Performance Fabrics - Technical Athletic Fabric Explained

What is a Performance Fabric?

Performance fabrics have revolutionized the apparel industry, offering wearers so many benefits beyond mere aesthetics. Today we want more than just fashion and color in our clothing, and this is especially true for those of us who sew. We spend many hours creating garments, and we expect them to keep us comfortable regardless of climate and activity. What good is a great looking shirt if it feels like wearing a wet rag? 

Performance fabric is where functionality meets fashion. Fabrics that are designed to feel great while keeping the wearer cooler or warmer depending on the weather. Drier whether running a race or walking in the rain. These features are just a few we expect in a performance fabric. 

Technical fabrics play a pivotal role in enhancing the wearer's comfort regardless of activity. From activewear to everyday clothing, performance fabrics are engineered to meet specific needs.  These include antimicrobial properties, durability, lightweight construction, moisture-wicking capabilities, mold resistance, stain resistance, thermoregulation, breathability, and stretchability.  

Some of the Features of Performance Fabric

  • Durable Construction: 

Performance fabrics are designed to withstand the rigors of various activities, ensuring longevity and resilience. High-quality materials such as polyester and nylon excel in durability, making them ideal for activewear and outdoor apparel that endure frequent use and abrasion. Nylon is more durable overall than polyester but both are longer lasting than natural fabrics made with cellulose fibers. In addition to content, there are also surface treatments that can be applied to make fabrics more abrasion resistant one such example is Polartec® Hardface® which is a patented polymer surface treatment applied to enhance durability. We see this finish on many of the Polartec Windpro Stretch fabrics.

  • Lightweight, Stretchy and Moisture-Wicking: 

Lightweight performance fabrics offer unparalleled comfort, allowing for unrestricted movement. It isn’t just athletic fabrics that require stretch. We have become used to comfort in all our garments…comfort is expected!

Moisture-wicking properties draw sweat away from the body, keeping the wearer dry and comfortable whether they're breaking a sweat at the gym or having a hot flash moment!

Sweating can cause odors in fabric, and this goes for both synthetics as well as natural fabrics such as bamboo or cotton.

Although most performance fabric is a synthetic base, not all synthetic fabric is performance fabric. In fact, poorly designed synthetics can stink! However, when they are knit or woven to move moisture they dry faster, and faster drying means there is less time for bacteria to grow. Which leads right into the next feature…

  • Antimicrobial Properties: 

One of the most notable features of performance fabrics is their antimicrobial properties. Silver antimicrobial treatments and Chitosan are just 2 examples commonly into these fabrics to inhibit the growth of odor-causing bacteria. This helps keep garments fresh even during intense workouts or extended wear. This is one reason choosing a performance fabric when making a wardrobe for travel is especially important, unless you can wash your clothing daily see our other blogs on performance fabric to choose when making travel clothing.

Chitosan (pronounced “kite-oh-san”) is an eco-friendly treatment made with ocean biomass. We offer several fabrics that incorporate Chitosan into the fabric, making it extremely odor resistant. Chitosante Interlock Jersey and  Chitosante Extreme

  • Mold and Stain Resistance: 

Mold-resistant fabrics are a game-changer for outdoor enthusiasts and athletes who face damp or humid conditions. Additionally, stain-resistant treatments help repel liquids and prevent unsightly stains, ensuring garments maintain their pristine appearance even after repeated use. Many of the fabrics we offer have a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) finish. This also repels stains, while not affecting breathability check out our blog on Breathable Fabrics

  • Thermoregulation and Breathability:

Performance fabrics are engineered to adapt to the wearer's body temperature, providing optimal comfort in various climates. Breathable materials allow air circulation, preventing overheating during intense activities and promoting airflow for enhanced ventilation. Breathability can be enhanced by the construction of a knit fabric, for example Polartec Power Grid, which has channels on the back of the fabric to encourage air flow.

Or, it can be features we don’t see, such as the membrane inside Polartec Neoshell or Polartec Power Shield Pro, which both offer superior breathability as well as water repellency.

  • Stretchability:

Flexibility and freedom of movement are essential in activewear, and performance fabrics deliver with their inherent stretchability. Whether practicing yoga, running, or gardening, garments made from stretch fabrics conform to the body's movement without restriction.

  • Warmth without Weight:

This is huge! If you wear enough thick layers you will be warm in any fabric, but that’s exhausting as well as impractical. Fabric such as Polartec Alpha Direct, Polartec High Loft and Polartec Thermal Pro Fleece all incorporate technology that offers the best of both worlds. You can be warm with even lightweight layers! Read more in our blog on Alpha Direct fabric, which is a game changer in the outerwear industry.

How does Performance Fabric Compare to Natural Fabric?

Let me premise this by saying we love  natural fabrics!  Discovery Fabrics offers both highly technical performance fabric as well as many beautiful natural fabrics such as 100% Mulberry Silk,  Bamboo Fleece and French Terry,  Modal Stretch Jersey and Sweater knit, as well as fabulous Euro Knit Cotton fabrics.

But, there is a time and place for each! 

While natural fabrics like cotton, wool, and silk offer comfort and breathability, they often lack the advanced functionalities of performance fabrics. Cotton, for example, absorbs moisture but retains it, leading to dampness and discomfort during prolonged wear. Silk, while luxurious, does not possess the durability and stretchability required for active pursuits. But wow… does it ever make the best pillow cases you’ve ever slept on!

Wool provides insulation but lacks moisture-wicking properties, making it unsuitable for intense physical activities. This is why we offer both 100% Merino Jersey as well as a performance fabric version, Polartec Power Wool.  Power Wool gives you the comfort and warmth of Merino Wool against the skin, with a synthetic knit to the outer layer that makes it dry faster, and last longer!

In contrast, performance fabrics such as polyester and nylon excel in moisture management, durability, and stretch, making them superior choices for activewear and outdoor apparel. These synthetic materials are engineered to meet the demands of modern-day consumers, offering a balance of comfort, performance, and longevity that natural fabrics cannot match.

There is so much more we could say on the benefits of performance fabric. We hope you’ll join our discussion group Sew Inspired by Discovery Fabrics where you can ask questions.  We share what we are making with many of our performance fabrics and can help you make fabric choices when sewing  .

Benefits of Sewing with Performance Fabric:

Sewing with performance athletic fabrics offers numerous advantages for both manufacturers and consumers:

  • Ease of Handling: Performance fabrics are often lightweight and flexible, making them easier to cut, sew, and manipulate during the garment construction process.

  • Durability: Garments sewn with performance fabrics are built to last, withstanding repeated washings and high-impact activities without losing their shape or functionality.

  • Comfort: The inherent properties of performance fabrics, such as moisture-wicking and breathability, ensure maximum comfort for the wearer, whether they're hitting the gym or running errands.

  • Versatility: Performance fabrics can be tailored to suit a variety of activewear styles, from leggings and sports bras to jackets and shorts, offering endless design possibilities for fashion-forward consumers.

  • Innovation: Manufacturers can experiment with cutting-edge technologies and treatments, such as silver antimicrobial coatings and chitosan-infused fibers, to create garments that meet the evolving needs of the market.


Is Performance Fabric Just for Athletics?

Of Course Not!

Many performance fabrics can be used to make dresses, shirts, sweaters and so much more. Sun protection is always a benefit, and who doesn’t want that feature in their everyday clothing. Work clothes can be enhanced with moisture wicking and antimicrobial features to keep you comfy all day long! Athletic fabrics such as Breathe Tek and Yoga Stretch are great for all kinds of garments, including dresses and pants. Don’t limit yourself, you can make beautiful clothes with performance fabric!

Ask for Advice!


There are so many personal considerations when deciding on the perfect performance fabric.  Choosing appropriate fabric for your sewing project 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 as well as pattern requirements.  We will try to make suggestions that will help with your choices. 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! 

In conclusion, performance fabrics have revolutionized the apparel industry, offering a wide range of functionalities that enhance the wearer's comfort, performance, and style. From antimicrobial treatments to moisture-wicking properties, these fabrics continue to push the boundaries of innovation, providing consumers with garments that meet the demands of their active lifestyles. Whether it's hitting the gym, conquering the trails, or simply running errands, performance fabrics ensure that fashion meets function in every stitch. 

Best fabric for travel tee shirts