I decided to challenge myself and make the next hack out of polar fleece- or rather, out of an Ikea Polarvide throw. Before I started researching, I thought of polar fleece as boxy, boring zip front activewear. They take abuse, keep you warm and wash easily. Those are all excellent qualities- so why are polar fleece jackets all cut this way?
I’m making mine using this cut, by popular suggestion. I haven’t decided whether to use a separating zipper or buttons, I may embellish with some sporty grosgrain ribbon and I’ll make 3/4 sleeves. A zipper will allow me to fit the polarfleece closely; buttons may gape with movement. I hate that.
What is Polar Fleece?
Malden Mills developed Polar Fleece in 1979 as a synthetic wool alternative. It’s lighter than wool, vegan-friendly and easier to care for than wool was in the 70’s. (Though we merino lovers know that’s changed since then!) It’s a stretchy, plushy fabric that washes easily, made from PET (basically plastic). This nifty page dissects the differences between wool, polar fleece and other high-performance fibers from the point of view of a horse.
Here’s the part about polar fleece I find fascinating: the developer of Polar Fleece, Aaron Feuerstein, decided not to patent the process to aid the spread of the new fabric technology. This accounts for the wide range of qualities available on the market. His gutsy decision didn’t hurt the company, either. Malden Mills still produces polar fleece fabric today- Polartec.
(Fabric Nerds: This is how they make polar fleece! Neat!)
A little digging on the company website showed me they’re still leading the industry in polar fleece production and innovation. They’ve turned their attention to creating fleece from recycled bottles. I remember hearing about that a few years back. Apparently it takes 25 plastic bottles to make enough fabric for an adult’s jacket.
Polartec doesn’t just offer recycled bottle fleece as a novelty for the green-guilty- all of their fabrics use at least 50% recycled fibers. Some of it comes from plastic, some of it is fabric scraps discarded while making those boxy zip-front jackts. Rad!
And even RAD-der: they offer all of their fabrics online by the roll or by the yard. And it’s not hideously expensive. What?
I really had no idea polar fleece was so sexy.
Sewing Advice for Polar Fleece:
I have never sewn with polar fleece, to the best of my memory. Before I work with a new fabric, I always do some research. Here’s what I turned up:
- Fleece has a right side and a wrong side: “On prints the right side is usually clearer or the colors are more vivid than the wrong side. On solids, the right side is smoother than the wrong side which looks more like felt. If your not sure, ask the fabric store personnel before you purchase it. If you have some already in your stash and are not sure which is the right side, wash the fabric a couple of times. The side that looks the best is the right side.”
Excellent. I love this kind of practical advice.
- Easy to sew
- Use a cool iron or finger press
- Flat fell seams look good
- Use sharps, a medium to slightly heavy weight needle
- Use a narrow zig-zag stitch
- “Select a simple sewing pattern with few design features. Loose-fitting styles work best. Eliminate as many seams as possible because bulk is your biggest challenge. Consider a custom closure such as a separating zipper… instead of buttons and buttonholes.”
The last bit of advice comes from a nifty little pdf from the University of Kentucky Extension service. I’m old-fashioned so I’ll print this little gem and stick it in my fabrics notebook… They fail to mention why I should keep the cut simple, aside from the bulk issue.
“On paper” I’m pretty excited to be working with fleece. Granted, my little Ikea throw isn’t made from recycled anything, but if I like the results of my hack I can always make the pattern from something greener and more durable. I wonder how much shaping I can introduce before my little jacket implodes and melts? I assume there must be some practical reason no one sews fleece garments in any shape other than “box”. Do you know why? What can you tell me about your own experience working with fleece?