What Is Fleece Made Of And How Easy Is It To Work With?

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What is fleece made of? Originally, fleece meant the wool of sheep, alpacas, angora rabbits, and some goats. But the meaning has expanded to include a wide array of natural and synthetic fibers. All fleece material shares the same soft texture, however. And no matter what it’s made from, fleece fabric is generally easy to work with.

What is Fleece Made Of?

Fleece doesn’t just come from sheep anymore. Today you can find many kinds of natural and synthetic fleece. Some types of fleece fabric consist of a single kind of fiber, and other types are a combination of fibers. 

Does that sound confusing? Try thinking of it this way. Today, the term “fleece” doesn’t refer to the content of the fabric, but rather to the process by which manufacturers produce it.

Specifically, fleece is a knit fabric that’s brushed on one or both sides in order to raise a soft, fuzzy nap. [1]

Natural Fleece

sheep fleece

Much of the animal-derived fleece in use today comes from sheep’s wool. Sheep’s fleece has a surprising variety of characteristics and uses , depending on the breed of sheep. The most common uses are for making yarn, garments, and bedding. [2]

You might also find plant-derived fleece made from hemp, bamboo, or cotton fibers. 

Synthetic Fleece

soft fleece blanket in baby pink

The term “fleece fabric” refers to synthetic fleece. 

The first synthetic fleece material was invented in the late 1970s by engineers at the Malden Mills textile factory. First, the factory wove polyester fibers into a light fabric. Then they brushed the fabric to increase the volume of the fibers. This gave the fleece fabric its characteristic soft, fuzzy texture.

Different types of synthetic fleece material include polar fleece, polyester fleece, and Sherpa fleece.

Polar fleece is soft and fuzzy. It’s typically used for blankets and garments. Sherpa fleece has a textured nap similar to that of wool. You’ll often find Sherpa fleece lining mittens and coats, though some manufacturers use it for garments, also.

Why Has it Become So Popular?

color palette of fleeces

Synthetic fleece material is ubiquitous in clothing and crafts, and it’s easy to see why. It’s inexpensive, moisture-wicking, and super tough-wearing. It’s also easy to work with and has a lovely, baby-soft texture. Because the edges don’t fray, it’s a popular material for no-sew crafts, as well. And it can also be eco-friendly.

Tough but Soft

Nothing feels quite so soft and lovely against the skin as fleece. At the same time, it’s durable, tear-resistant, and repels moisture quite well, too. You can use it just as easily for dog toys as you can for baby blankets. And if you’ve purchased a fleece pullover, you’ll enjoy it for a long, long time.

Insulating and Water-Wicking

olive green fleece sweater with orange zip

You already know that synthetic fibers keep moisture and wind out and body heat in. This is how your waterproof keeps you warm and dry. Fleece fabric doesn’t repel moisture, but it does help it pass through quickly, which also keeps it away from your skin.

Also, the nap presents a second barrier, which puts additional air space between the fabric and your skin.

Easy to Work With

Fleece fabric doesn’t fray easily. This means that you don’t have to hem the edges. This makes fleece especially well suited to crafts like no-sew blankets. It holds its shape well, too. You can also cut it easily, and sewing fleece fabric is a dream. [3]

Eco-Friendly

A lot of people see the word plastic and think pollution. But some types of fleece actually help the environment. We’ll talk more about this in a bit. But if you’re looking for environmentally friendly fabrics, try:

  • Hemp fleece
  • Bamboo fleece
  • Polar fleece

What is Fleece Commonly Used For? 

A lot of things! You can probably think of some uses off the top of your head. Others, though, might surprise you.

Clothing

woman wearing blue fleece top

That’s an obvious one. For many people, fleece pullovers are a wardrobe staple. Fleece pajamas are popular, too. It also makes an excellent material for light jackets and outdoors clothing like scarves, hats, and mittens.

Crafts

Because it’s so easy to work with, fleece is a natural for crafts, especially for children’s crafts. Crafters may use fleece for:

  • Blankets
  • Handbags
  • Clothing crafts
  • Pillows
  • Puppets
  • Slippers
  • Stuffed animals
  • Applique
  • Gift bags

And more. [4]

Housewares

Because fleece fabric is delightfully soft and touchable, it’s no surprise to find it used extensively in housewares such as blankets, pillows, and throws. You might also find it lining oven gloves.

Horticulture

Did you know that you can use fleece for gardening? It’s true. You can cover your plants with horticultural fleece to protect them from cold, frost, wind, and pests. Fleece crop covers can also help your plants to mature faster by raising the temperature of the air around them. [5]

Is it Easy to Sew Fleece?

white fleece fabric in a swirl

In general, fleece fabric is very easy to sew. However, it does have a few unique properties that one must take into consideration. Fortunately, there are tips and tricks for getting around them.

How to Sew Fleece Fabric

In general, sewing fleece fabric is super easy. Because it doesn’t unravel, you don’t need to hem it, and it will generally hold its shape. Also, it’s a very forgiving fabric. If you need to remove stitches, you can do so without fear of leaving holes or other damage.

For the most part, sewing fleece fabric comes down to cutting and stitching–and sometimes you don’t even need to do the stitching.

Tips and Tricks for Sewing With Fleece

Fleece material is a knit fabric. This means that it does have some stretch to it. Generally the stretch will only go in one direction. So before you cut, figure out in which direction the stretch lies, and plan accordingly.

Make sure your scissorsor rotary cutter blade are sharp. Dull blades won’t do well with fleece fabric.

Choose polyester or polyester-wrapped thread rather than all-cotton thread. All-cotton thread has no give, and it may break. Polyester thread is much better suited to the stretch of knit fleece fabric.

Use a size 12 (80) needle to sew your fleece. A ballpoint needle can travel through the fibers without damaging them. Installing a new needle before sewing with fleece can also help to prevent damage.

You can sew with a regular presser foot. However, a walking foot can help the fleece to move efficiently through your sewing machine without bunching up or getting stuck. If you do use a regular presser foot, sew a little more slowly and patiently to avoid problems.

Use a narrow zig zag stitch, preferably around .5 millimeters. Zig zag stitches are one of the stitches that work well with knit and stretch fabrics.

Choose a stitch length of around 3.5 millimeters. A longer stitch will provide more give over the seam.

If you’re sewing in the stretchy direction, hold the fabric taut while you sew.

Although fleece fabric isn’t prone to fraying, pinking the edges will add an extra measure of protection against unraveling.

As with any fabric, pre-wash your fleece before sewing to avoid problems with shrinkage. Wash in warm water and hang to dry.

Is Fleece Sustainable? 

Many kinds of fleece are not just sustainable, but actually help to improve the environment.

Polar Fleece

Did you ever wonder what happens to plastic bottles and other plastic items when you pop them into the recycling? Many of them end up being melted down, spun into thread, and turned into polar fleece [6]. This type of fleece is warm, durable, and moisture-wicking. It’s also lightweight and marvelously soft. Best of all, it turns waste into something truly useful.

Hemp Fleece

Hemp fleece is also an environmentally friendly fabric [7]. Growing hemp requires less water than growing cotton, for one thing. It also requires fewer pesticides and less land than cotton. And, unlike cotton, hemp plants can produce a multitude of different products, from medicines and cosmetics to housewares and foods.

Bamboo Fleece

Bamboo fibers are used in the production of several different fabrics, including fleece, rayon, and linen.

Bamboo is a hardy plant that grows fast. An adult plant can regrow itself back to harvestable size in just three to five years. It doesn’t take a lot of land or a lot of water to grow a lot of bamboo. No pesticides are required, either. And fabric made from bamboo is naturally antimicrobial and antifungal [8].

If that’s not enough, bamboo produces 35 percent more oxygen than similar plants, and absorbs five times as much carbon.

So, although several kinds of fleece are eco-friendly, bamboo fleece might be one of the most eco-friendly fabrics of all.

Which is Better, Fleece or Wool?

That depends on a lot of things. Have a look.

The Advantages of Wool

  • Water repellent
  • Wind repellent
  • Biodegradable
  • Provides UV protection
  • Odor resistant

The Advantages of Fleece 

  • Less expensive
  • Quick drying
  • Lightweight
  • Moisture-wicking

In general, if you need a water-resistant or wind-resistant fabric, its lanolin makes wool the better material. Also, unlike fleece, if wool gets wet, it can still provide some insulation. It does take a lot longer to dry than fleece does, however.

On the other hand, for comfort and weight, fleece wins hands down. And you’ll spend a lot less on high quality fleece fabric than you will on high quality wool.

Fun and Fabulous Fleece

There are a lot of different types of fleece fabric. You can find fleece made from animal hair, plant fibers, and various types of synthetic materials. Although the word originally referred to wool, it now describes any knit fabric that’s brushed to give it a fluffy nap.

Sewing with fleece is generally easy. It’s a forgiving fabric that doesn’t easily fray. For this reason it lends itself to no-sew crafts. However, like any knit or stretch fabric, there are tips and tricks to sewing it.

What’s your favorite way to use fleece fabric? Do you have any tricks to share? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

how easy is fleece to sew

REFERENCES

  1. Sewing Directory | What is Fabric Nap? | https://www.thesewingdirectory.co.uk/what-is-fabric-nap/
  2. The Natural Fibre Company | Wool & Yarn Types | https://www.thenaturalfibre.co.uk/sites/default/files/files/NFC%20Wool%20Charts(1).pdf
  3. Bunycraft | No Sew Fleece Blanket | https://www.instructables.com/id/No-Sew-Fleece-Blanket-1
  4. Loraine Brummer | 41 Incredible Fleece Craft Ideas | https://feltmagnet.com/textiles-sewing/Fleece-Craft-Project-Ideas
  5. RHS Advice | Fleece and crop covers | https://www.rhs.org.uk/Advice/profile?PID=906
  6. SNV Plastics | How Is Fleece Made Out Of Plastic Bottles? | http://www.snvplastics.com/how-is-fleece-made-of-plastic-bottles/
  7. Better Meets Reality | Is Hemp Sustainable & Eco Friendly For Clothing, Fabric & Textiles? | https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-hemp-sustainable-eco-friendly-for-clothing-fabric-textiles/
  8. Wanda Thompson | How Eco-Friendly Are Bamboo Products? | https://householdwonders.com/are-bamboo-products-eco-friendly/ 

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