Sunday, 8 August 2010

Winter warmth with polar fleece ~

Polar fleece is often associated with drab clothing of the shapeless variety, but it needn't be.   Garments made from well chosen fabrics and suitable sewing patterns can look smart and colourful.   

Note: this pattern is 'fast and easy'
I love this jacket for the cheer it gives me whenever I put it on.  The lipstick I bought to go with it adds to the sense of festivity and trousers of chocolate brown or denim blue set off the orange well.  Most of my clothes are less dramatic...

I discovered the value of polar fleece in a fit of desperation.  I had lived at the northern end of the country for many years where it is much warmer, and moving south I found the winter cold bitter.  Being cold renders me pretty much inoperable, so finding a quick, easy, low cost solution was essential.  Usually I prefer natural products such as wool and cotton.  However, at present neither matches polar fleece in the equation of warmth and thrift.

Since I couldn't find anything remotely suitable in the shops there was no choice but to make my own.  I'm a capable seamstress but hadn't made any clothes for years.  I got into a bit of a fluster about setting to work on my new outfit but was rewarded for my effort with a smart new jacket and pants.  I wore that suit day in and day out all that winter. 

This marked a transformation in how I felt about the coldest time of the year.  I began to enjoy it.  You can enjoy things when you're warm; one's whole world takes on a different complexion!  I remember seeing a news item about an American man whose Christmas ritual included buying up many pairs of gloves and giving them away to the poor, bless him.  He knew how hard it was to function well when ones hands are cold and I agree.  Clothing adequate for local conditions is a basic human requirement.

The quality of polar fleece fabric varies greatly:
Some very quickly takes a static charge* whereas others don't seem to at all; some stretch considerably and readily loose their shape and others stay much the same, and so on.  When I'm looking at it now I'm much more fussy about how each fabric feels and drapes.  Good quality fabric should feel soft.  A lesser quality may feel a bit hard or 'squeaky'.  I find it useful to imagine how it would be likely to look after a few washes. 

Sewing tips:
  • Given the bulkiness of the material the most suitable patterns will have a minimum of detail and layers.
  • Before cutting out pattern pieces it's a good idea to wash  the material as it may shrink.  It may also leak colour so wash it separately.  Further to this I've learnt to cut trousers long as one pair I made shrank after a number of washes, well after I'd cut off the excess I subsequently needed to let down!
  • Polar fleece usually has a 'nap' in the pile, by which I mean that the pile tends to lie in one direction.  
  • There is also usually a discernible difference between the upper and the underside of the fabric although often not much.  To be sure of getting an even result I cut all my pattern pieces to take this into account.  It would be a pity to discover later that parts of a garment had been cut wrong side out! 
  • Before ironing the actual garment, it can be helpful to iron some scrap material. and see how the fabric responds.  One garment I spent a lot of time on turned out to be poor quality, and the pile flattened permanently after ironing. 
  • Material that is particularly soft and stretchy should be stay-stitched, especially those seams around the seat of pants, where it may otherwise go out of shape.
  • Top-stitching is likely to look awful as I've found to my cost, and was then tricky to unpick.  Commercially sewn fleece garments are commonly top-stitched, but having compared my own efforts both with and without I have concluded that usually it looks better without it. 
However good the quality is, polar fleece is not a long lasting material.  Consistent wearing though one season is as long as it's likely to remain smart and it's important to recognise this and not spend too much time on complex patterns or lining.

These may seem like a lot of possible drawbacks, but I still find it absolutely worthwhile and wear my own garments constantly.  In the really cold weather, polar fleece trousers over full length under garments can't be beaten for warmth and comfort! 

All the practice I've had sewing this cosy. low cost material has been valuable and given me greater confidence about taking on other sewing projects of a more costly and durable nature. 

This mossy-looking fabric was a particularly good quality.  The creamy fabric on the right is pure wool.  I'll write about wool in a future article. 

* Note: Regarding static electricity in trousers, I've found that a light application of body lotion (on the legs!) solves the problem.

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