It’s toy time! As promised, we’ve created some special FAQ posts 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 DIY dog tug toys, including info and tips on selection, value, cutting, care, and more for making tugs.
Why I Choose to Use Fleece for DIY Tug Toys
With the exception of occasional experiments, 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.
The Pros and Cons of Polar Fleece
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, and drooling. And then there’s the fray factor. I do try to shop with care, but prioritise durability.
Alternatives to Fleece
You can, of course, adapt any DIY (from here or anywhere) to 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.
Tug toys can be made with other materials if you don’t have fleece, dislike using it for personal or environmental considerations, or just feel like something different. If you’re keen to upcycle, old blankets or clothing may be suitable for repurposing. Materials should be clean and sturdy, and avoid fabrics that shed threads as noted above.
Selecting Fleece for Tug Toys
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.
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 or weights that I sometimes buy due to availability of colour, price, etc.
If your fleece is thin or you can’t get the colour you want in a heavier weight, you can add extra bulk by using wider strands and/or (my favourite trick) doubling-up strands for weaving. If you go too wide with the individual strands, it sometimes 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.
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!
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. With light furred dogs, like our boys, dark colours might mask grim, but not fur. Dalmatian fur sticks to everything! Oh my.
I usually choose my colour combos just for fun. 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.
Crafting with Polar Fleece
Pre Crafting Preparations
Fleece doesn’t shrink or bleed, so unlike many fabric crafting projects, there is no need to prewash or preshrink the materials. You may still want to wash your fleece, though. Washing purchased fabric will give you a fresh start without hanging onto the traces of manufacture, transport, store handing, etc. See below regarding washing and caring for fleece.
Polar fleece has a knack for attracting lint and fur. If that’s a bother for you, clean your crafting area before weaving. In my experience (life with Dalmatians) there’s no avoiding some fur around here, though. The vacuum work hard, but the shedding machines work harder!
Post Crafting Clean Up
Cutting and working with fluffy fleece can also be messy. 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!
Cutting Polar Fleece
Polar fleece is hard on scissors (and rotary cutting blades) and dulls the blades. 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.
Care and Cleaning of Polar Fleece Fabric and Tug Toys
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 synthetics, including fleece, may shed microplastics in the wash water. 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 or powders. Try to avoid anything that will leave residues of strong smells, tastes, or nasty chemicals in general.
Additional Tug Toy Making Help and Information
You can find all of our tug toy related posts under the DIY Dog Tug Toys tag. Helpful information is also available in the full collection of tug toy FAQs, tips, and troubleshooting in this mini-series:
🚨 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 or her any new toy. Some dogs try to eat toys or 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 in our dog toy safety post, including tips and helpful links for safer playtime. Have fun and play safe!