POLARTEC Sweater Details and Tips for Sewing POLARTEC/POLARFLEECE

The basic idea for this garment came about because my husband had a royal blue wool zip neck sweater, made from a slightly felted wool, that was beautifully designed but too itchy. I tried to adapt the best aspects of the design and fit in to a Polartec (tm, Malden Mills) garment.

First of all, the bright royal blue color was very flattering. Luckily this is a color that is made by Malden Mills and was available at the outlet; and very luckily they happened to have a color-matched single sided ultralighweight fleece that I could use for the long cuffs and waistband I decided to make. (If they hadn't had this available, I might have tried to find a color-matched double sided microfleece, or lined a single layer of the original fleece with spandex for the cuffs, or gone for another design altogether like turn-back supplex lined cuffs. I wanted to keep the color match so that the arms and waist would would have a long line.) The main fabric is 200 weight polartec, which is the most common weight for outdoor sweaters. I'm not sure I would bother fitting a garment from 300 weight as closely.

The body I adapted from the original wool sweater itself, but you could adapt it from a Kwik-Sew or Burda pattern intended for fleece, or just draft it yourself. I made it more fitted by tapering the body to the waist.

The shoulders are fitted (not dropped like most patterns). This means the shoulder seam is the appropriate length for the actual shoulder, and has an angle reflecting the actual shoulder slope. The back shoulder seam is longer that the front by about 3/8 or 1/2 ", which is eased in to provide extra room for the shoulders. I put the shoulder seam right on the shoulder line, but you can play with setting it back or front a bit depending on the chest structure of the person. If you want to pad the shoulder seam discretely for squarer shoulder line, one trick I have discovered is to cut little shoulder pad wings right into the seam allowance. The fleece is thick enough for this to have some effect. I didn't do that on this garment.

In construction, ALWAYS tape the shoulder seams. For Polarfleece (tm, Malden Mills) I always use the new lightweight synthetic swill tape made of nylon which is available in all the sewing stores, and looks like a mesh. You could also use the new poly twill tape that looks like old-fashioned twill tape, but it is bulkier. Don't use cotton as it will take longer to dry that the rest of the garment. Another appropriate tape for certain fleece garments is baby size braided elastic or clear elastic.

The arms are also closely fitted and gusseted. This means designing a fairly high-cap sleeve with a very high armscye (for flattering fit and good movement), then cutting a gusset into the underarm for even better movement. My gusset is shaped like hemisphere starting to become a crescent moon, but many shaped are ok. Arrange the stretch of the fleece on the gusset to go in the direction of lifting the arm. (this will be opposite to the nearby sleeve and body, where the stretch direction wraps around arm and body). What I mean by a fairly-high sleeve cap is that it is a true set-in sleeve with some ease in the cap and a little extra length for that in the cap, compared to the type of sleeve that sets in almost straight which are popular in drop-shoulder easy-construction garments. I adapted the sleeves and gusset from the original sweater. Now I design gussets into many garments.

This zip neck is quite nice, and taken pretty much wholly from a Kwik-Sew pattern. I can't remember the number now but can look it up, it is a popular pattern in their line. Burda has something similar. The yokes and collar are fully double layered, catching the zipper between the laters. This makes for a clean finish. I always use YKK zippers, this one is a fiarly chunky nylon in a matching blue. I had to shorten it a little to fit since I slightly changed the yoke depth. Double layer construction is really fine in 200 weight fleece, it doesn't get too thick and gives enough stiffness for the collar to stand if needed. I have made several full double layers and I do ususally hand baste to the layers don't slip away.

This was an interesting part of the design problem, since I wanted a nice long cuff and waistband. I didn't want the "super sporty" appearance of some of the popular cuffs, such as lycra binding, nylon ribbing, or short microfleece cuffs. I settled on doubling the single-sided microfleece (fleece side facing out) for both the waistband and the cuffs. The width was between 3 and 4 inches. On the body, I used the same circumference measurement as the body pieces (Which I cut slightly high to allow for a wide waistband). On the cuffs, I think I used a slightly smaller measurement and eased in the sleeve piece. I'll have to go double check these on the pattern I made. In any case, I then "quilted" these pieces with 5 5/8" casings. I had intended to fill all the casings with graded lengths of elastic, to make a smooth wide band. When I tried this, however, it was too heavy and not stretchy enough. So I ended up filling ONLY the middle casing of each with a soft but very springy elastic. This ended up looking really nice.

When making your own treatments for anything using encased elastic, remember to try lots of different elastics to find the one with the right properties: recovery, stretch, softness, width-change (braided changes width, knitted does not), and abrasiveness at the edges. Look at various brands of braided, knit, novelty, and sometimes the new clear elastics are very useful.

For fleece, I use high-quality all-poly matching thread (like Gutterman or Molyncke). I always use Schmetz needles, usually Universal but sometimes Microtex. See which one sews better on the particular piece of fleece at the time. I use needles like mad, for a garment like this, at least 2, plus one or 2 double needles for finishing the seams. They dull very fast on all-poly fabric. Make it a policy to always start a fleece garment with a new needle, and to throw it out at the least sign of difference in stitching or sound, or after about 15 yards.

For the main seams, I sew with a very narrow zig-zag (or sometimes even a straight, stretching the fabric a little). Then, I sew with a double needle from the right side (I use a 4.0 but you might also get a good effect with a 6.0 if your machine is wide enough) to make a what looks like a double row of close topstiching along the seam. This looks very professional. Then I cut the fleece as close as possible to the stiching. Usually the fuzz of the fleece rolls in a little onto the inside of the seam making it feel very confortable to the wearer. For the double layer areas, I top-stitched for appearance and to make the corners of the collar and the yoke lines more distinct, this top-stitching was a little farther from the edge...maybe 1/2" or so.

To ease the sleeve, in fleece, all the is necessary for moderate ease is to stich along the seamline of the cap. This will pull it in some. Do this with a straight stitch, and then if it isn't enough you can pull up the thread for any extra ease that got left out..

I did draft a flat pattern of all this as I was working.

copyright 1997 Margaret Minsky