Monday, 20 May 2019
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FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting: Choosing Fleece for Tugs

Stack of coloured polar fleece fabrics for making DIY dog tug toys

As promised, we've created some posts talking about some of the questions we get most often here, on social media, and via email.  First up, we're talking about choosing (and using)  fleece for making tugs with tips for selection, value, cutting, care, and more. We'll share tug toy help for troubleshooting problems with weaving, as well as tips and tricks for weaving styles and techniques in future posts.

With the exception of the occasional experiment or recycle/upcycle project, polar fleece is my preferred material for making tug toys.  It is economical, non-fraying, colourfast, and washable with a nice, thick, strong but slightly stretchy feel.  With the possible exception of some upcycled materials, like t-shirt hem dog toys, nothing I've tried comes close to the durability of fleece for a no-sew tug toy without fraying or shedding. Ingesting threads (linear bodies are particularly dangerous) or swallowing pieces of a toy, no matter what the material, is a serious pet safety risk.  

All materials (and toys, bought or made) have pros and cons. Fleece is durable and doesn't shed threads like woven fabrics, but it is a synthetic material usually made of 100% polyester. In my experience, it can be difficult to find fabrics that are sturdy enough to stand up to big dog play that are all natural and, if dyed, colourfast for washing/chewing/drooling, and then there's the fray factor. I do try to shop with care, but prioritise durability. You can, of course, adapt any doggy DIY (from here or anywhere) into another material that you feel comfortable with using and feel is appropriate for your pet. Any toy no matter what it's made of or where it's sourced from requires dog-by-dog consideration for suitability and supervision during play. 

Polar fleece comes in different weights of fabric and this is one of the most important properties for me when shopping for tug toy making. Weight is the fabric term for a material's loft and thickness. There are different scales used to describe the weights. Numerical scales like gsm (grams per square meter) make it easy (the higher the number, the heavier the weight). Midweight is typically 200-300gsm and Heavyweight is typically over 300gsm. Products labelled with only with descriptives can make it trickier to navigate options, but your hands should be able to feel the difference and price differentials are also a good indicator.  Heavier weighted fleeces are thicker and more durable, and when used for weaving they create a thicker toy with more bulk.  

Comparing the weights of different polar fleece materials

Where possible, I prefer heavyweight fleece. It gives both added bulk and toughness. I notice a significant difference between when using a good heavyweight compared to other qualities/weights that I sometimes buy due to availability of colour, price, etc. If your fleece is thinner or you can't get the colour you want in a heavy weight, you can add extra bulk by using wider strands and/or (my favourite trick) doubling-up strands for weaving. I find that if you go too wide with the individual strands, it becomes hard to weave a nice tidy pattern. Much easier to work with pairs of narrower strands instead! The general weaving process is the same, just working with pairs instead of single strands. I'll talk more about size questions in our weaving FAQ post. 

The width of polar fleece on the bolt or roll of material varies. Width is the side of the material from selvage edge to selvage edge on the roll. Selvages are usually discarded in fabric crafts but polar fleece selvages can be included in your weaving strips, if you'd like. Less waste, more play. Selvages are the narrow edges on fabrics, often with a different weave to prevent fraying and may vary in colour, marking, density or other properties from the main body of the fabric. On polar fleece, these are less obvious buy may lack nap, feel a little flimsier, and/or have pin holes.

Selvage edges of red polar fleece fabric

Wider widths of polar fleece will be more expensive per cut until (meter or yard) than narrower pieces of the same material, but if the width suits your project then purchasing a small length and creating with the width can be very economical instead of buying long lengths.  Most shops are happy to cut and sell relatively small lengths (at least they are here!), so you can get a little starter stash of fleece without having to buy for length. For example, here, common widths on rolls of cut-to-measure polar fleece vary from around 110cm to 220cm, which means you can buy a short length of wide fleece and cut it into long strips from selvage edge to selvage edge. Bargain!

Looking at a small but very long piece of blue polar fleece fabric from the selvage edge

The colour of fleece is a matter of personal choice to best suit your available supplies, the pattern of the weave, and preferences.  Light colours show less lint (and white fur), but also show grime and dirty drool. White fleece in particular can quickly look dingy.  I usually choose my colour combos just for fun, but if you're channelling your inner dog then perhaps you'd like to try a high contrast combination with blue and/or yellow, which are visible colours for dogs. Weaving with multiple colours not only looks pretty when finished, it can be helpful with keeping track of which strand goes where, especially if you're new to weaving.  On the flip side, weaving with a single colour can mask errors in your weaving pattern and may save on buying materials.

Polar fleece is washable (whether as plain fabric or as finished tugs). As a synthetic, low-temperatures are best. I machine cold wash and then air dry fleece. Washing purchased fabric will give you a fresh start when you're ready without hanging onto the traces of manufacture, transport, store handing, etc. Washing synthetics, including fleece, may shed microplastics in the wash water and if this is a concern for your toys and other household clothing, blankets, etc. there are products that can be used to bag items for washing and/or supplement the outgoing water filtration.  When washing or cleaning any dog toy, be selective with your washing liquids/powders and try to avoid anything that will leave residues of strong smells, tastes, or nasty chemicals in general. 

Polar fleece has a knack for attracting lint and fur, so if that's a bother for you, clean the crafting area before weaving. In my experience (life with Dalmatians...sigh!) there's no avoiding some fur around here, though! Cutting and working with fluffy fleece can also be messy, so it's helpful to clean scissors, cutting mats, tables, and vacuum your crafting area after spreading the fluff around. You may need a change of clothes as well!

Polar fleece is hard on scissors (and rotary cutting blades) and dulls the blades, so you may want to avoid using your best sewing scissors for cutting fleece. The stretch of fleece and fluffy slipperiness can make it tricky to cut straight lines. Sharp scissors help, so sharpen before use if needed. Fortunately, perfectly straight lines and precise measurements aren't necessary for tug toy strips. :)  We'll talk more about helpful hints for toy making in upcoming posts, so stay tuned!

Safety first, furfriends! Remember, no matter what a toy is made of or how it's made, toys are meant for supervised interactive play. Know your dog before giving him/her any new toy. Some dogs try to eat toys/parts (whether bought or handmade) and that's dangerous. Toys are for playing, and playtime is always safer (and more fun!) with you involved. You can read more on our dog toy safety page, including tips and some helpful links for safer playtime. Have fun and play safe!


Looking for more? Explore the DIY Fleece Tug Toy FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting Mini-Series: 


Ready to try making tug toys? We have lots of ideas and inspiration in our archives! If you are a beginner weaver, the easiest place to start is probably with a square/box knot tug toy and then move up to a circle/spiral twist tug toy (I'd recommend learning the corner-to-corner circle twist method for spirals so it's easier to advance to other methods later, if you wish). If you're already into weaving, boondoggle, or macrame then many of these weaves can be adapted for toys, like our fat cobra knot dog tug toy. For added safety, I prefer using weaves that involve some form of knotting over braiding or free looping when making tugs for my pets. You can explore all of our toys using the DIY Dog Toy page or hop straight in via the linked post labels in the footer below.

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