Fleece fabrics have been known to be used for a variety of purposes and applications. From weighty throw blankets to outerwear that can keep you warm during winter.
The fleece fabrics can be thick and heavy or lightweight and stretchy but should be known as a man-made fabric that is primarily synthetic.
There are many types of fleece fabric and it will be useful to learn about each one as there is such a variety.
In this guide, we will look at how you define fleece fabric, what the characteristics are, and what are the different types of fleece.
The Definition Of Fleece Fabric
You may consider fleece to be a term for the fur on sheep and other wool-bearing animals yet fleece fabric has a slightly different interpretation.
In general, fleece is the term given for a soft fabric that you would expect to wear during cold conditions in winter to keep you warm as it can trap in and retain your body heat.
It does not have to be used as a stand-alone fabric and can be simply used as a lining or bonded with another fabric. There are several types of fleece fabric to choose from and each has its own properties, some of which may be ideal for your project.
Fleece is still a term that you can use for sheep’s wool yet with so many types of fleece fabric out there, it can be simpler to define the fur on a wool-bearing animal as simply that even if fleece fabric has similar properties.
When you think of fur, it should be fuzzy when you touch it and the fleece fabric you touch is designed for that though it is made from other materials.
As there are so many fleece fabrics, try to associate them with their specific names rather than likening them to fur.
The Typical Characteristics Of Fleece Fabric
There is a sense of reassurance when you put on a fleece during a cold winter. That is largely why it remains so popular and a fleece jacket remains a staple in many wardrobes.
That reassurance comes from the fleece’s insulating properties as it is designed to keep you warm.
Similar to how sheep remain warm when outside, the fabric also naturally repels water though some fleeces will have been treated with a waterproofing chemical.
That water resistance comes from the plastic fibers as one bonus that comes from its synthetic creation. It is also one of the thicker fabrics available so water would find it difficult to get through anyway.
The water resistance also means that the fleece should dry quickly when you do get it wet. Such properties make it ideal for use in the winter, especially if you live in a snow-covered area yet want to wear activewear outside.
When you do put on a fleece, you may be surprised at how breathable the fabric is. This can be great for jackets so you do not get too sweaty as the air circulation is so good.
However, the fleece fabric can also be used as breathable floor protection which is ideal for certain floors that need to ‘breathe’.
Another great characteristic of fleece is that it is machine washable. As the fibers are synthetically made, the fleece fabric garment should be easy to wash in a washing machine.
This does make fleeces a good choice for children who are liable to get stains on their clothes yet you want to keep them warm too.
In general, fleece fabric is superb for insulation and is typically worn in cold temperatures.
As fleece fabric can include several layers of fibers on both sides, the effect can be to trap in air. That one ability is a crucial reason why the fleece can retain heat.
Once you get past the fact that fleeces are synthetically made and not comprised of animal fur, then this becomes a vegan option.
This may be an important characteristic from an ethical point of view yet the material is also hypoallergenic when compared to wool.
When wearing it you should not be as prone to skin irritation or itching so it can be a good choice for anyone who has a wool allergy as it should remain comfortable.
How You Make Fleece Fabric
Once you have established that fleece fabric is not made from animal fur then you may appreciate how well made it is.
A lot of what we understand as fleece is a man-made fabric that is developed from synthetic materials. That’s right, the fleece you stroke that feels like the wool of a sheep is plastic.
The manufacturing process for fleece fabric mimics that of a lot of man-made fabrics in that plastics are created from several chemicals.
In their processing, decisions are made as to what properties the fabric should eventually have for its primary use which comes from various combinations of specific chemicals.
These raw materials and chemicals are in a liquid form to be heated and mixed until they create a viscous, syrupy consistency.
As they continue to cool, the consistency becomes thicker and the liquid is poured through a spinneret which is a disc with holes.
The spinneret mimics the silk-spinning organ of a spider so that the liquid is transformed into strings. Just like in the production of silk, these strings are then woven in several yarns which are then knitted together to create the fabric.
That may be where the production for a lot of fabric ends but with fleece fabric there are a couple more steps.
The fabric is then put through a napper which is a machine that effectively brushes the fabric to introduce some texture.
To get the fibers softer, the fabric is cut in a shearing machine. The final stage is meant for waterproofing as certain fleece fabrics will be coated to ensure that water cannot pass through.
Types Of Fleece Fabric
There are so many fleece fabrics to choose from and each has its properties. From stretchy lycra spandex fleece to light and breathable French Terry fleece.
Some of the most comfortable and softest fleece fabrics include sherpa fleece, microfleece, and plush fleece. These are the ones that you will want to keep close to your skin when wearing or as a blanket.
Lycra Spandex Fleece
When you think of lycra and spandex, you can expect it to be stretchy. Lycra spandex fleece is also a stretchy version of the fleece fabric and its stretchiness can give garments a more fitted, closer feel and look.
While you can certainly appreciate the lycra or spandex blend, most of the fleece fabric is made from cotton.
Keeping you warm but also clinging to your body makes it the most ideal fleece fabric to use in athletic wear, particularly those jackets that you can wear when exercising outdoors during winter.
As one of the most synthetic fleece fabrics, polyester fleece was created to mimic wool. It is even an improvement on cotton-made fleece due to how durable it is.
Polyester fleece is also unlikely to shrink when washed, moisture-resistant, and quick to dry which are further improvements on cotton-made fleece.
This type of fleece fabric can be made into winter wear such as scarves and mittens as you would expect wool to be too.
If you were wondering which of the fleece fabrics is the most lightweight and thinnest then it is the one with micro in its name.
This can weigh as little as 200 grams per square meter or even less which can mean it is comfortable to wear as it fails to weigh you down. Microfleece can be worn as a base layer or over your clothes as it has more built-in flexibility.
As it is thinner, you can expect microfleece to lack the insulation of other fleece fabrics yet be more breathable. That breathability makes it more suited to outerwear such as jackets and shirts but also in activewear and bathrobes.
Cotton Or Cotton Blended Fleece
Though you may expect a fleece to be synthetically made from polyester, a cotton fleece is one of few that is naturally produced as it is made from cotton.
The same production process is still followed whereby the cotton fibers are first woven into yarns then knitted to make fabric and finally brushed for that soft texture.
There are also cotton blended fleeces which can use other materials to create the fabric. As long as the fibers are naturally produced like wool or silk then the fabric can still be considered natural.
Cotton fleeces are also increasingly more breathable than those made from plastics and synthetic materials.
The air circulation will be improved yet it can still keep you warm. An issue with cotton, in general, is that the fibers can shrink over time.
For durability in fleece fabric, there are few better than polar fleece which is commonly used in apparel and clothing because it lasts so long.
This is the fabric that you can expect when you see a garment that is simply known as fleece. It can be formidably warm and can be made into various thicknesses which can make it stiff.
The fleece fabric is excellent for water resistance and can keep you warm even if out in the rain so becomes ideal for fall and winter clothing.
French Terry Fleece
The term ‘French Terry’ comes from the French word ‘tirer’ which translates to ‘to pull’. In the case of the fleece’s production, French Terry originates from terrycloth where looser and longer fabric notes were pulled through woven, denser pieces of cloth.
These fabrics became lighter whereby looping occurred on one side of the fabric meaning that the other side was softer and smoother with more stretchiness.
The first uses of French Terry were in joggers and sweatpants but also the Juicy Couture tracksuit.
Compared to other fleece fabrics, French Terry is thinner so you can expect to find it in more clothes you can wear outside of winter.
Consider it in sweatshirts, hooded jackets, and shorts that you can wear in fall, spring, and summer. The fleece fabric is known for being comfortable so can be used in loungewear too.
One of the main differences between this fleece and others is that it is not brushed so is not as fluffy and it has a looser weave which should mean it is not as warm.
For a fleece fabric that is understandably close to sheep’s wool, try sherpa fleece. This is a particularly insulating and warm material so it is well suited for the lining of a blanket or jacket.
You can also find the fleece fabric as a lining inside a denim or corduroy jacket to make an already heavy material, warmer and snugger too.
If you do get to feel a piece of sherpa fleece you will note that one side feels like wool while the other side is smooth which is why it can work so well as a lining.
When you get cozy with a particularly luxurious, soft, and heavy throw blanket then it is likely made from plush fleece. This is also the closest fleece fabric to the effect and feel of animal fur as it is so warm and soft.
That is ideal for a heavy throw blanket but not so much clothing as it is so heavy and can also be more expensive.
Plush fleece fabric is ideally suited for other blankets such as baby blankets as it can be relied upon for its thickness and super-soft texture.
Bonded fleece is likely exactly what you expect it to be, bonded to another fabric. In this case, bonded fleece is typically a lining to be attached to another fabric.
This could be another fleece for a double-sided effect which you can expect in a plaid shirt. Bonded fleece is also found in outerwear and jackets to keep the garment warm yet increases the fabric’s resistance to cold and wind.
Anti Pill Fleece
Unfortunately, there are downsides to the fleece fabric and one is known as ‘pilling’. This is where the fibers rub together during a wash and become knotted.
On the surface of fleece fabric, you can see them as tiny balls which are the pills. Manufacturers have since developed Anti-Pill Fleece as a way of ensuring that the pilling does not occur.
Instead of the fibers rubbing against each other from abrasion or static electricity when being washed, they are treated with a certain chemical that prevents those fibers from getting knotted. This reduces the occurrence of pilling so those little balls should be fewer with this fabric.
However, pilling can still occur when this fleece fabric is washed but it should still last longer than other fleece fabrics. This makes it ideal for pajamas and other apparel that you can wear frequently.
For a softer and smoother fleece fabric than anti-pill fleece, try blizzard fleece. This fleece fabric is usually wholly made from polyester fibers so should be durable and last for years when taken care of.
While it is a dense and thick material that can keep you warm, it will also feel very comfortable against your skin.
You can expect to find blizzard fleece in winter wear such as scarves and gloves as well as blankets to keep you warm during winter.
There is the problem of pilling as blizzard fleece is not treated to prevent those little balls from appearing when washed.
Slub fleece is not exactly a fleece fabric on its own, rather a type of fleece fabric that is made when two differently sized yarns are twisted together.
Once created, slub fleece can come with a textured look. This look and feel can be exceptional when used in a sweatshirt and jacket.
Also known as minkee fleece, this is an incredibly soft fleece fabric that can be exceedingly warm. This one is created from wholly polyester fibers or microfibers to be made into various textures and colors.
While it was created for baby products such as blankets due to how soft and lightweight it is, it has since become popular with adults too.
How You Should Care For Fleece Fabric
Once you receive a piece of fleece fabric, you should want to look after it even if it is known for its durability.
Fleece fabric is created from synthetic fibers so you can expect a piece of it to have a texture you will want to care for so it remains soft. It will also need to be washed occasionally.
Treat it like a delicate piece of material which means washing in cold water as extreme heat can damage or even melt the fibers.
To prevent pilling, wash your fleece garments in a gentle cycle if you do put them in the washing machine.
Keep it soft too and do not be tempted to use fabric softener or bleach which can be particularly harsh on synthetic fibers.
When you do have to dry your fleece fabrics, do this by air-drying them or a very low heated tumble dry can also work too. Just like delicates, you should try not to use an iron directly on the material either.
How You Should Choose Fleece Fabric For A Project
When you are choosing a fleece fabric for a particular project, you should already know what you intend to create.
Each different type of fleece fabric has its specific properties which need to be taken into account. For instance, for a jacket or hat, you should opt for microfleece due to how lightweight and thin it is.
You should ask yourself whether you need a specific type of fleece fabric, or fleece at all, as it can be quite expensive.
Once you work out how much fabric you require for your project it can be easier to work out whether the total cost is justified. Simply feeling and checking the fleece fabric can go a long way to ensuring its quality.
Some manufacturers can be a bit sneaky in trying to carry off poor quality fleece fabric for something more impressive than it is so check it yourself first as it should be strong and durable.
Not only should the texture of the fleece fabric be important but also the color as it can be difficult to change once you have started on your project.
An insulating and warm fleece fabric is ideally suited for blankets and linings so you should consider sherpa fleece. Then there is the decision between synthetic or natural fibers for your fabric.
Finally, there is the issue of pilling and an anti-pill fleece fabric may be ideal for your project if you know that the garment is to be regularly worn.
Many of the primary differences between types of fleece fabric are in how warm they can be and the texture they are created for.
Most fleece fabrics are made for keeping you cozy and comfortable during the cold winter months. That can include plush fleece and sherpa fleece which are known for their insulating properties.
You may be surprised to learn that lycra spandex fleece and microfleece still belong to the same family due to how thin and lightweight they can be.
For both of these fleeces, their lightweight properties are ideal as microfleece can be used as a base layer while lycra spandex fleece is designed for a close, fitted look.
Whichever type of fleece fabric you go for, choose wisely so you can find the right one for your project or garment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should Fleece Fabric Be Classified As Natural Or Synthetic?
While some fleeces can be made from the fur of wool-bearing animals or cotton, fleece fabric is typically made with polyester fibers.
It should seem natural yet it is an excellent man-made fabric and should be classified as synthetic. This may be difficult to tell due to how versatile polyester can be as a synthetic material and it does prove to be durable too.
There are some variations of fleece fabric that you can count as natural. As cotton is a naturally-occurring material, a cotton fleece can be classified as natural if it is made with wholly cotton fibers.
What Are Some Of The Downsides To Fleece Fabric?
As a synthetic fabric, you may encounter some static due to the fleece’s texture.
The fleece is formed from plastic so you should keep it away from high temperatures as it is not heat-resistant, it could even melt.
What Is The Thickest Type Of Fleece Fabric?
The thickest type of fleece fabric is likely to be polar fleece. Though you can vary the thickness, at a very high level such as 300 this should be the least flexible and even considered stiff.
For that thickness, you can expect the fleece fabric to be hydrophobic meaning that it holds a tiny proportion of its weight in water, in this case, less than 1%.
That means it can dry quickly and keep its insulating properties when wet.
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