We’re talking sewing with fleece 101 today!
Where I live, we’re staring down a weather forecast of a week and a half of solid snow. With that in mind, I thought, why not talk about one of those fabrics that’s guaranteed to keep you warm. This post is all about how to sew fleece.
Fleece is an incredibly versatile fabric, but it comes with some properties that you have to learn to deal with. I’m going to break down some good practices for cutting, pressing, and sewing with fleece that’ll help your fleece projects look their best.
Hit me with the fleece sewing tips.
Always buy quality fleece
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If you get nothing out of this sewing with fleece 101 article, get this. Buy the good fleece!
When I first started seriously sewing, I remember being totally overwhelmed in fabric stores seeing these jumbo blocks of fleece on the shelf. What was this fleece stuff and why are people literally filling up their carts with it?
I bought some of it and I was…not impressed. It seemed like it wasn’t that great of quality and after a couple washes it looked long in the tooth.
Over the years, as I’ve sewed more and more of it, I’ve learned that fleece varies widely in quality.
Good fleeces are easier to sew, last longer and ultimately are more comfortable to wear.
Name brands are safe bets when it comes to fleece. Outdoor companies rely on fleece products from Polartec and it’s for good reason. All of those fleece fabrics are manufactured with specific properties that outdoor companies build their brands on. My husband has a lightweight fleece jacket from REI that’s 10 years old and just starting to show wear.
Besides Polartec, check around with fabric shops with an activewear focus for other high quality fleece fabrics for fleece garments. Shoutout to Rocky Woods which is local to me for their awesome Hermosa sweatshirt fleece. I also really like the Shannon fleeces.
And Polartec Power Stretch forever has my heart for DIY fleece leggings!
Where to buy quality fleece
- Mill Yardage: You can buy Polartec straight from the mill.
- Shannon: minky and sherpa fleeces
- Bamboo Fleece: a great natural fiber alternative to polyester fleeces.
- Rocky Woods: Hermosa fleece
You’ll find more places to buy quality fleece in the Ultimate Jumbo Mega Guide to Online Fabric Stores.
Interface fleece (stop wavy stitching)
When you’re thinking about how to sew fleece, we gotta talk about interfacing. Fleece is a lower stretch knit, and it doesn’t always have the best recovery.
Because of this, if you’ve ever tried to sew in a zipper on fleece, you might have seen it get all wavy and distorted on you. Yeah, not a cute look.
A sewing with fleece 101 special consideration for you: add interfacing to buttonholes, pockets, zippers, grommets or any other hardware you add when you’re sewing fleece.
A good quality knit interfacing will do all the job of supporting those elements and keep them looking sharp.
When you do interface fleece, be careful just to fuse it in place in the area to be interfaced so you don’t crush the pile. A sew-in interfacing like silk organza is another alternative if you don’t want to risk melting your fleece.
How to press fleece
Sewing with fleece 101 true fact: fleece is almost always synthetic. There’s a few fleeces out there that have at least a portion of natural fibers like bamboo or sweatshirt fleece (usually cotton/poly blend), but synthetics are the norm.
Because of this, and the higher loft fleece has, it does NOT press well.
To press fleece, set your iron to a low heat to avoid melting or scorching it. Use a press cloth to help prevent melting too. You won’t be able to get a beautifully crisp hem, but you’ll be able to press open seams well enough this way.
A silk organza press cloth is an excellent choice here.
When you’re sewing fleece, there’s a couple strategies for hemming: using hem bands and using a hem tape.
Use hem bands when you sew with fleece
Quick think, when’s the last time you saw a sweatshirt without hem bands.
I’m guessing probably never.
Hem bands are a great solution for hemming fleece. Since it doesn’t press well, crisp beautiful hems aren’t going to happen. And if you try to hem fleece without interfacing the pewaddlededoo out of it, it’ll get all sad and wavy on you.
But if you add a little rib knit hem band though, you get a clean, professional looking hem that’s crazy easy.
Use SewKeysE knit interfacing tape when you’re hemming fleece
Another choice to try when you’re hemming fleece is to use an interfacing tape. SewKeysE knit interfacing tape is a pretty awesome fabric that will stabilize the hem area and help you sew a beautiful hem on fleece.
Press it lightly in place with the tip of your iron. From here you can easily press it up to create a pressable fold at the top of the tape.
Needles for sewing with fleece
Start out with universal needles for fleece. If you find you’re getting skipped stitches, switch to a ballpoint needle.
For soft shell fleeces, you might need a microtex needle to punch through the tightly woven outer face that covers the fleece layer.
Fleece cutting tips
Use the “with nap” layout
Layout your pattern pieces all the same direction so that the nap of the fleece runs the same way.
Cut any notches outwards. If you usually snip into seam allowances to mark notches, you’ll have a hard time finding them in the fleece’s loft.
Cleaning up the lint from fleece
Let’s face it: fleece can be a little messy, leaving little bits of fluffy lint behind.
You can cut fleece with shears or a rotary cutter, but a rotary cutter will let you get ultra clean cuts.
When you’re done cutting, wipe off your cutting tools with a fabric scrap or cloth. Cotton flannel does a good job getting the lint off the blades. It’s really important to wipe off rotary blades. Fleece lint can clog up the wheel and shed fleecy bits over your projects to come.
Wipe off your cutting table too when you’re done cutting fleece too. If a cloth isn’t picking up the lint well, use a lint roller. If you’re still having problems, wrap your hand with painter’s tape and dab away.
Experiment with marking tools
For marking fleece, most marker inks will sit on the surface and not be super helpful.
Instead, try chalk or methods like thread tracing. Here I’m using this Fons and Porter chalk pencil.
The thread tracing works well for this welt pocket since I need to see the markings on both sides of the fabric.
Check out other marking tools you should try and see which one you like the best for fleece.
Read on for tips on handling fleece while you sew…
Seam finishes for fleece fabric
Fleece is not picky when it comes to seam finishes. You can do any number of things to finish off a seam. Fleece will not fray, so that leaves open a huge variety.
My personal choices are always to help tame the bulk, so I always choose seam finishes that flatten out the bulk a bit.
Here’s some ways to finish off fleece seams.
- Pink: sew the seam, trim seam allowance with pinking shears or a rotary cutter + a pinking blade.
- Raw: press seams open and leave the seam allowance raw.
- Serge: serge the seams or sew a seam and use a serger to finish the seam allowance.
- Topstitch: Press a seam to one side or open. Use a twin needle, single needle or coverstich to stitch down the seam allowances
- Fold over elastic: press a seam open, then cover with fold over elastic. Stitch down the edges of fold over elastic from the wrong side.
Basting multiple layers of fleece
Fleece is pretty easy to sew, but one thing you might have a problem with is it shifting on you.
If you have more than 2 layers to stitch through, you might notice one of them rolling off to the side. You can end up with narrower spots on one of those layers or missing a layer completely in spots.
This can happen on neckbands, hembands, and cuffs. If you use any of these elements in a fleece project, first baste the edges of the band together.
This way, you’ll keep those doubled layers firmly together, and it’ll stop the shifting when you sew it to the full project.
Use clips to hold fleece together
Instead of pins, try clips like Clover Wonder Clips to hold layers of fleece together when you’re sewing fleece. Clips will keep the layers from shifting and are excellent for thick fabrics like fleece.
Use a stitch starter when you sew with fleece
I’m a big advocate of using a little piece of fabric to start sewing a seam.
Take a scrap of fleece and fold it to the thickness of the number of layers you’ll be sewing. Next, start stitching on the scrap. As you get to the end, butt up your seam that you’re going to sew near the end of the stitch starter.
The stitch starter will help stop threads getting tangled up in the first stitches and help you get a good clean start to your seam.
You can do the same thing on a serger or a coverstitch machine.
Lighten up your hands with fleece
It can be tempting to manhandle fleece what with it’s bulk, but resist the urge.
Because fleece can stretch out and get wonky on you, treat it gently. Lighten up the pressure on your hands, and make sure that the fleece isn’t dragging as it comes through the machine.
Use a longer stitch
When you’re stitching on fleece, use a slightly longer stitch length. This will help each stitch get through the bulk of the fabric without looking all sad and bunchy.
Use a straight stitch for more stable fleece. If the stitches are popping, switch to a narrow zigzag with a longer length. A setting of 0.5mm width and 3.0-3.5mm will work well for sewing fleece.
Read on for thread talk and finishes for fleece…
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.