The Polar Express Comes Through My Sewing Room

Anyone who’s met me for 30 minutes easily figures out that I will do anything for my niece and nephew. So, when my sister-in-law emailed me saying my nephew needed a pillow for naptime at pre-school, with a removable cover, and did I have the time to make one? “NO PROBLEM,” Aunt Tina replied joyfully!

The wheels in my head whirred immediately and I knew that one cover would not be enough. There needed to be a cover for each school day — do you know what icky things there are in pre-school? Of course, it was a must to find my nephew’s favorite characters: Handy Manny, Bob the Builder, Buzz Lightyear and Thomas the Train in fleece, his favorite texture.

What I thought was going to be an easy, whip-it-out-and-pop-it-in-the-mail project turned into a 24-hour lesson in polar fleece’s peccadilloes. How could it be? This is the fabric that magazines and articles indicate is perfect for the early sewer because it does’t unravel so you don’t have to hem.

My only previous experience in sewing fleece was a set of Bears snuggies, but that was more of an experience to learn my serger. However, these pillow cases were a sewing adventure of another kind. So in the past 24 hours making six pillow covers out of polar fleece, here is what I’ve learnt:

  1. Hump Jumper

    Hump Jumper

    Add more pressure — Depending on the pile and the finish on the polar fleece, some fleece will sew fine on a straight line. Some others, though, may want to creep itself askew. So increase the pressure of your presser foot to keep the fleece in line and sandwiched in.

    You’ll also want to watch how the pile is acting if you get more than two layers; it may not compact down enough to pass under the presser foot without help from a hump jumper.

    Jammed fleeceWhen serging, I found that the embroidered fleece added so much thickness that the serger had a problem going through four layers and the embroidered section. The stitches were totally mangled through the cute little bear.

  2. Lengthen your stitch — Lengthening the stitch an extra millimeter seemed to help get through the pile more easily.
  3. Serge the ultra plush — It will cut down on the shedding fluff on the cut ends. Unlike the polar fleece, the ultra plush continued to shed bits of the pile everywhere. By serging, I was able to contain the flying pile shreds.
  4. Serge off more than 1/8″ — Don’t try to just serge a whisper of polar fleece. I think because the way that fleece is made, it can have a tendency to be able to stretch and creep between your knife into the needle/looper area if you don’t watch it. Then you’re in real trouble because your looper can get caught into the fleece’s fibers instead of over the seam.
  5. Watch your stretch — Ultra plush is ultra soft, but it also stretches about 1/3 more than fleece. So be sure to account for that into your measurements.
  6. Pillow pattern repeatFleece repeat is large — The pillows I made were 9″x12″, but the repeat for most of the fleeces were approximately 12″-14″. The exception was the allover pattern. Not only did I have to buy extra to center Handy Manny, but even trying to center Bob the Builder put him and Dizzy onto the back of the pillow. Luckily, I was able to appliqué another bear onto the embroidered bear pillow.  (You’ll see him at the end of this post.)
  7. Right or wrong? — Fleece has a right side and wrong side. With a printed text, it’s easier to tell the difference, but if your pattern reads the same on the right side as it does the wrong side, such as flowers or frogs, or if you have a plain polar fleece, how do you tell which is the right side? With a print, the more vivid-colored side is the right side. On a solid, the right side is the smoother side; the wrong side looks more felt-like.
  8. Sewing machine vacuum cleaner attachment

    Mini Vacuum Attachment

  9. Vacuum your machine when you’re finished Fleece emits a fluff dust as you sew. You’ll want to vacuum the tension disks, bobbin and under your bobbin case. I serged the seams, so I pulled out my trusty sewing machine attachments for my vacuum cleaner and sucked in all the fuzz and fibers between the loopers, around the knife and under the stitch plate. If you have a big project or if you are using the ultra plush that emits oodles of stray fibers, you might want to consider vacuuming more frequently. I prefer to vacuum out fibers and dust rather than using the canned air to spray in, risking pushing dust further into little places. It’s an inexpensive tool and an ounce of maintenance and prevention.
Finished pillows

Ready for pre-school naptime!

September is National Sewing Month. If you’ve never worked with fleece, making a simple pillow cover would be a great project to get your (presser) feet wet. You don’t need to have a pre-school nephew to get you going; here are some other ideas that would be easy starter fleece projects:

  • Make a version as a keep-in-the-car pillow for kids or seniors to nap during the drive or for that road warrior friend that spends more time on the plane than sleeping on their own pillow;
  • Project Linus always needs help providing blankets to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need;
  • How about mixing high and low fashion and try a Chanel-inspired fleece jacket;
  • Or just have fun and make a Snuggie? Here’s an easy-peasy pattern.

Whatever you sew…Just sew something this month!

If you have some tips or war stories about sewing with fleece, leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

I love you from Aunt Tina label

5 thoughts on “The Polar Express Comes Through My Sewing Room

  1. The best tool I’ve found for working with fleece is a Walking Foot. That and lengthing your stitch are helpful. If you find the stretch is too out of hand, you can also stabilize the stitching area with Fusi-Knit interfacing. Just make sure the interfacing and knit stretch are opposing one another.

    Cleaning your machine after using it is recommended after each project and maybe during the project if you’re sewing a lot of polar fleece. My repair person recommends that you use a vacuum and brush to clean out loose lint. Canned air is not recommended because as mentioned this can blow the lint and dust into the electronic parts and cause havoc with the machine. Canned air is only recommended in machines where you have an electronic low bobbin indicator and then only to remove dust from this area.

    • Thanks, Evelyn! I thought about my walking foot, but didn’t try it. Now I know I should’ve listened to my inner voice this time.

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