Leggings, Tights and Long Johns - Oh My! Choosing the Best Fabric for Leggings

How Do You Choose the Best Fabric for Leggings?

Things to Consider When Making Leggings

Leggings are a favourite of many as they can be so versatile. From workout to warmth, casual to dressy, choosing the right fabric for your purpose can sometimes be overwhelming. What you choose for ice skating in cold weather is much different than what one might choose for summer running, or for comfortable all season travel. Here are a few considerations to ponder when choosing you the best fabric for leggings, tights or Long Johns (long underwear).

Fabric Stretch

The best fabric for leggings or tights must first of all be a stretch knit fabric. You cannot use a woven fabric for leggings…even a woven with stretch. A Stretch Woven is great for other types of pants, even fairly snug pants. But leggings are usually much smaller than the body, and the fabric must stretch significantly in order to go over the hips and move with the body. So let’s cover some of the basic requirements. And don’t worry…we will link to some of our best recommendations below!

First and foremost, check the amount of stretch your pattern requires. Leggings are almost always form fitting and require Negative Ease. This means the finished garment will be smaller than your body measurements, as opposed Positive Ease in other types of clothing where the garment measurements are larger than the body measurements. 

It is possible to use a fabric with a little less stretch than what is called for, but this usually means sizing up and does require some trial and error to get the perfect fit. That’s a good reason to stick to fabric recommendations when possible!

Fabric Recovery

Fabric recovery refers to its ability to return to the same shape it started, after being stretched. Leggings bag in the knees usually because the fabric does not have good recovery,even though it may have enough stretch. High quality athletic fabrics should always remain smooth even after bending your legs. A fabric's ability to recover is determined by its content, weight and knit construction. Cotton typically has poor recovery, and requires a high lycra mix. Even then it is not the best fabric for leggings when compared to more high performance synthetic fabrics. Very lightweight fabrics often don't have enough spandex yarn weight to recover well. Even when they do, it’s easy to see right through the fabric when stretched. Very lightweight knits may not be the best fabric for leggings as they are not opaque, but may be suitable for wearing under tunics or dresses. Squat Proof is a term often used to describe a legging fabric that is opaque and won't show through when one is bending over. The best fabric for leggings and other snug fitting athletic garments should have all of these qualities.

Intended Use

Athletic leggings (for working out, running, yoga, etc) your best choices are synthetic fabrics such as Supplex nylon or soft polyester with a high spandex content. Supplex is not an actual fabric, it's a treatment done to nylon to make it feel more like cotton. An example of Supplex nylon that we carry is Yoga Stretch. The best fabric for leggings are polyester or nylon based.  They are preferred as they are usually moisture wicking and quick drying.

Other features to consider:

Do you want a highly compressive athletic legging or a casual, comfortable legging for leisurewear. Do you want warm and snuggly or lightweight and cool to the touch? How about sun protection or durability? You may not get every feature in any one fabric, but often you can get what is most important to you by reviewing our Legging Fabrics Matrix pdf as well as the Specs and Features tab on each of our fabric's web page. Or, consider our Legging Pack as it contains cut yardage of four of our most popular legging fabrics! For example, Midweight Scubaluxe is very compressive, opaque, slick and cool to the touch while Yoga Stretch is somewhere between soft and durable, opaque, and matte lending itself to both workout or dressy pants. Breathe Tek Athletic is buttery soft, opaque and has a 50+ UPF rating. Northern Lite Athletic has a brushed back for a little extra warmth. Polartec Power Stretch Fleece Backed is cozy and warm. Polartec Windpro Stretch is similar to Power Stretch but has a Hardface water-repellent finish. Chitosante Extreme is a sun-protective athletic with eco-friendly antimicrobial made with seashells! There are so many choices available to customize your leggings. In the pdf document, we also included a few fabrics that are suitable for long underwear bottoms (a slightly looser fitting legging if you will) as the lines between a true legging and long johns can sometimes blur, especially during the colder months! Some of our recommendations for long underwear include Polartec Power Grid, Polartec Power Wool and RedHeat Jersey.  

Ask for Advice!

There are so many personal considerations when choosing the right fabrics for travel. Choosing appropriate travel clothes depends on many factors. We love to help, which is why we have a Facebook Group. If you ask in our group, be specific about where you are going (climate), what you will be doing and if you plan on packing with carry-on only. We will try to make suggestions that will fit your trip. We are always happy to chat in the group, where others can learn from the answers! Our Facebook group is Sew Inspired by Discovery Fabrics. Join us!