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Hints for working with Polarfleece

Patagonia, REI, Timberland, Fila and L.L. Bean have been singing the praises of Polarfleece for some time.

This versatile fabric breathes, wicks moisture away from the body and dries quickly, providing comfort and low maintenance.

Polarfleece, Polartec, Polarlite and Polarplus are all brand-name materials from the same fabric family. All have climate-control properties; they are warm, resistant to moisture and breathe well, with an anti-microbial agent to attack odor-causing bacteria.

Other Polarfleece options are a quick-drying fabric that looks and feels like chamois but provides warmth without weight, a brushed velour finish with four-way stretch, a low-pile velour with plain or surface texture like shearling _ some, such as sweat-shirt fleece, even repel water. Generally, one side of these materials is Polarfleece and the other is cotton and thermal stretch.

A relatively new fabric, Windblock, is wind resistant on one side, water repellent on the other and is comfortable and quick drying.

To avoid shrinkage of these space-age materials, wash in cool water and machine dry on a low setting. Do not press or dry clean.

If you examine garments made in these fabrics, you will notice they are typically constructed on a four-thread serger using a slightly longer than normal stitch length. If you own only a three-thread serger, sew the seam with a conventional machine and then serge. Differential feed will reduce stretching as you serge the fabric.

If you don't have a differential feed, place your finger behind the presser foot on the serger and press forward slightly, almost as though you are easing. This technique achieves the same results as differential feed.

On a conventional sewing machine, stretch the seam slightly as you sew; use a 70/10 H or 80/10 H needle and any high-quality thread. Garment construction is easier if quarter-inch seam allowances are used throughout.

Patterns designed specifically for Polarfleece usually include quarter-inch seam allowances. If you are using a standard pattern, either cut three-eighths of an inch off seams as you cut out or serge it off as you sew.

Because Polarfleece is a knit and does not ravel, outside edges can be left without a finish. Other alternatives are pinking, serging with decorative thread and woolly nylon in the upper looper or binding with a knit.

To prevent buttonholes from stretching, use Solvy on top and Tear Away on the bottom. For very professional-looking buttonholes, follow the same procedure but use cord to stabilize. If buttons will be applied to a single layer of fleece, sew an extra square of fleece or a flat button on the wrong size. Snaps should be applied through two layers of fleece with additional interfacing in between.

If you love Polarfleece and would like to create some of the items you see in outerwear stores, try a book called Polarfleece Pizazz ($16.95). To order, call the authors at (414) 632-2660 or (612) 884-7321.

Sandra Betzina is host of Home & Garden Television's "Sew Perfect."

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