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Polar Fleece Facts,

by Linda Beer, Sundrop Outerwear Textiles


No other fabric can compare with the polar fleeces. Warm and cozy, they are easy to sew and beautiful to work with. Most patterns calling for these fabrics are very simple, making fleece projects fast and rewarding. But where do you start?

There are so many different fleeces on the market that choosing a good one can be the most challenging aspect of your project. Here are the answers to some common questions about fleece fabrics.

Does fleece have a right side? How do I tell?

Fleece has a right and wrong side, and it's very important to know which is which, because most finishes are applied to the right side. On prints, the right side is usually clearer or more vivid than the wrong side. On solids, the wrong side can look more like felt than the right side does.

The store that sells the fabric should be able to tell you which is the right side. If you're stumped, try washing the fabric piece two or three times, then use the side that looks best as the right side.

When working with fleece fabrics, it's a good idea to mark the wrong side of each garment piece with a big chalk X before you start to sew, so you don't get mixed up.

What is a non-pill finish? Is it important?

A non-pill finish is very important. It prevents the surface of your fabric from balling up or pilling after several washings. Although they're attractively priced, fleeces without this finish are not worth sewing, because their beauty is quickly destroyed, leaving you feeling that you've wasted your precious sewing time and money.

The fabric store should be able to tell you whether a piece of fabric has a non-pill finish. This finish is applied only to the right side of the fabric. That's why it's so important to differentiate the right from the wrong side before you cut.

How do I know which fleece to use for my project?

Many fleece products are available, in a variety of weights. You can have a lot of fun with these fabrics. Not a speck need go to waste -- you can sew bits and pieces together to make new fabrics, perhaps using decorative stitches and crazy-quilt techniques, or use scraps to stuff toys. Pets love to play with strips of fleece tied in knots, and kids love it for crafts and simple sewing projects.

Microfleeces are lightweight fabrics, almost like chamois. They're perfect for shirts, leggings, housecoats, lightweight jacket linings, and scarves. Microfleece and MicrotecTM by Malden Mills are two for my favorites.

The 100-weight fleeces can be one- or two-sided, which means they're fuzzy on either one or two sides. Slightly heavier than the microfleeces, these fabrics are about the same weight as sweatshirting. The 100-weight fleeces are great for high-tech sweatshirts and leggings, jacket linings, and lightweight gear for heads, feet, and hands.

Medium-weight fleeces are probably the most common and versatile on the market. They're perfect for jackets, pants, hats, mittens, socks, slippers, and vests. Paired with a windproof outer shell, you couldn't dream up a nicer winter coat. There are lots of medium-weight fleece fabrics on the market. My favorites are the Polar TecTM 200s, made by Malden Mills in the US, and Cool TechTM, a Canadian product. Both wick moisture away from the body, which is an important factor in keeping warm. Polar TecTM 200 is warm when wet, and has a water-repellent finish.

Fleeces with spandex or LycraTM have many uses. You can make leggings that do triple time as cold-weather camping pajamas and as longjohns under your ski suit. These fabrics are great for socks, mittens, gloves, leggings, hat bands, and head bands.

What needle and thread should I use? How should I work with fleece?

It's essential to use a universal size 70 or 80 needle (depending on the weight of your fabric) and a good quality synthetic thread. If you're sewing a fabric containing spandex or LycraTM, always use a ballpoint needle. If your sewing machine has variable presser-foot pressure, tighten it up until your fleece feeds through evenly. Iron with extreme caution, using a cool, dry iron and a press cloth.

Because fleece is thick, if the bottom layer slips when you're serging, it may not be caught in the seam. To ensure that both edges are caught, let the lower piece of fabric extend a tiny bit beyond the upper piece. so you can see it as you serge.

How do I make and apply LycraTM edging?

For enough edging for an adult vest or jacket, you'll need about 0.2 metres (1/4 yard) of spandex or LycraTM action fabric (swim or aerobic wear). You'll also need a rotary cutter and mat and a sewing ruler.

Use the ruler and rotary cutter to cut the fabric on the crosswise grain into two-inch (five-centimeters) strips. Clean up your fleece edge with sharp scissors or the cutter, because any bumps in the fleece will show in the finished edging.

With the right sides and raw edges together, stitch a LycraTM strip to the garment edge, using a 1/2 inch (one-centimeter) seam allowance. Fold the edging around to the wrong side, using glue or pin to hold it in place.

From the garment's right side, stitch in the ditch, catching the LycraTM on the wrong side. This is easiest if you use an edge-joining foot. The "edge" on the foot rides in the ditch of the fabric, giving you perfect stitching every time. Use appliqué scissors to trim the excess LycraTM from the wrong side.

What about application ratios for LycraTM edging?

You don't need to use strict pattern-piece measurements for LycraTM edging, as every piece of action fabric behaves differently. Use a 1:1 ration on neck edges, front edges, and armholes, working with a long strip of edging and trimming the excess when you come to the end. Waistbands can be done using a 1:1 ratio or, if you want the edging to pull in slightly, use a 3:4 ratio, or a 2:3 ratio for more gathered edge. You needn't measure here, either -- simply pull on the edging as you sew.

How do I handle corners when I'm sewing on LycraTM edging?

Sew as instructed above, but stop with the needle down about two or three inches (five to 7.5 centimeters) from the corner. Trim the excess edging, leaving about half an inch (one centimeter) extra. Fold under to finish. Stitch in the ditch, keeping the edge folded, and whipstitch the opening closed.

This article was re-published with permission by the author and was originally published on the Viking/Husqvarna web site.

A mail order catalogue with a full line of outerwear fabrics is available from Sundrop Outerwear Textiles New fabrics available include: luscious Berbers in various colors and patterns; Cool Tech in a variety of prints and plains; Polar TecTM Stretch; an eclectic mix of hand-dyed fabrics, batiks, and tapestries and hard-to-find high-fashion fabrics including faux leather, natural cotton Fox fibres and Lustre Suede.

Other articles online by Linda Beer:

Selecting Outerwear Fabrics

How to Shorten a Vislon Separating Zipper

Easy, Almost "No-Sew," Polar Fleece Blanket

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