soft, fluffy, warm and vegan. How about the look and feel of a sweet little lamb without the care and maintenance of wool? Sherpa fleece has become a cold-weather classic for good reason. From blankets to shoe linings, jackets, and even sweatpants, this fabric will leave you warm, cozy, and ready to embrace those cold winter days. I dare to say; you might even look forward to those low temperatures that allow you to wear this deliciously soft and comfortable fabric.
so what is sherpa?
sherpa fleece is a thick, fluffy knit fabric, with fluffy sheep-like hair on one side and a soft knit on the other. Usually made from cotton, polyester, or acrylic fibers, or a combination of all three, sherpa can sometimes be made from wool or even bamboo.
Named for the fleece-lined clothing worn by the Sherpa people of Nepal, Sherpa is also often referred to as faux sheepskin due to its resemblance to that of a sheep. It was designed to resemble sheepskin, the skin and fur of a lamb, and was introduced as an environmentally friendly and cheaper alternative to animal fur and wool.
so how does sherpa get that distinctive curly texture without animal fibers? twisted threads are woven into the fleece fabric, and a wire brush roughens it and creates the nap. Sherpa fleece fibers are crimped, which most closely resembles a sheep’s wool and better reproduces the benefits that wool can offer, in particular, lightweight thermal insulation.
A garment made entirely of sherpa cannot completely block cold winds due to its fiber content and the holes that are created between stitches when the fabric is made, but it does keep you warm when paired with denim, flannel, woven cotton or suede for an outer layer.
benefits of the sherpa
- cotton and synthetic fabrics are easy to clean after an initial prewash before sewing.
- sherpa does not use fibers or animal fur, making it a vegan alternative to wool.
- the sherpa loft makes it a thermal insulating fabric with the advantage of being fluffy and soft to the touch.
- sherpa is quick drying and moisture wicking.
- Shedding and pilling are common problems.
- sherpa attracts pet fur and fluff of all kinds. having a lint roller comes in handy.
- synthetic sherpa linings can trap odors, so clean before odors have a chance to permeate the fabric.
- wash fabric in cold water on gentle cycle.
- To prevent shedding, it’s best to turn the garment inside out in a laundry bag when washing. Go one step further and reduce microplastics that come from synthetic fibers by investing in a microfiber laundry bag or filter.
- do not use bleach or fabric softener on sherpa.
- do not wash sherpa with other clothes, especially dark colored clothes. the lint will spread to your other clothes and be difficult to remove.
- do not wash sherpa with lint-producing items such as towels. static electricity on the fabric will attract lint like a magnet!
- To avoid pilling, you may consider air drying the garment. the movement of the dryer can agitate the fibers, increasing the chance of the fabric pilling.
- if using a dryer, use it on the dryer setting.
- If your Sherpa is still taking pills, remove them with a pill remover.
- Spot clean your Sherpa by applying a mixture of warm water, dishwashing detergent and vinegar, rinsing after five minutes.
- bolt cloth
- your fleece
- birch fabrics (birch sells organic cotton sherpa)
sherpa sewing tips
prewash your fabric. If your sherpa fleece is made from cotton or a cotton blend, prewash your fabric. cotton is prone to shrinking at high temperatures when washed and dried.
avoid ironing. Sherpa fleece has a thick pile that you want to keep from getting crushed or tangled. the heat from the flat iron will flatten fluffy fur and can even melt fabric if it’s synthetic or a synthetic blend. If it is necessary to use a fusible interfacing for your pattern, do not iron directly. use an ironing cloth and then iron and steam in place with moderate settings on your iron.
use one foot to walk. Sherpa fleece is a fairly thick knit fabric, which means the standard machine foot may have trouble sewing through multiple layers of fabric. A walking foot will allow the machine to pull the fabric evenly through the feed dogs, making it easier to sew this thick, fluffy fabric.
use sharp scissors. Make sure your scissors are sharp before cutting sherpa and cut a single layer if the stack is too high. Unfortunately, for rotary cutter fans, a rotary cutter may not be accurate due to the unstable nature of the fuzzy fabric stack.
pay attention to the cloth nap. cut pattern pieces with nap facing the same direction. If you’re not familiar, nap refers to how the fibers stand on the surface of the fabric. all of these fibers should be oriented in one direction: when you run your hand across the plush fabric, it will feel soft in one direction and look and feel different in another. you’ll want to lay out all of your pattern pieces so they’re facing the same direction at nap. this is called a one-way design. if you ignore nap, you risk sewing two pieces together that, although cut from the same fabric, appear to be slightly different.
Use a stockinette or ball needle. Since sherpa is a knit fabric, use jersey or ballpoint needles and stretch stitches when sewing the garment.
cross flower cuts. If you’re making a sweater, vest, or any other wool garment with curved seams, be sure to sew the pattern pieces together as soon as you cut them out. sherpa, with its stretchy knit structure, is very prone to stretching without reinforcement.
Consider using clips. it’s easy for pins to hide in the nap of the fabric, and you don’t want to accidentally sew or cut pins. groovy clips work well for this, but you can also use binder clips as an alternative.
finish raw edges. Sherpa fleece is known to shed a lot during the sewing process, so any unfinished seams will continue to shed once the garment is finished. make sure to finish all raw edges!
caring for sherpa garments
You have sewn your sherpa garment and worn it several times. now it’s time to clean it, so what is the best way to clean the sherpa? There are some important considerations to keep in mind when washing and drying sherpa garments that will benefit the rest of your clothes as well. remember, this fabric can come off. you may want to consider hand washing your sherpa garment to try and avoid any mishaps with washing. however, with a few precautions, sherpa can be machine washed.
where to buy sherpa
Sherpa is sometimes sold seasonally, so check with your favorite local store first! Here are some great options for getting your hands on some of this fluffy fabric.