Tuesday, April 24, 2012

All about Fabrics Series: Fleece

Fleece is part of the knit family and requires a ballpoint needle and zigzag stitches in order to hold up its elasticity.

Fleece is a wonderful polyester fabric.  When it was first introduced in the ’80′s by an American manufacturer, it has gained popularity because it was comfortable and practical. It was a cheap and effective alternative to expensive wool and it was machine washable!

It has the amazing ability to insulate the wearer while wicking moisture away from the body. This makes it the perfect choice for sports clothing, especially for outdoor, cold weather sports.  This special and valuable capability makes fleece a good choice for insulating or lining jackets. With a fleece inner layer either sewn, zipped into, or even just layered with, an outer wind-proof shell can protect the wearer and be kept both warm and dry.

 Facts about Fleece

  1. provides warmth without weight
  2. soft to the touch
  3. does not shrink, ravel or fray
  4. water resistant
  5. moisture wicking properties
  6. washable (machine dry on low; but hang to dry - it air dries very quickly!)

Additional Properties:

Other qualities that are introduced in some brands include antimicrobial finish that doesn't pill; fleece that is treated and made waterproof; fleece with thin and thick pile; and a wide variety of surface textures. There is also two-sided fleece, so the nap is on both sides.

Fleece Comes in Many Weights
Fleece fabric is milled in several weights, from very heavy (16-18 oz.) to quite light (8 oz.). Heavy fleece usually has little stretch and is the warmest of all fleeces.

Laundry Notes:
No need to pre-wash your fleece
No dryer sheets (reduces fabric's ability to repel water)
No bleach
No iron
Fleece picks up lint easily and a fleece garment washed with wool socks or terry towels will never look the same again.

Sewing Tips:
The only difficulty with fleece is its bulk. This can bunch in the presser foot of your machine and also, bulk is a consideration in the drape of the garment.

Fleece is made from polyester and is part of the stretch-knit family. Look for patterns that are simple or are made specifically for knits.

Always use the with-nap yardage for cutting the pattern out.

Use a ballpoint or jersey knit needle.

Short pins easily get lost in fleece fabric, so use long ones - the type with bead heads are the easiest to see.

When sewing with fleece fabric, use a top quality, 100% polyester thread.

Select a simple pattern with few design features. Loose-fitting styles work best. Eliminate as many seams as possible as bulk is your greatest challenge. Consider a custom closure such as a separating zipper, buttons/toggles and loops, or heavy-duty grippers instead of buttons and  buttonholes.

Use a "with nap" layout view. Whenever possible, eliminate the underside of collars and cuffs, etc.; or use a coordinating cotton or cotton/polyester fabric instead of double thickness of fleece.

Polyester lining fabric is great for the back/underside of pockets. Eliminate facing seams or the facing itself. Or change the facing to straight cotton or polyester fabric to eliminate bulk.

A medium to long stitch or a zigzag stitch (length 2.5 - 4mm) and a loose balance tension work best when sewing with fleece fabric. Because stitches are hard to remove, stitch slowly and carefully.

If your hems or seams are wavy, your stitch length may be too short. Lessening the presser foot pressure or holding your fleece fabric tight (without over stretching) in both front and back will prevent fabric being moved unevenly while you are sewing.

Pattern weights are a good solution to thick fabric when laying out pattern for cutting.

If both sides of the fabric look the same, mark the right side along a seam allowance edge, with a small piece of tape. Use standard 5/8-inch seam allowances.

Fleece does not ravel; therefore, there is no need for a seam finish or edge finish.Use pinking shears (my new favourite!) to finish edges - or leave them undone. Other good options are double stitched together and trimmed, zigzagged together and trimmed, and top stitched seams.

If darts are used, cut and press open or trim them if necessary. Finger press flat.

Exposed zippers are used frequently in vests, jackets, and coats. Choose a coordinating or contrasting color. (Put some interfacing in between the zipper and the fabric to prevent warping.)

If a drawstring casing is needed for a hood or waistline, use machine-sewn eyelets. They seem to work better than metal grommets which can pull out easily in soft fleece.

Similar to Fleece
Berber is a pile product, in that it has a flat knitted back and a curly right surface, similar to shearling fabrics. My Polyester Shearling Jacket is made of this. Berber is a little harder to sew than fleece, but it is also a little warmer, because it traps air in the nubby surface, thereby insulating the wearer. This fabric doesn't attract pet hair as much as regular fleece or plush (below).

Plush is a sheared berber so that it has a flat knitted back, but a velour finish on the right side. This is the most expensive of the fleece products. It feels much softer than fleece, almost like velvet, and shows up patterns beautifully. Don't bother with this fleece if you have pets, it attracts hair like nothing else!
Resources for Working with Fleece:
Adventures with Polarfleece A Sewing Expedition, Nancy Cornwell 
More Adventures with Polarfleece, Nancy Cornwell

Polarfleece Pizzazz, Ruthann Spiegelhoff
More Polarfleece Pizzazz, Ruthann Spiegelhoff
Knit Trends Booklet and Video, Nancy Zieman, President of Nancy=s Notions


  1. I think fleece is made from recyled materials too.

    1. Fleece is made from recycled plastic bottles and petroleum. It takes approx 30 plastic soda bottles to make enough fabric for a hoodie (large). But without a doubt, the material is highly flammable.

    2. Highly flammable? Wouldn't it melt like other polyesters do? Still, both are a problem.

  2. You have so much interesting material! My friends mother works for Patagonia Clothing and she gave me some amazing high quality fleece. One of the problems with cheap micro fleece is that it looks cheap.

  3. So is fleece made of drier lint, or is that felt?

  4. Wow, that's a lot of great tips - plenty of which I had never heard before. I'll be more careful when I wash my fleece now!



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