Sewing for sport: Handmade workout clothes make strides

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If necessity is the mother of invention, then pending motherhood may have given Sarah Vander Neut a creative boost.

The Aurora, Colorado, seamstress was pregnant with her first daughter eight years ago and running in her husband’s heavy hoodie when she decided to sew a jacket to fit her growing form.

“I was running every day until I had her, and it was winter,” said Vander Neut, now the mother of two little girls. “A husband’s hoodie does not make you feel fast. This jacket solved my running problems.”

Already selling handmade skirts and dresses at Denver-area craft markets, Vander Neut began sewing athletic jackets in spectacular color combinations. The handmade sportswear features extra-long arms for covering hands or cuffing back, a large hole at one wrist for checking the giant sports watch, deep pockets for holding gear, and reflective accents for nighttime runs. Her jackets are made from double-knit polyester — fabric designed to last.

“The light just kinda went on for me,” said Vander Neut, who has an art degree and studied fashion design. “Colorado is not New York, is not L.A. This is our fashion statement. A jacket is something a woman is going to need for layering.”

She’s made 730 jackets since launching Vander Jacket in 2011, selling the hoodies online and at craft markets. She has no plans to let up on the five-hours-per-jacket effort.

“If I was pouring all the time in and it stopped growing . then yeah, I would fall out of love pretty fast,” Vander Neut said. “I’d be taking time away from my little kids and husband. It works when my little business is helping them, helping my little girls go to ballet or helping my family buy a car.”

Vander Neut is not alone. Other makers pour their passion for a sport into handmade goods.

For Ruby Amsen, in the Netherlands, inspiration was twofold: She loves roller skating and the 1970s. She sews roller-skating pants and shorts in outrageous, ’70s-style fabrics.

“Flare pants and Farrah Fawcett, the windy blown hair. It’s mesmerizing,” said Amsen, of Amsterdam.

A few years ago she learned how to dance on skates, and was hooked. She started sewing pants to accentuate her hip-hop and jazzy moves, piquing other skaters’ interest.

“The ’70s-style clothing really accentuates your moves,” she said.

Part-time work grew into a fulltime business for Amsen, who sells her skater wear on Etsy.com . The designer keeps her home minimally appointed so she can skate indoors, including while she works.

“It’s like a kind of meditation for me. It keeps my mind still,” Amsen said. “Some people puzzle or go running, I start with drawing and then creating, then skating. That’s one synergy going on there.”

Althea Rizzo of Salem, Oregon, sews rock-climbing chalk bags from second-hand stuffed animals. Her VertGear online site features chalk bags made from a pink elephant, green frog and purple zebra, among other critters.

The chalk bags appeal to a certain level of rock climber.

“The people who wear mine are not the super intense, professional athletes,” Rizzo said. “These are people who enjoy a little bit of fun and lightheartedness.”

She began sewing sportswear and gear for her outdoorsy daughter. Her Etsy shop includes tank tops and shorts, made from fabric she designs.

Rizzo recently streamlined her sewing process to save time. She only sews at night and on weekends; by day, she is the earthquake, tsunami and volcano program coordinator for the state of Oregon.

The sewing work helps Rizzo avoid boredom and pay her bills.

“I like to stay busy and I like to make money,” she said. “When I retire in less than 10 years, I’d like to have my student loans and mortgage paid off. and a stream of income to keep me from eating cat food.”

The three businesswomen are inspired to do more: Vander Neut has expanded into windbreakers, Rizzo recently added new apparel, and Amsen talks about designing jumpsuits.

“Stop? No, no, no. That’s impossible,” said Amsen. “My mind can’t stop thinking. I have designs to last for 80 years from now.”