While many of you are still in back to school or summer-has-just-ended mode, at our house we are in the full swing of preparing for Halloween. In the last 2 weeks I have purchased almost 60 yards of fleece in preparation for making costumes for my Etsy store. By far, the most popular costume both last year and this year (so far) has been Pascal, Rapunzel’s green chameleon lizard from the Disney movie Tangled. I also have done a fair amount of Max from children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. My not-so-little daughter Elise also requested a bunny costume last year and so I have added that to my store as well.
Since fleece may be the go-to fabric for many of your costume projects in the next 2 months as well as blankets and other winter projects, I thought I would share some tips and reminders for sewing with fleece!
- Fleece does not fray – Not only is fleece cheap and easy to sew with, its primary benefit is that it does not fray. So, you can leave raw edges in seam allowances without too much concern.
- Eliminate bulk – The flip side to not finishing seam allowances (see tip #1), is that fleece does have considerable bulk to it. To minimize this bulk, I would recommend either trimming seam allowances to 1/4″ or 3/8″ (and leave raw). Alternatively, you can zigzag stitch or serge the seam finishes, which compresses the fabric and also reduces bulk.
- Fleece has stretch – Fleece does stretch, especially at the cross-grain, so consider doing a stay-stitch along necklines and other places you want to avoid stretch. This stretch can also work to your advantage in places like armholes, but you may have to adjust the type of stitch you use. I will often use a stitch for knits or zig-zag to allow that stretch without pulling out the thread.
- Finish edges by turning under and zigzag – You finish a fleece edge (like the bottom of pants or arms) by merely turning under the edge and then doing a zigzag stitch right along the raw edge. It looks very clean and finished – and will allow for cross-grain stretch (see tip #3).
- Use longer stitch length – I use good polyester, all-purpose thread and slightly longer stitch length (3MM-5MM). This seems to help eliminate tension issues and bunching of the fabric.
- Clean your machine frequently – This is really important! Fleece will get into your machine and gunk it up making it harder for your machine to work, and more prone to both thread and machine breakage. I definitely clean between each costume I make, or every couple of hours of sewing with fleece (whichever comes sooner). Most sewing machine manuals include instructions on cleaning the machine including removing the bobbin case. Here are a couple of good blog posts on cleaning and oiling your machine. Sewing Machine Maintenance: How to Oil and Clean Video Tutorial (Top Loading Bobbin) and The Ultimate Guide to Swing Machine Care
- Cutting Fleece – I really have struggled to find the best technique for cutting fleece. Last year, I made close to 40 fleece costumes in less than a month and the blisters and calluses on my fingers from cutting with a scissors were not pretty. If you are cutting one costume, no problem… but if you have more than that, I would recommend two options: a large (60 mm) rotary cutter or for more detailed cutting, a handheld electric scissors. I didn’t even consider this possibility until my mom came upon an older model of one and sent to me after hearing about my cutting woes. It really was a life (or hand) saver!
- Ballpoint needles – Since fleece does have stretch to it, I have found that ballpoint needles – either 80/12 or 90/14 work best.
- Fleece dulls needles, cutting blades, and scissors – If I was ordering these tips by importance, I would say cleaning your machine is #1, and changing needles and blades frequently is #2. Working with the right tools and tools that are functioning properly is so important for an end product you are happy with (and also avoiding unnecessary frustration along the way). Fleece is hard on your needles and dulls cutting blades and scissors – consider this when planning for your projects. I buy extra needles and blades as well as plan to have my scissors sharpened more frequently.
- If you have young kids – get them involved! Since fleece is cheap and easy to use, I let my 3 year old sit next to me and cut scraps and glue them to paper. She thinks she is “sewing” like mom and loves to be part of the process.
What have I missed? Have you sewn with fleece? What tips and tricks do you have?