Sporty Summer Interview With Fehr Trade

With only a few days to go until our big reveal (um, haven’t actually finished my project yet, I’m not panicking at all) I thought I’d avoid my own deadline by interviewing Melissa of Fehr Trade.

I first met Melissa when I began sewing blogging several years ago. I’ve even gone out running with the fastest woman in London. (I died on my backside.) So I know firsthand what an accomplished Sewist Melissa is, as well as being a totally inspiring runner. I really shouldn’t have been surprised when she turned her exceptional hand to pattern drafting in what must be a very challenging arena – sportswear.


Melissa has done a fantastic job of launching her own pattern line of sportswear, passionately supported by people who are seriously active. She’s also currently hosting her own Spring Race Challenge, with the same deadline as the Sporty Summer Sewathon. Two giveaways for the price of one!

I was intrigued to learn all about the trials and tribulations of drafting patterns to sweat in and what Melissa thought to… Oh, I’m not going to share any spoilers here. Why not read for yourselves?

I absolutely love the unusual design elements you bring to your sportswear (especially the latest VNA top with its intriguing back treatment). Could you give us a short run down of the key factors that contribute to your design choices?

M: All my designs so far have started with me noticing a hole in my running wardrobe and wanting to make something to fill it! For instance, I thought Ooh, I’d really like a close-fitting pair of shorts that won’t chafe when I run. So I went off and developed my Duathlon Shorts pattern. I also try to pay attention to the northern hemisphere seasons, too, so early on in the year I plotted out a plan for 2014’s pattern releases and I’m working through those now. There’s definitely wiggle room built in, though. With the pattern I’m developing right now, I ended up straying quite far from my initial idea but in a better direction, I hope!

How long does it take from concept through to finished pattern, ready to sell?

M: Well, for my first two patterns it was a good three months of work, but I’ve been getting better with practice so the bits that used to take me the most time (digitising, grading, and illustration drawing) are now down to a day or two. But I also design my patterns in amongst all my other work for clients, so the elapsed time is probably closer to two months now, with two weeks of that set aside for user testing. I’m fully aware that my testers are enthusiastic fitness and sewing geeks just like me, with real lives and other commitments, so I always make sure they get at least two weekends to test, and there’s never any expectations around posting or promoting what they’ve made.

Obviously, you’ve bravely entered brand new territory with the launch of your pattern line. What lessons have you learnt? Would you do anything differently, if you had your time over again?

M: Hoo boy, I’ve learned a LOT over the past 6-9 months! It doesn’t matter how much you sew, nothing really prepares you for making the leap to doing this for a living. I guess a few highlights were:

  • Be your own tester, but don’t be the sloper (ie: I learned I have freakishly long thighs)
  • You can never do too much measuring, remeasuring, and checking of the pattern
  • Do it yourself where you can, but know when outsourcing will save you time (and ultimately money)
  • Trust your instincts and your testers
  • Don’t procrastinate, but remember to take rest days (just like in exercise!)

What are the unique considerations for sewing sportswear?

M: Most sewing patterns are concerned primarily with fit, but body movement is an afterthought – how many photos have we seen on blogs where people are standing oddly just so that wrinkles don’t appear? With sportswear, movement is absolutely paramount. If a garment shifts around while you’re working out, it’s going to definitely annoy you, and it may end up causing chafing, too. So I make sure I take each of my designs out running a few times during development, and I ask my pattern testers about how the garments worked for them while exercising, too. I stand behind my patterns so much that I’ve run races in all of my designs so far (except the latest – yet!), including running London marathon this year in a pair of my Duathlon shorts.


I’ve often noticed the limited range of sportswear for women on the high street, both in terms of style choice and size choice. Where do you think these limitations come from?

M: I think some of it comes from consumers thinking that somehow wearing all black will help them look slimmer or somehow render themselves invisible in the gym or out on the street, but I also think sportswear companies have a lot to blame, too. The phrase “shrink it and pink it” is said as a joke, but it’s depressing how much exercise clothing out there only comes in black or pink, and it gets even worse in the larger sizes, too, which are almost totally overlooked by RTW. When developing my first patterns, I felt so strongly about including larger sizes that I actually overlooked some of the smaller ladies and had to go back and add a size XXS in later (what was that about learning lessons, again?).

The great thing about sewing any clothing for yourself is that you get to choose the styles, colours, and prints that appeal to you, rather than what’s on offer in the shops, and exercise clothing is no different. With digital printing in particular, there are so many options out there for for colours and prints, there’s really no excuse for sewists NOT to sweat in something they enjoy wearing.

Melissa geometric VNA

You’re a huge advocate of health and fitness, without lecturing people! If you could give one piece of inspirational advice to someone with a sedentary lifestyle, who is flirting with the idea of getting active, what would your advice be?

M: Thank you! I think my main advice is to just get out there are start being active, and make it a habit, whether it’s cycling to work, or going for a quick jog in the evenings to unwind, or going to yoga every Saturday. Don’t compare yourself to other people, because we all started out slower, heavier, and more out of breath than the people you see now!

I was recently given a running top by some friends who had chosen to add the message “Beat yesterday, today” onto it for me, and I think that’s a great one to remember. You can only aim to be better at any given moment than you were before.

What a great interview – thank you, Melissa. The phrase “shrink it and pink it” makes my blood run cold, so I’m really glad Melissa has launched her own patterns to cock a snoot to that nonsense. I can’t wait to see the latest pattern!

Now, friends. Any recommendations for sportswear fabric?

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13 Responses to Sporty Summer Interview With Fehr Trade

  1. What a fabulous interview!! I’ve sewn all but Melissa’s latest pattern and they are brilliant, they really work for running in and have banished my chaffing issues. Whilst I’m a bit smaller than the XXS the patterns are easy to alter & Melissa is great at providing support & suggestions. And as for her own running – she really is inspirational and helps to keep me motivated. I doubt if I’ll ever be that fast but I can but try!! Thank you Karen for sharing Melissa’s story with us all 🙂

  2. Emma Jayne says:

    Thanks for a great interview. Pink and black… urgh so frustrating. Every gym class I attend 70% of women are wearing this combo and I know it’s not by choice. That’s my main motivation for sewing my own. And a personal pledge not to blog a sporty make without testing it at a gym class first.

  3. Jane says:

    This may just have inspired me to sew one of Melissa’s tops! I can’t believe what’s happening to me: first running, now making sportswear! She’s so right about black and pink though, as a newbie buyer of sportswear, that’s all I’ve ever encountered in the shops. I’d love to make a red top, or maybe one with polka dots?! Great interview. x

  4. Lyndle says:

    Thanks for this interview. I thought, oh, i read Melissa’s blog, what else can there be to know? But you asked good questions and Melissa gave really interesting answers, so there you go. Greatfinal question, too!

  5. S says:

    This is really interesting! I have never sewed my own sportswear, but I think I might make some summer shorts after reading this! Go Melissa! The tights also look really cute. I was a serious athlete in my day (although no longer, so don’t feel badly those of you without an exercise regime – life gets in the way for everyone), coming in 17th in the London Marathon in the late 1990s. As clothing choices (and fabrics) were more limited when I started running I didn’t give a huge amount of thought to clothing, i.e. a good bra, a mesh singlet and a pair of loose shorts were the order of the day, and for winter a couple of pairs of multi-sport tights and wool cross-country ski shirts (Helly Hanson). I even had a hand-knitted thick wool “running sweater” that my teammates used to crack jokes about. In fact, when I didn’t have pseudo-sporty clothing with me and I wanted to run…I just ran. A friend of mine similarly once ran a 5k race in a pair of corduroy pants (although I think he did suffer from chafing in that case!… 🙂

  6. qplourde says:

    Glad I read this – I wasn’t aware of many pattern shops out there for stylish active wear (what a great untapped market!). So glad I am aware of this…I’m thinking I need to try some of these patterns!

  7. marthaeliza says:

    I am truly tempted now to try her patterns. But tell me, exactly how does one cock a snoot? Sounds painful.

  8. Kathy Sews says:

    I’m a massive fan of Melissa’s patterns… I ran with her last year and I am sure she was basically at walking pace with my speed 🙂 I love making my own running gear, I’m not an itty bitty thing and often have a difficult time finding stuff that fits well and is affordable. Making and wearing crazy colored and printed activewear is so much fun, I have to force myself to make plain, solid black running garments sometime eventually!! I may often look clownish with the technicolor clothes on my runs, but as an urban runner it serves a safety purpose of being able to be spotted by cars and others as I navigate the city streets.

  9. How inspirational! She has been one of my favorite Pattern Reviewers for a long time and her story is really inspirational.
    As for work out wear, I need to find a real pattern for shorts. One thing that keeps us heavier people from exercising is the fact that the clothes really come up to a size 12. I’m a 14 or 16 and sitting on the couch, afraid to be seen at the gym in the tight-ass, too small shorts.

  10. Alessa says:

    Great interview! I’ve recently gotten into the habit of exercising, since some people from work signed up for a charity run and asked if I’d also like to take part. In the end, I missed it because I had a really bad cold, but I’m still running and now we’re thinking of doing a couple of runs in summer and autumn! I haven’t started sewing exercise clothing yet but I probably should, since I’m still running in cotton yoga pants… 😉
    Btw, do you know any (local-ish/European) sources for polka-dot or cherry print swimsuit fabric?

  11. velosewer says:

    Melissa’s patterns are so clever. They use small amounts of fabric that can quiet easily be stash bits. They designs are flattering for any size. They allow you to be creative with very basic sewing skills. And she’s so supportive with her sewing advice – to anyone.
    Great interview and I’m so glad you’re both in the sewing community. You go girls!

  12. Sandy Fehr says:

    Melissa has been my best inspiration for several years. The most inspiring thing anyone has ever said to me about exercising is when I commented to her that she makes me feel tired just thinking about the daily pace she keeps, she replied, “Mom, you have to give energy to get energy!” I try to tell this to myself when I really don’t feel like exercising.

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