth texture is the hallmark of high-end fashion, making it a favored fabric for formal dresses and other high-profile events. On the other hand, ribbed fabrics like twill are a staple in workwear because of their resilience and durability.

Another important factor that influences fabric draping is its weight. While fabric weight and drapability are not directly dependent on each other, the heavier the fabric, the more it tends to have a low drape. Conversely, a lightweight fabric can have a very high drape (think of organza).

Textured Fabrics

When referring to texture fabrics, there is a wide range of options. These may be rough, coarse, clingy, fluffy, fuzzy, furry, soft, shiny, or dull. They can also be woven or knitted in different textures, including plain, herringbone, twill, and jacquard.

The fabric’s texture is determined by its pile or nap. This is the height of the fibers above the surface. Typically, higher-pile materials are more durable and offer greater warmth than those with a lower pile. In addition, textured fabrics can be made using a variety of weaves and threads, including linen, cotton, silk, velvet, seersucker, denim, and polyester.

Polyester is a performance fabric often associated with low-quality clothing, but it has been repositioned as a more stylish and contemporary material. This performance fabric is wrinkle-resistant, stain-resistant, and antibacterial, making it ideal for athletic wear.

Another option is Tencel, a type of cellulosic fabric that’s eco-friendly. Like bamboo spandex, it combines moisture-wicking capabilities and breathability with the strength and durability of tricot fabrics. These properties make it ideal for outdoor activities, including hiking and jogging. This performance fabric comes in various weights and textures, from lightweight to plush. The most common is a plain weave, made from horizontal and vertical yarns alternately woven over and under each other to create a strong and versatile fabric.


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