Fleece fabric is a synthetic type of fabric, made from polyester. It was first manufactured by Malden Mills in 1979 under the brand name Polarfleece. Polarfleece is still a trademarked product of Malden Mills, but the term has now become somewhat universal, similar to how people frequently refer to tissue as Kleenex even when they are not using Kleenex brand tissues. The more generic name for this type of fabric is simply "fleece" (which is a completely different type of fabric than sweatshirt fleece).
Fleece is currently available in seemingly infinite colors and prints. There are also several different types of surface finishes. The most commonly available type of fleece has a brushed, soft surface and is made in several weights (which affects the thickness of the fleece). The quality of fleece can vary widely. Some stretches out of shape quickly, others are very thin, or are fuzzy on only one side. One of the disadvantages of fleece is that the surface tends to pill with use, especially in areas where the surfaces rub together (i.e., underarms). So, the manufacturers have created higher quality no-pill fleece fabric that resists this tendency. While the no-pill fleece is more expensive, I think it is worth the extra expense. Other popular types of fleece are Berber and Sherpa (also called Shearling). Berber and Sherpa differ slightly, but both resemble lambswool, having a thicker pile that bunches up slightly into little clumps on the surface. Sherpa is often used as a lining and many fabric stores sell faux suede that is backed with Sherpa that works great for making outerwear or slippers.
Another type of fleece is really a thickness of fleece rather than a different type. Microfiber fleece or micro fleece (as it is sometimes called) is the thinnest type of fleece. Microfiber fleece has a lower pile and is softer and finer feeling than standard fleece. The popular Minky type fabrics are actually a version of micro fleece. Sherpa fleece is also made in microfiber varieties as well (think of the very soft, fuzzy blankets that are in all the home goods stores).
Fleece fabrics have several advantages:
- It is easy to sew and cut edges do not ravel
- Fleece fabric is easy care, being machine washable and dryable (in cold water and low heat)
- These fabrics do not shrink or bleed die, so they don't need to be pre-washed before they are used
- Fleece fabrics tend to be water resistant (with the exception of some micro fleeces that wick water through instead) so they make good outerwear garments
- Some fleece fabrics are manufactured from recycled plastic bottles, so they can be environmentally friendly (not all are though, so if this is important to you, check the manufacturer)
- Fleece is available in a wide variety of colors and prints at reasonable prices
- Fleece tends to pill on the surface (you can purchase no-pill varieties, for a higher cost)
- Polyester by nature is prone to static, so fleece tends to attract lint, dust and hair
- Fleece that is not made from recycled materials is manufactured with petroleum products that are environmentally unfriendly
Tips on How to Sew Fleece
- When selecting patterns, simple designs with minimal seaming work best, because fleece is thick and bulky
- When arranging pattern pieces, use the nap layout provided in the pattern instructions and keep the patterns running the same direction up and down
- While fleece looks the same on both sides, they can vary just slightly so use the same side of the fleece as the right side when you cut out your pattern pieces. If you want to determine which side is the manufactured "right side", stretch the selvage edge slightly and the fabric will curl to the right side.
- Regular pins will disappear into fleece's nap, so use longer quilting pins or sewing weights instead
- Cut pattern pieces one layer at a time. For pieces that need to be placed on the fold, fold the fabric as you would normally and cut around the pattern through the top layer first and then unfold and carefully re-pin the pattern to the other side, flipping the pattern over.
- Avoid buttonholes and use other types of closures (such as a zipper, snaps, or toggles), if possible. If you need to make buttonholes, be sure to use a stabilizer to help keep the fabric from stretching out of shape
- As always, use a new needle when starting a new sewing project. Use a needle that matches the weight of the fleece. Universal, stretch, or ballpoint needles all work well with fleece
- When sewing, set your machine stitch length to be 8 - 10 stitches per inch and use a straight stitch or narrow zigzag
- If your machine allows you to adjust the pressure of your sewing machine foot, reduce the pressure to allow the bulk to pass through the machine easier
- Sergers are wonderful for sewing with fleece. The overlock stitch compresses the edges and reduces bulk in the seams. Use a longer stitch length than you would normally (3 - 3.5 mm)
- Use a tear away or wash away stabilizer when inserting a zipper or doing decorative stitching to prevent stretching
- Do not use a standard double-fold hem. Use a single-fold hem or finish the edge with ribbing or a two-way stretch binding. You can also use a machine or hand-sewn blanket stitch to finish the edge.
- Never press with a hot iron - the fabric will melt.
Ready to start sewing with fleece? Take a look at these links to free fleece patterns, free fleece baby patterns, free fleece blanket patterns, and free fleece hat patterns!
I hope this information is helpful to you when you are sewing with fleece.