Yoga Trews: A Nascent Quest

August 22, 2018

Just in the nick of time, I made these.

My old yoga pants, two of them, were 2 years old and worn to the point of being unrepairable. They weren’t yoga pants specifically, just black cotton/Lycra leggings from a big box store. I’d resewn the inner seam a number of times but the fabric itself had become very thin. I had to wear shorts over the top to yoga just to make sure.

Two years is not a long time for a garment to last but they were worn a lot as leggings and yoga pants, almost daily in fact. When it became apparent they would need imminent replacing, I started looking around to buy some more. I thought perhaps something specifically for yoga might be more hard wearing but most of what I saw were entirely synthetic and the ethically produced ones seemed to be no more hard wearing that what I already had. They were also very expensive.  The lack of biodegradability was particularly concerning and I imagined that whatever I purchased might be on the earth forever, long after they ceased being used.

I decided to sew some myself. I used the Espresso leggings pattern from Sewing Cake Patterns, adding my measurements and tracing off a pattern. The first one was made with some inexpensive fabric just to trial. It was a little tight in the calves and not quite tight enough at the waist so I readjusted the pattern.

The second one used fabric from The Drapery and fits perfectly.

I am super happy with the pattern and the actual garments. However, I have some reservations about a couple of things. Both fabrics are cotton and contain 8% Lycra, a synthetic that adds stretch and memory to a fabric (so you don’t get elephant knees after squatting). I am reminded that 10% nylon was enough to start me on the Tuff Socks Naturally project so I know already I am not comfortable with the synthetic component…or indeed the cotton bit.  I can’t really expect them to last any longer than my other ones. So all in all, these leggings are really just a stop gap. I think there must be a better way.

I think the underlying problem is the concept of leggings themselves. They are an artifact of the synthetic age…a garment that can’t exist before the invention of Lycra. So the more I look for yoga leggings, stretchy skin-hugging, breathable trews, the more frustrated I am going to get. So what is the alternative?

Since yoga predates the invention Lycra, presumably folks have worn other things to bend and stretch and breath. The blokes in my class wear shorts but I desire a wee bit more coverage for myself. One bloke wears Thai fishing pants but I think there too much fabric in those for what I want. My brother once had a pair of rock climbing trousers that had a gusset in the crotch to allow for deep leg extensions. Perhaps the way forward is something in linen or hemp with a gusset.

I am not sure what is next is but I’ve bought myself some exploration time I think. Ideas and suggestions are welcome.

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  1. I once had some all-cotton, twill Gramicci pants with an integrated waist band and a crotch gusset that were unbelievably comfortable. I wore them camping, hiking and climbing and am sure you could wear them for yoga too. In India yoga is traditionally done in very loose, drawstring waisted pants (probably with gussets in the crotch!).
    Of course, you could always knit something!

    1. Thank you Frith, this is just the kind of genius reply I was hoping for! It sounds like crotch gussets are the future (and past) of yoga!

  2. I wear fairly loose trousers for yoga that work fine for me, they have ties at the ankles running though a turn over that you can pull in to keep the legs in place if you wish. Mine are organic cotton and have a gusset designed to allow free movement.

    1. Both pairs are made by Prana as my sewing skills are lacking. One pair is all cotton with a drawstring waist and a straight leg that doesn’t need ankle ties. I bought them on the sale twelve years ago, wore them all through the following summers (they are cream) for at least eight years for climbing, yoga, work and general life, and still wear them now but less frequently as my expanded waistline doesn’t look so good with the style. It is an expensive brand but the cotton is hard wearing as you can guess from them surviving years of abrasion against rock outside and indoor walls; they are no longer pristine but still going strong with no holes.

      1. The other pair is equally hard wearing but has an elasticated waistband that wouldn’t meet your criteria. Good luck with your quest!

      2. Thanks Kate, this is exactly the kind of article I am talking about. A rock climber I was talking to recently also recommended Prana. I had a look online but it is hard to see garment construction online. More investigation needed.

  3. I was already thinking harem pants when you declared a distaste for the excess fabric. I am a fan of the baggy pants.. what can I say, they are very comfortable, don’t make you look fat since they are supposed to look like that and I see excess fabric as an indication of luxury and it makes me feel good to wear them – alas the fabric in many of them is very synthetic.. but they are easy to make. This doesn’t help you as you have already discounted them so I guess your options are limited.. sweatpants.. ?? If you find a perfect solution do post as I’m interested.

    1. Dear Jane, I am difficult aren’t I! But that is why it is a quest and I do love a quest. I’ll will definitely keep you posted.

  4. ‘Since yoga predates the invention Lycra, presumably folks have worn other things to bend and stretch and breath’. Oh, how do I love this?! I have yoga’d in lycra, in fisherman’s pants, in pjs and in jeans, just to name a few. I do like the flexibility of stretch fabric, but natural fibres have my heart. Looking forward to following along with your exploration x

  5. Yes, so called “work-out” wear in general is so dependent on synthetics but it doesn’t have to be. We kinda get trapped in our own paradigm and it is difficult to break the mindset sometimes. I remember after my grandmother died we inherited some of her vintage shoes, stockings and girdles. She lived through the Depression and never threw anything away (for good or ill). I found a pair of 30s era silk stockings still wrapped in tissue paper in their box. Seam up the back, needing a garter or girdle to hold them up. I wore them for awhile and I would always marvel at how they didn’t stretch at all. It was both fun and uncomfortable to wear them but also very educational. Until you actually wear the thing on your body it is difficult to imagine the actual feeling.

    For yoga or dance I like to wear those loose trousers called harem pants. They move well and breathe. Mine have an elastic waist but they could easily be made with a drawstring instead.

  6. I have to agree with your assessment of the problematic nature of lycra, as well as the source of the problem being in part–a kind of fit that lycra has only recently enabled. I really resent the requirement for women’s active wear to be skin tight represented by the contents of sports shops the last few years! I’ve been wearing men’s shorts and track pants for running and such for years as they wear better and I like the looser fit. I’ve been bracing myself to create my own version and you’ve reminded me I haven’t yet risen to the challenge. I like Thai fishing pants for summer pyjamas and such but not for running–but have to agree that a gusset might well be part of the answer. Which makes me wonder whether I could use my PJ pattern (copied from a dead pair)–with gusset–as the base for running trews. Mmmm! So much food for thought, as usual!

    1. Sounds like we are thinking along the same lines Mary. Sometimes I think we will all end up looking like extras on a Star Trek movie, everything is becoming more and more synthetic, and body shaped. Perhaps I need to look at reanactor trousers? How were such things accomplished in the past?

    2. I do know exactly what you mean, I am the only person at my Pilates class not dressed in lycra leggings.

  7. Hi, Rebecca. I’ve been really enjoying your posts. You always seem to be thinking about the same stuff I am, tuff socks for example, but you usually know more about it. Thanks to you I incorporated mohair to reinforce my socks. It’s so nice as I don’t really know anybody in real life who would be excited by this, it’s nice to find somebody in the world at least who shares your interests.
    Regarding yoga pants, I’ve been through the same arc, but for leggings. From how can I replace them by a natural fiber option, the baggy knees quandary, to do I really need leggings after all. One option I found was merino tights that do not have lycra, manufacturers claim they won’t get baggy, but I haven’t ordered any. I considered knitting leggings, and found #knittedpants in instagram with lots of ideas, for example Also frenchtoasttasha upcycles old sweaters into leggings here

    1. Dear Zuperserena, I often find that we are all sharing a particular zeitgeist, a set of concerns about living more simply and sustainably and I both thrilled to hear about your tuff socks and grateful for the generous way you are adding to the yoga trews/leggings explorations. Ooo our ideas are growing! Perhaps there are actually 2 quests here…pants for yoga and leggigs/tights?

  8. Rebecca, I found a pattern for gusseted tights recently — the Avery leggings by Helen’s Closet. I haven’t tested the pattern yet, but it’s possible they could be made from 100% cotton jersey. I’ll let you know if I make them!

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