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Fleece is a wonderful outerwear fabric. Introduced in the ’80’s by Malden Mills in the USA, it has gained popularity because it is comfortable and practical.
Fleece has come a long way since its introduction and is constantly being improved. It has the amazing ability to insulate the wearer while wicking moisture away from the body. This makes it the perfect choice for sports such as skating, skiing, sailing, biking. hiking and wherever exertion produces perspiration even though the wearer needs weather protection.
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 YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU SEW FLEECE
Some fleeces are single-sided and others double-sided. Single-sided fleeces are napped on one side only, while double-sided are napped (or fluffed up) on both sides. This does not mean that you can use either side indiscriminately. There is still a wrong and right side to double-sided fleece. It is very important to remember this, as the garment will look terrible if it is sewn with the wrong side out.
* Right and Wrong Sides
Look at a cross-section of the cut edge; the right side will be thicker. This is quite noticeable on the 16-oz. fleeces (such as most of the Yukon samples) but it is not quite so apparent on the 14-oz. If you are not sure which is the wrong or right side, the absolute test is the “pull” test. When pulled on the lengthwise grain (parallel to the selvedge), fleece will roll to the right side; when pulled on the crosswise grain (perpendicular to the selvedge), the fleece will roll to the wrong side. If the selvedge has been cut off and you don’t know which grain is which, hold the fleece up to the light. You should be able to see the vertical ribs of the knit (yes, fleece is a knit fabric) and this will indicate the lengthwise grain.
* 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. Some companies refer to this as 300 fleece, e.g. Malden Mills manufactures Polartec 300. This fleece is the one you would choose for a coat or jacket for very cold temperatures. The medium weight of fleece (e.g. Polartec 200 and Yukon Soft Touch) is a good choice for a jacket that can be layered under a wind-proof shell. Polartec 100 or Yukon Micro (8oz.) makes great garments to be worn indoors. Think of this weight of fleece as sweater type fabric, just right for feeling cuddly warm.
Fleece is also being produced as double-sided; i.e. two fleeces fused together, so that you have a different colour on each side. This fleece would be warmer due to the doubling of the fabric and gives you lots of opportunity to show off the two colours in your design. Of course, these would make good reversible garments.
Another fleece product on the market is “windbloc” fleece. This is two fleeces fused together with a wind-proof barrier sandwiched in the middle. This fleece is very expensive and is bought up by people in outdoor sports such as rock-climbing. It does solve the problem that fleece by itself is not wind-proof.
Fleece can make the whole outfit. This outfit features light-weight fleece (sometimes called chamois fleece) in the skirt, medium weight fleece in the vest, and heavy weight fleece in the jacket. Skirt pattern is the Origami Skirt from The Sewing Workshop; vest underneath is Hong Kong Vest from The Sewing Workshop; jacket is the Haiku Jacket also from the Sewing Workshop.
* Fleece has a Nap
When cutting out, lay your pattern pieces on a nap lay-out, i.e. all facing the same direction. (Of course, when making hats and mitts, we’re using scraps and cutting in any direction which suits the pieces.)
To find the nap, run your hand down the right side of the fleece in the direction of the lengthwise grain. The fabric will smooth down if you are going with the nap (like stroking a cat). Sometimes, I find I cannot tell with my hand and I then use the back side of an ordinary kitchen knife to run against the grain. It seems to be more apparent with a knife. Lay your pieces with the nap going down. The garment will wear better and it will have a uniform colour.
CARE OF FLEECE
Fleece will not shrink and it will not fade or run. All great qualities to have in a garment. Also there is no need to pre-wash your fleece fabric. Most of us delay that first washing since the texture does change somewhat.
To launder – wash in warm water with laundry detergent. Dissolve the detergent in the water first before adding the garments, to avoid getting soap residue on the clothes. Do up all buttons, snaps, zippers, etc. before washing and turn the garment inside out. This reduces the amount of surface abrasion which happens during the wash cycle.
Wash fleece articles separately or with other fleece garments. Fleece picks up lint easily and a fleece garment washed with wool socks or terry towels will never look the same again.
Fleece can be machine-dried. However, I recommend hanging it to dry. Since it dries very quickly, this is not a problem and the drier causes more abrasion to the surface.
* No Ironing !
DO NOT iron fleece. The heat of the iron will melt the fibers and you will be left with flattened areas or, worse, an iron imprint.
These are simply a few considerations to keep in mind when sewing fleece. Heed them and you will have a garment that is easy to sew, easy to care for, easy to wear, and good-looking too.
Tips for Sewing Fleece
Fleece is an relatively easy fabric to sew. Use a 90/14 universal needle and good-quality polyester thread. There is no need to finish seams as fleece does not ravel. However, we are so used to seeing serged seams, that I always finish the seams on the serger. I find that fleece can be too thick for the serger so I sew it on the conventional machine first and then serge the seams together, trimming them down to about 1/4″ in most areas. If I wish to topstitch seams after they are sewn, I leave the seam allowances longer and sometimes grade them to reduce bulk.
The only difficulty with fleece is its bulk. It tends to “snow-plough” up in front of the presser foot. One method which helps feed fleece through the machine is to pin the seams alternately: stagger the pins on both sides of the seam to be sewn. Use the tip of your point turner to compress the fabric in front of the presser foot if you are still having difficulty getting the fleece to feed easily. Also lengthen your stitch length to 3 or 4 (almost basting). Fleece garments are loose fitting and don’t need the tiny stitches of tailored clothing. Stitches will then be easier to remove if needed.
* Berber, Plush, Fleece – How are they different?
While most of us are familiar with fleece, there is some confusion over other products from the same mills. Berber is a pile product, in that it has a flat knitted back and a curly right surface, similar to sherpa fabrics. 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.
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. One touch and you will know why. It feels much softer than fleece, almost like velvet, and shows up patterns beautifully. But be prepared to pay more for it.