We're passionate about fabric at Sew Me Sunshine. Here's our guide to everything fleece related, and tips on how to sew with these fleece dressmaking fabrics.
WHAT IS FLEECE FABRIC?
Fleece is a soft knitted fabric with a napped surface. It is typically made out of polyester but can be made out of cotton, viscose, merino wool, recycled plastic and hemp. Fleece fabric was first invented in 1979 by Malden Mills (Polartec). It was invented to replace wool knitwear, which is heavy and susceptible to pests.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF FLEECE FABRIC?
- Very warm as it retains body heat
- Water repellant - more resistant to moisture and dries quickly when wet
- Durable - does not fray easily
- Soft to touch (softer than wool)
- Low cost substitute to wool
WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF FLEECE FABRIC?
- Environmental impact - polyester is non biodegradable and the production of polyester fabric results in a high amount of pollution
- Not breathable
- Static build up
- Loses some of its insulting properties when wet
- Flammable / Sensitive to heat
- Must consider direction of nap when creating your design and cutting the fabric
- The brushed side is prone to pilling
TYPES OF FLEECE FABRIC:
- Polyester fleece - double sided with the soft pile on both sides.
- Cotton fleece - more breathable and soft to touch but not as soft as polyester fleece. Added benefit of being biodegradable
- Viscose / Rayon fleece - more breathable than polyester fleece and is soft and smooth. You can also find bamboo fleece which is made from the bamboo plant and has the same properties as a viscose fleece
- Hemp fleece - tends to have a deep pile on one side and smooth on the other side
- Merino wool fleece - this fleece is very fluffy and warm
- Polar fleece - most common type of polyester fleece. It is ideal for outdoor clothing such as jackets and jumpers
- Microfleece - this is thinner than polar fleece and is commonly used to line waterproof garments and sportswear. It is generally considered a microfleece if it weighs less than 200gsm
- Sherpa fleece - mimics the appearance and feel of sheep wool. It is heavy and thick with a textured raised surface, making it suitable for jackets
- Sweatshirt fleece - smooth jersey fabric on the right side and on the wrong side a brushed fleece surface
- Plush fleece - deep pile, tends to be used for blankets
- Minky fleece - raised texture on one side, normally used for making blankets
IS FLEECE FABRIC SUSTAINABLE?
Fleece fabric is most commonly made from non-renewable resources and needs additional chemical coatings to make them windproof and water resistant. Some polyester fleece fabrics are made using recycled PET (also referred to as eco-fleece). This is seen as a more environmentally friendly option because raw petroleum is not required (it is well documented that the oil manufacturing industry is one of the world's biggest pollutants), additionally it has the potential to reduce the amount of plastic bottles going to landfill. However, whether the synthetic fibres are recycled or not they still pose a problem as they do not biodegrade and they produce microfibres (microplastics) when washed. One study in California that was funded by Patagonia found that, "on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibres or as many as 250,000 synthetic fibres each wash". So even when recycled plastics are used they still may ultimately end up in our oceans.
There are things that we can do to make sure minimal shedding occurs such as:
- Washing less often
- Using a shorter washing cycle at a lower temperature
- Use liquid detergent instead of powder to prevent friction
- Wash with similar textiles to prevent tougher fabrics rubbing against softer ones
- Use a Cora Ball (a laundry ball that catches microplastics in the wash) or a Guppy Bag (a self-cleaning fabric bag made of a specially designed micro-filter material that you wash your clothes in)
DRESSMAKING PROJECTS USING FLEECE FABRIC:
- Pogonip Pullover by Friday Pattern Company
- Arlo Tracker Jacket by Friday Pattern Company
- Cozi Jacket by Pattern Scout Studio
- Nela Zip-Neck Sweater by Bara Studio
- Mile End Sweater and Plateau Joggers by Closet Core Patterns
- Bainbridge Pullover by Itch to Stitch
- Haslam Hat by Thread Theory
- Wildwood Jacket / Vest by Helens Closet
TOP TIPS FOR SEWING WITH FLEECE FABRIC?
- Pay attention to the nap of the fabric when cutting out your project
- Use general purpose Gutermann Sew All Thread
- Use a universal needle size 90
- You can use a regular straight stitch if your fleece fabric doesn't have much stretch but you will want a slightly longer stitch length - 3.5. If your fleece fabric is very stretchy then it would be advisable to use a lightening stitch
- Fleece fabrics do not fray but you can finish the edges with an overlocker or an overcast stitch or even a simple zig zag
- When working with fleece and several layers it can become bulky. To help sew over bulky sections you can use a bulky seam aid (also known as a hump jumper) or if you do not have one you can get a small bit of cupboard and fold it over 3-4 times to make a rectangle and slide it under the back of the presser foot just like you would with the bulky seam aid
- Fleece does not need pressing, if a seam needs to be pressed open just use your fingers
- Use a walking foot to prevent your fleece fabric from stretching whilst sewing