P1003 & P1004: Hi-tech Fabric

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but in the last decade of so fabric technology appears to have developed in leaps and bounds. These days there are all kinds of sports-related garments with hi-tech fabrics spruiking various benefits, from the moisture-wicking quick-dry standard gym fare we probably all have, to compression undergarments designed to decrease muscle fatigue and aid in recovery. Or just suck in your gut, like spanx.

Mr poppykettle competing in the Shepparton Half Iron Man, 2012
Mr poppykettle competing in the Shepparton Half Iron Man, 2012

Open any of the cupboards at chez poppykettle and you will find all these things and more – and not just because I enjoy a bit of gut-sucking-in action, but because Mr poppykettle’s hobby is competeing in triathalons and IronMan competitions (he even has a wet-suit that purports to increase buoyancy by up to 40%, thus allowing you to ‘save’ your legs for the ride and run segments). The pictures above and below are him during his first and second 70.3‘s. A little gloating if you don’t mind – he completed last years competition (a 1.9km/1.2mile swim, 90km/56mile bike ride and then a half marathon – 21km/13.1mile run) in 4 hours and 22 minutes – just missing out on a podium finish by coming 4th in his age group, and 41st overall out of nearly 1400 competitors. Proud much? Just a bit! Unfortunately due to a stress fracture injury he’s had to pull out of his events this year, but still.

2011 Half IronMan
2011 Shepparton 70.3/Half IronMan

For me though, fabric technology began back in 1935 with the creation of Nylon. Like most fabric developments since its time, it was originally a military innovation. The thermoplastic polymers that make up nylon give it a ‘silky’ and smooth texture, and Nylon was designed as a replacement for silk which was scarce following the end of WWII. Likewise, viscose rayon, polyester and other synthetic fibres were also designed to mimic their natural counterparts.

Image via allposters.com
Image via allposters.com

Side tracking yet again – Nylon was first used for fishing line and toothbrush bristles – but ask anyone what you associate with Nylon and undoubtably the answer will be stockings! The original stockings made from Nylon were so strong and durable that they could be used to tow a trailer behind a car. In my world, that is just pure awesome. They were obviously a big hit with women as no longer did our fore-sisters have to worry about runs and holes appearing. Of course, this also meant that manufacturer’s weren’t selling as many units, because Nylon stockings lasted so much longer than their predecessors made from silk, wool and cotton. Big Industry sent their engineers back to the drawing board to decrease the life of nylon stockings – and so this product became the second documented instance of the manufacturing phenomenon called ‘planned obsolescence‘ – where products are engineered to fail. (The first was the humble incandescent globe – check out this info on the Pheobus Cartel if you’re up for a bit of conspiracy theory).

So the next time your $14 pair of Levante‘s ladder, tear or rip – you’ll know who to curse. Your friendly neighbourhood engineer.


But marketing of fibres has of course moved on from stockings to sports fabrics that combine the technologies developed in the 20th century, and now it’s the turn of the high end stuff to get the high-tech treatment. ZZegna (the younger, more fashion-forward brother to Ermenegildo Zegna) has been including some pretty cool fibre innovations in his collections, like Microsphere – with which you can wipe off those pesky wine and mustard stains at the swipe of a damp cloth. Giotto New-Gen (an Aussie brand) have applied the slip slop slap mentality to their fabrics, launching Cold Black – a “special finishing technology for textiles which reduces heat build up and provides reliable protection from UV rays”. Presumably this will make wearing your favourite tux on a warm summers evening feel like you’re really just wearing a seersucker suit.

Or this rain jacket from ZZegna‘s Autumn 2013 Menswear collection which sports rubber bonded onto wool garbadine to keep your beau warm and dry:

via style.com
via style.com

Then you’ve got the flip side of fibre technology mixing with recycling – Sax Altman makes chino’s (Repreve) from cotton interwoven with recycled plastic bottle polymer strands; although this would help offset the rising cost of cotton I doubt you’d end up saving much. You’ve also got fashion houses like Martin Margiela perhaps taking the fabric/recycling cross over to the extreme – with this jacket made from recycled polyethylene garbage bags:

via style.com
via style.com

Many thanks to the article bty David Waters in the Qantas magazine for bringing these designs and fabulous fibres to my attention. But really, there hasn’t been to the best of my knowledge any new commercially significant developments in fabric since nylon, lycra and maybe kevlar. Actually, one day I’d really like to sew something out of kevlar. A wicked-ass biker jacket would be totally appropos made from kevlar! What we’re seeing here in sports gear and rubber rain jackets isn’t actually new, it’s just taking already existing technologies and combining them together to get the next evolution. Kinda like mixing chocolate, caramel and salt (all equally delicious in their own right) to get the mouthwatering creation of salted chocolate caramel. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts?

via mushitza
via mushitza

…. Sorry, I got distracted thinking about salted chocolate caramel for a minute there.

But I’m here today to talk about sports fabrics. Because these innovations have trickled their way down into our fabric stores and even though I don’t spend upwards of 25 hours a week training like my beau, I’m not a complete couch potato either (well… maybe sometimes) – I’m in the market to make some gym clothes – I’m sure I can’t be the only one suffering with ill-fitting sports gear?

I’ve got my eyes on New Zealand’s Papercut Patterns: the Ooh La Leggings and the Undercover Hood.


I’ve been looking high and low (not really, just googling from the comfort of my couch) for some high tech fabric I can get my hands on to make the leggings with, ending up with some 80% Nylon 20% Lycra black and turquoise fabric that looks and feels identical to the fabric my current Nike gym pants are made from, and some pink, grey and black striped unknown fabric with good recovery from a mystery bolt at Trimmings and Remnants.


And some gorgeous textured blue merino wool/lycra blend from New Zealand Merino and Fabrics for the hoodie:

wool lycra blend fabric

Because hey, you can fiddle with fibre as much as you like but as far as I’m concerned, wool will always be the ultimate in high performance – and you don’t need a lab to create it. It’s renewable too! Keeps you cool in summer, warm in winter, sheds water to a degree (even if you do end up smelling like a wet dog) and most importantly to me – is breathable.



  1. Great blog Melanie about modern fibres. I grew up with Crimpolene in the 70’s and everyone thought that was amazing!! I would think that if any land fill site was dug up from the late 70’s and early 80’s, the Crimpolne clothes that may have been discarded, would still be lying their in all their glory and only needing a quick wash. That fabric was indestructible other than by fire!! Thank goodness we still have cotton, silk, linen and wool. I am a bit of a fitness girl and in winter I just love my merino sports clothes. They keep me warm and dry which is more than I can say for all these new modern fibres. I think making your fitness gear will be great and I will be interested to see how those two NZ Papercut patterns work out. Have fun making them.

    1. Thanks Majorie :) Crimpolene! That is a word new to me – I’ve been googling it and having a right royal giggle at the men in the crimpolene advertisements. HIlarious! Merino is the best, isn’t it? So versatile. I’m tracing out the patterns for it now, so hopefully by the weekend I’ll have some new runnings pants!

  2. I’m planning some Papercut leggings in NZ merino to wear to the gym because I am sick of bad fitting and stupidly expensive gym gear…I also have a hoodie and top from an Ottobre on the list too…when I’ll get around to them, well ;)

  3. How fascinating! You pulled all that information together to produce a great article! I’d like to see a car towed by nylon stockings.

    1. Why thank you! Now I’m lamenting not saving the link where I saw it. It was pretty crazy, for a black and white picture! I always got marked down for lousy referencing back in my uni days… looks like nothing has changed ;)

  4. Have you ever though about starting a new career as a fashion/trend journalist? NO!? You should! Very interesting article, thanks for posting! Recently, I spent some time in a “Spandex” section of a fabric store, purchasing stuff for a bikini. The endless choice of fabrics there made me realize how much a world of hi-tech fibers is to offer, opening a new dimension for creativity. Do you also plan to sew some sport gear for Mr Poppykettle as well? ^ . ^

    1. haha – I’d love to write more stuff like this, but I rarely get the time to sit down and think about it – I’d rather be sewing, too! You’re right though – the choice is endless and all the fibre compositions leave me wondering what percentage of what is best. Maybe once I’ve got a bit of practise sewing with this type of fabrics, I will sew for him. But me first, of course! Thanks Inna :)

  5. Thanks, this was really interesting. Given that everything old is new again in fashion in terms of style, I think advances in fibre will be the only innovations in fashion in the future. Mind you, I still prefer to use natural fibres! I have a pair of Kevlar motorbike jeans and they don’t feel much different to normal denim although thankfully I haven’t tested their safety and strength yet

    1. I agree! It’s like with anything really… there can only be so much ‘new’ before you start seeing the next iteration. Awesome about the jeans – let’s hope you never have to test them! Although I’m sure they’d totally work. Because kevlar is kool.

  6. Great article Mel. I made up Papercut’s Circle Top last week and the sizing ran large. I made the M (I was between sizes with my bust measurement and went down a size) and it still swam on me. I have their leggings pattern on my to do list too, but I will confess they’ve been there for a while!

    1. Good to know! It’s hard with these patterns because they don’t have any kind of indication as to how much stretch your fabric should have. I have a feeling I’ll be descending into fitting hell very shortly with those leggings…

    1. Thanks Lizzy – he’d be looking at Cairns though as he wants to qualify for the Kona Ironman – Port Macquarie is the qualifier for Vegas. I’d be happy if he qualified for either as both locations sound like fun to visit! He probably won’t be competing this year though – he’s only just started getting back into training, poor boy :(

  7. great post! i knew about the lightbulb, had no idea about the nylons! sheesh… engineers… ;-)

    curious how your exercise clothes turn out, i could certainly use some myself! i would think that seams on the inside would be uncomfortable, or are you going to try flatlocking? and wow, what an accomplished man in your life!

    and salted caramel and chocolate… mmmm……

    1. Yeah I’ve wondered about that – I’ve borrowed an overlocker from a friend to try out a few different things. I need to learn how to use it, first! Yeah, we’re both pretty intense into our hobbies. We both need something to do whilst the other one obsesses over their thing!
      and don’t even get me started on the salted chocolate caramel….. YUM.

  8. Cool post. In addition to planned obsolescence, marketing plays a factor, too. Nowadays, people want the newest coolest things and discarding the just-as-functional gadgets that end up in landfills and on African shores. I guess I’m talking mostly about electronic items.

    1. Oh absolutely! I recall reading an article somewhere about some guy who wanted to push through a bill in the States that would force manufacturers to plan the obsolescence of their widgets – round about the time of WWII. Looks like that was unnecessary – marketers have done that job better than any bill probably could have mandated! Electronics are the worst offender, but I reckon cheaply and poorly made clothing wouldn’t be far behind!

  9. Wow, Melanie!! Such a great, informative read!! I really never gave much thought to high-performance fabric – but I must admit, on my dream ‘to-sew’ list I would really love to make a (stylish) waterproof jacket for biking… I might have to look into some of these fabrics more closely! Also – holy cannoli’s!! Mr. Poppykettle is a WARRIOR!!! So sad to hear he’s been out with an injury – I hope he gets back to doing what he loves real soon!!

    1. Wow, a waterproof jacket – that would be a challenge! Although I do recall reading a post on someone who made just such a thing – it was quite involved and used some interesting techniques to stop the stitches from being points of entry for water. Glad you enjoyed the read :) and thanks for the kind words! Bar a few more tests he’s pretty much ready to get back into training – he just has to figure out how seriously he wants to take it before all of next year’s registrations close out!

  10. I am really looking forward to seeing how these turn out! I am forever on the hunt for new workout gear, and it’s certainly crossed my mind to make my own stuff. At the same time, I work so hard in my workouts and sweat so much, I just know I’d have a hard time reconciling the fact that I am creating something to eventually be destroyed.

    I hope your husband has a speedy recovery, I had a stress fracture in my foot a few years ago, it was no fun at all!

    1. It is a bit like that! But on the other hand, it’s been more economical for me to make a pair of gym pants to wear into the ground, rather than buying them. Thanks for your kind words – he’s now mostly past the injury and starting to think about getting back into it properly now :)

  11. Thanks for all the great information, such an interesting read. I am off to check out the fabric links as I am looking to make some tights for walking. I am hopefully going to have time to make the t-shirt pattern from Papercut this weekend, it is a great comfy looking shape

    1. Cool! I did actually have troubles finding fabric sources online… Looking forward to seeing how your teeshirt turns out – it is the sloppy josephine?

  12. What an awesome post! But WHOA! Mr. Poppykettle is in seriously great shape! I can’t even imagine what a triathlon would feel like– yikes! Good on him, and hope he comes to a full recovery quickly!

  13. Ha! Shepparton – didn’t know they had a half iron man competition. I’m from there originally and still visit mum there at least once a month. Definitely no decent fabric stores there to find those hi tech fabrics :) Cute leggings pattern.

  14. Hi Melanie! Just learned from Leisa of A Challenging Sew that we’ll all be together at Susan Khalje’s fall couture sewing “camp”. So excited to meet you. It looks as this is going to be a really fun group!

    1. Hi Cissie – how fabulous! I’m very much looking forward to it all :) It will be lovely to meet you both and the other participants!! See you in a couple of months!

  15. Great post! I wish there were more hi-tech materials available for the regular consumers. Would love to try that wool/rubber combo and have a go with Kevlar- I wonder how long my sewing shears last?

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