Getting to know pattern designers – Fehr Trade

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Getting to know pattern desingers 1

With so much choice from great sewing pattern designers we wanted to get you the chance to get to know sewing designers on the site better. This month we interviewed Melissa Fehr of Fehr Trade patterns @fehrtrade who create activewear sewing patterns.

Melissa has over 10 sportswear patterns designed for women, men plus accessories. If you haven’t come across her patterns before, what you can expect is a fantastic range of patterns for those of you who love to “sew and sweat”!

The patterns are only available in PDF format at the moment and the designs come with practical design details. Melissa has also just added French and Dutch translations for her pattern instructions. Don’t forget to check out the forum or group for chat about sewing activewear and Melissa’s blog.


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getting to know your designer Q1

I first started sewing soon after I moved to the UK in 2002, and I started drafting a few patterns here and there for myself around 2011-2012 but I didn’t begin drafting commercially until I launched my pattern company in 2013. I started FehrTrade patterns when I had been made redundant from the tech job I’d had for over 12 years, and I saw that there was a huge demand for exercise sewing patterns that went beyond the basic shapes on offer. So it was natural for me to combine my love of running and sewing and offer my expertise in both to a wider audience.


For my first few patterns, my design starting point was a hole in my own exercise wardrobe – say, I really want a pair of close-fitting shorts with integrated pockets to store my phone and gels, and so I went off and developed my Duathlon Shorts pattern. Or wanting an all-around workout top with a built in bra that actually had enough support to run in – something I couldn’t find in RTW but I was determined to sew for myself, and which became my XYT Workout Top. But some of my other patterns have been led by requests from my wonderful, active customers, like my Steeplechase Leggings pattern, which came about after some equestrians told me about their struggles to find no-inseam leggings that wouldn’t chafe against the horse.

I usually start with an inspiration like this, then it’ll go through quite a few muslins before I take it out for some on-the-road tests while I exercise, usually followed by a few more revisions, until finally I’m happy enough that I send it off to my grader and start work on the pattern instructions and illustrations.

I also get a lot of design ideas from seeing what other people are wearing – 99% of the time I’m bored to tears with the sportswear offerings in the shops (if I see any more black & pink I’m going to cry!), but I’m always on the lookout for a little feature or print that I might incorporate months down the line. I love checking out what other people are wearing while I’m inside a race pen waiting for the starting gun, and I love talking to people who are enthusiastic about sports I’m not familiar with. I recently learned a lot about the needs of rock climbers and equestrians, for example – two sports I’ve never really done myself.

Melissa Fehr Trade activewear sewing patterns

getting to know your designer Q2

I design my patterns for active people, but not any particular shape. The big difference between designing and drafting for regular clothing versus activewear is that with a dress or trousers, you’re aiming to have a finished garment that fits well when you stand or sit. Most sewing patterns are concerned primarily with fit, and 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 painful chafing, too. So I make sure I take each of my designs out running a few times during development, and I ask all 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, including running my last three marathons in my own designs (London 2014 in my Duathlon Shorts, Berlin 2014 in my Threshold Shorts, and London 2015 in my shorts-length Steeplechase Leggings).

Body types and size range:

All my womens top patterns are designed to fit from Busts measuring 84-114cm (33-45in), though as you’ll need to be wearing a sports bra while taking measurements, many women who think they’re bigger can actually wear a smaller size. All my leggings and shorts patterns fit from Hips measuring 90-122cm (35 1/2-48in). Starting with my VNA Top pattern, I started including diagrams showing how to make the most common fit adjustments so that women can tweak the fit to get it exactly the way they need it.

I’ve had several people ask me whether I will expand my size range to include bigger sizes, and I really do wish that I had the resources to design for every woman out there that wanted to exercise. When I started running 13 years ago I was Plus sized, too, and I can still remember how little was out there for anyone above a size 14, and my Plus sized running friends now tell me that sadly, not much has changed in the elapsed time.

So when I started developing my own patterns, I felt very strongly that I should provide a large enough size for Plus sized women to feel great about exercising, too – and as it turned out, my size range ended up being too large and I got a lot of complaints from the “teenie weenie” ladies and I had to go back and add size XXS later. I posted about this at the time (, but there’s a lot that goes into the development of each pattern, so even though they’re digital, there’s a limited amount of sizes I can offer.

For each size, there’s extra time in grading and checking the seams of each pattern piece, as well as time calculating the elastic and trim lengths. With grading, you can really only grade up or down a few sizes from your standard that you’ve drafted before things get distorted, and I’m really already at my limit from my base size Small (my size, which means I can test and tweak before grading). Some other patternmakers do two totally separate drafts for regular and Plus sizes in order to provide a better fit for Plus customers, but I’m not quite at the point that I can offer that yet.

Then there’s the number of pages for everyone to print – while technically there’s no limit to how many pages that can be printed, in reality, once you get up to the 20 or 30 page mark, a lot of people drop off as they don’t want to tape and cut that many pages. My patterns are really tightly wedged into the pages as it is, so even adding one more size (larger or smaller) will add to the number of pages that everyone has to print). Another issue is finding testers – while there are plenty of Plus-sized sewists out there, there aren’t very many who are also comfortable with sewing activewear AND can commit to sewing and exercising in my patterns in the time frames I need. Each and everyone one of my patterns is road-tested by myself and my testers before release, and it’s difficult enough to find ones who fit into L and XL (and my testers keep getting smaller with all this exercising!)

Melissa Fehr Trade sewing patterns

getting to know your designer Q3

My best selling patterns are probably my XYT Workout Top and my Duathlon Shorts patterns, though my Steeplechase Leggings which I released earlier this year has also been wildly popular and make come to overtake the other two once it’s been out for a while longer. It’s really great for me to see women who make multiple copies of the same pattern in different colours and prints, and I think that that’s part of the popularity of these three. I’ve had so many women show me their 4th or 5th version that they’ve made and how they can’t go back to buying activewear again.

I don’t know about my favourite, as my “favourite” is inevitably my latest one, but the one I’m most proud of is my Threshold Shorts pattern. These were by far the most technically challenging to get right, took the most time and number of revisions to get right, and the final result is a running short that performs as well as any major sportswear brand, but looks even better. In some ways I think there’s a clear, linear design progression from my VNA Top pattern into my Threshold Shorts, and again into my Steeplechase Leggings. All three feature curving seamlines throughout the side and hips, and as a result, look fantastic when paired together – like they’re from the same collection.

getting to know your designer Q4

My latest garment was actually a refashioned long sleeved teeshirt. I had a pair of leggings I’d bought cheap on a French market that were a bit too small, so I cut them apart and used the fabric as the sleeves for a special Day of the Dead shirt (

It’s funny, I still have people who are surprised to learn that I sew things other than activewear, but over the past thirteen years I’ve made everything from jeans to bras to coats to silk ballgowns to leather skirts to menswear, and everything in between. I worked behind-the-scenes on the 3rd series of the Great British Sewing Bee last year, too, which really tested the depth of my sewing, fitting, and illustration knowledge, along with the ability to thread an overlocker under pressure!

getting to know your designer Q5

Well, I’ve actually got a big collaboration coming up early next year that will raise my profile significantly, and I’ve also got a site redesign in the works as my current site is nearly 10 years old and definitely feels like it! I’ve also got two new patterns in development – one of which is for the men in your life, which I was hoping to release before Christmas but which will probably be out next year now. 2016 will also see the release of my first multilingual instructions, which has been a big goal of mine since the very beginning of Fehr Trade Patterns.