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Sewing with Plush Fabric
If you’ve ever touched quality plush fabric, you’ve probably made this sound: “Ohhhhhh, ahhhhhh.” You’re also likely to have immediately stroked your cheek with this wonderfully soft fabric. Luxury plush goes by several names. Many people refer to it generically as Minky, but that is actually a brand name, much like Kleenex® is a brand name for facial tissue. For this article, we’re referring to it as “Cuddle,” which is the name given to the category by industry leader, Shannon Fabrics. The fabric gives a fabulous softness to a wide variety of projects, from toys to pillows to blankets and more (we loved using it for a soft fitted crib sheet). It’s not a difficult fabric to sew with, but to create the very best results, it helps to have a few tips and tricks under your belt prior to jumping in. And doesn’t jumping into a huge pile of Cuddle sound like a wonderful thing? “Ohhhhhh, ahhhhhhh!”
What is it and why is it so soft?
As soft to the touch as cashmere and mink, Cuddle is actually 100% polyester. The high quality and density of the nap is what distinguishes it from its standard fleece cousins. You can launder it over and over without compromising the softness, the brightness of its colors or the warmth. It traditionally comes 58″ – 60″+ in width with the stretch along the width of the fabric. There is little to no stretch along the vertical (the grain line).
Types of plush fabric
The variety available is stunning. We could spend the whole article just showing you pretty pictures. Instead, the least overwhelming way to think about Cuddle is to organize it into four main categories: Solids, Prints, Embossed, and Double-Sided. Within each of the categories are dozens and dozens of options. We used a fun mixture of them all for our Cuddle Soft Easter Eggs.
Solids and Prints
Solids range from vivid brights to baby pastels. Prints come in classic dots and chevrons as well as designer prints. We found a pretty-in-pink paisley print we loved for our Throw with a Secret Pocket (shown above).
Embossed Cuddle is a favorite. You get softness plus a subtle design that pops up from the nap, such as the classic dimple as well as hearts, stars, paisley, and more. We used it on our Playful Stuffed Crocodile to simulate his scales.
The selection within double-sided prints is not quite as varied with mostly solids and just a few prints. This is a great option to create a fast blanket with just a single bound layer, as we did with our Teen Pretty Pack Sleepover Blanket.
Washing and cutting
As mentioned above, Cuddle holds up beautifully through multiple launderings. Cold water washing is best, and do not use fabric softener.
Pre-washing Cuddle isn’t necessary because it doesn’t shrink. The one caveat is red. Polyester fabrics seldom fade or run, but red is always the exception to any rule.
Some people have expressed concerns about drying the embossed fabrics, saying it can cause the embossing to lose its texture. We haven’t experienced this problem, but we do choose to tumble dry on a cool setting or even to simply hang dry.
A rotary cutter with a standard or pinking blade is the best choice for cutting. The pinking blade adds a nice finish to your seam allowance. If you are working with a Cuddle that has a very long fiber, you may want to follow the recommendation for cutting faux fur, which is to cut from the back with scissors through just the backing. We have a full tutorial on Sewing with Faux Fur for more detail.
You will get lots o’ lint when you work with Cuddle. It’s simply the result of working with the deep nap that gives the fabric its ultra softness. You can’t eliminate it, but you can minimize it. Have a lint roller on hand and keep a small vacuum nearby for post-project clean up. You’ll also want to pay attention to your machine. Lint can quickly build up around the needle and presser foot as well as in the bobbin case. Take the time to clean as needed along the way as well as after you complete your project
You can also take your larger cut pieces outside prior to sewing in order to give them a good shake. If you are sensitive to lint, make sure you don’t have a fan running that can blow the lint around and consider using a dust mask.
And my personal tip about lint: never wear all black when constructing a Cuddle project; you’ll come away looking like you’re turning into a stuffed animal!
Cuddle has a definite nap. You need to pay attention to the direction of the nap when cutting out your pieces so the nap is going in the same direction on any adjacent pieces. If your nap is going in opposite directions both the texture and the color will be different and ruin the look of your project. The image below is the same fabric with the nap brushed in two different directions.
When cutting pattern pieces, some people prefer working with pattern weights over pins because pinning through thick Cuddle layers can distort a pattern. We haven’t had a problem working with pins, but it is something to keep in mind. Another option would be to flip the pattern and trace it onto the back of the Cuddle, similar to how you cut a pattern on faux fur.
Machine set-up and stitching
The number one tool to have is a Walking or Even Feed foot. or to engage your machine’s built-in fabric feeding system, such as the AcuFeed™ Flex we use on many of our Janome machines. Cuddle can be slippery, and the best way to combat it is with this type of specialty presser foot. It has upper feed dogs built in that work in harmony with the lower feed dogs on your machine. Your layers are fed in unison from both the top and the bottom.
As shown in the image above, we like to work with quilting gloves as an additional aid against the fabric slipping or sliding.
Start a new project with a new needle. A 90/14 stretch needle is the top choice as it has a slight ballpoint tip. We’ve also used a 90/14 universal needle with good results.
Set-up the machine for a longer stitch length: 3.0 to 4.0mm. Test your stitching first on scraps to make sure the length and tension settings on your machine are generating the best results.
Thread the machine with all-purpose thread in the top and bobbin. Decorative or specialty threads will get lost in the nap of the fabric.
We prefer to simply pin layers together, spacing them fairly close together – about every 1″ for stability. Don’t be afraid to use lots of pins.
If you don’t have access to a Walking foot or a built-in fabric feeding system or you simply find yourself getting frustrated with uncooperative layers, other options to hold things together include: hand-basting, using a fusible seam tape, such as Dritz Washaway Wonder Tape, or trying a basting spray. With a spray, make sure you protect the right side of the Cuddle prior to spraying.
Use a ½” seam allowance at a minimum. Cuddle has a tendency to curl, and the wider seam allowance helps stabilize it. It will also help decrease stretching.
Cuddle doesn’t fray so seam finishing isn’t necessary, however, when mixing Cuddle with another fabric (see below), if the resulting seam allowance is too bulky, grade the seam by trimming away some of the Cuddle.
Topstitching a finished seam will also help reduce bulk and help the Cuddle lay flat. If you choose this option, always topstitch in the same direction as the nap
Combining plush fleece with another fabric type
It’s common to combine Cuddle with another fabric. We often use a quilting cotton as a binding for our blankets. And, we’ve seen some gorgeous quilts lately that have chosen Cuddle as the quilt’s backing. It adds a lovely softness, and if you chose a Cuddle with a short nap, the quilting design does show up, adding texture, beauty, and softness to the quilt back.
The main thing to keep in mind is that these other fabrics will likely behave differently in the wash than Cuddle. Pre-wash all fabrics you’ll be using in combination with the Cuddle to avoid uneven shrinkage when laundering the finished project.
When stitching, work with the Cuddle on the bottom against the feed dogs for the smoothest movement through the machine.
Another trick we’ve used on several blanket projects is to insert a layer of double-sided flannel between the layers of Cuddle. Because the back of the Cuddle is smooth and rather slick, when two layers are wrong sides together, as they would be for a blanket, they’ll want to shift against each other. You can certainly add lines of quilting to hold the layers together, but sometimes that isn’t the look you want, and with larger blankets – unless you add lots of lines of quilting, the two layers can sometimes still droop or slide between the quilting. We’ve found the “grippyness” of the flannel helps keep the layers stable.
Cuddle is 100% polyester so it can melt if directly exposed to high heat. In most cases, the rule is to simply not iron it at all. If you feel you must press a seam, do it from the wrong side and use a pressing cloth.
The embossed Cuddle is especially sensitive to heat as it is heat that created the embossed designs in the first place, so excessive heat can take that texture away.
Placing the Cuddle face down against a plush towel rather than directly on your flat ironing board also helps preserve the nap.
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What sewing machine needle would you recommend when sewing satin binding on a blanket with Cuddle on one side and flannel on the other side?
Hi Alice – because the flannel is a woven, the slight ballpoint isn’t a great option. The universal 90/14 would be a good bet.
Thank you Liz 🙂