Antron Fleece is a special fleece fabric used by many professional puppet builders as a "skin" for their finished puppets. In foam hand puppet construction, antron fleece is usually used to cover foam-fabricated shapes such as the puppet's head or hands. Many Muppets™ and Sesame Street™ characters are constructed in foam with antron fleece coverings. The exceptional qualities of antron fleece make it an invaluable tool for any puppet builder. We'll consider some basic tips and techniques that will make working with antron fleece easy and effective.
Antron fleece is used mainly for its seam hiding capabilities. It's fuzzy pile makes sewn seams virtually invisible. This adds to the illusion of life of the finished puppet. The audience is not constantly reminded of the construction of the character by highly visible seams, and thus is allowed to concentrate on the character's personality, actions, and interactions with other puppets and the audience.
Another great quality of antron fleece is its ability to be dyed. Most fleece fabrics that you may find in your local fabric store are 100% polyester. These fabrics cannot be dyed easily. Antron fleece, however, can be easily dyed, even at home, to the color of your choice.
The main objective in dyeing antron fleece (as with most dyeing projects) is to get even color. We use RIT dyes and have always had success with them. The following tips should help you achieve the desired results.
Hand dye the fleece. Most packages of dye include instructions on how to dye fabrics using a washing machine. As a general rule, we recommend not dyeing antron fleece according to these instructions. Dyeing the fleece by hand is the safest way to achieve quality results.
Use a large amount of water. Use a large amount of water compared with the fleece. We recommend using a large plastic storage container in which to dye a normal sized project. It is not necessary to use boiling water. Most folks can use their hottest tap water.
Soak the fleece. Before lowering the fleece into the dye bath, soak it with clean water. Try not to squeeze the water out. Place the fleece quickly into the dye bath.
Do not twist the fleece. Do not fold or twist the fleece. Just like a tie-dyed t-shirt, if the fleece is folded or twisted, the dye will not take in those areas. You will need to gently agitate the dye bath to ensure even coverage. Do not overwork the fleece, that is allowing it to rub against itself excessively in the dye bath, as this will also cause the fleece to pill. (Pilling is when a fabric becomes rough with or mats into little balls.)
Multiple dips aid in even coverage. Instead of a single "dip" with a strong color, make multiple dips in a more diluted bath of dye, darkening the fleece little by little until the desired color is achieved. More dye can be added to the bath at intervals as well to achieve the desired result. This method works especially well when dyeing darker colors.
Rinse the fleece. After the fleece has been dyed the desired color, remove it from the dye bath. Rinse under running water until the water squeezed from the fabric is clear. Lay the fleece flat to dry overnight.
Avoid pilling. Pilling may occur if the material is over-worked in the dye bath, or is machine dried. Drying antron fleece in a dryer will without exception cause the fleece to pill, partly from overheating and partly from being overworked. If your fleece has pilled, not all is lost. A solution for de-pilling your fleece will be discussed later in this tutorial.
How the fleece is stitched together is the secret of "invisible" seams. You can, of course, treat antron fleece as any other fabric and machine stitch your pattern pieces. You will be able to diminish the appearance of seams to a certain level due to the inherent properties of the fabric. However, for the best results, hand stitching is the way to go.
We recommend two hand stitches that will diminish the visibility of your puppet's seams - the whipstitch and the baseball stitch. Instructions for both stitches can be found under Useful Stitches in the Tutorial Section right here at Project Puppet. The whipstitch is probably the fastest and easiest stitch to use for sewing antron fleece. The baseball stitch is a bit slower than the whipstitch, but, in our opinion, better in terms of quality.
Pick your seams. With a straight pin, simply pick the seams, freeing any fleece fibers that may have been trapped by the stitching.
Shave the fleece. In the picture above, you'll notice we used a piece of fleece that had been overworked to the point of pilling. We chose to do this to demonstrate that even if your fleece is not in the best condition, professional results are still possible. If your fleece has pilled, shave it. Yes that's right, shave the fleece-covered puppet part. Here are some guidelines:
Notice the difference in the picture. The top portion of the head has been shaved whereas the bottom portion has not. The smaller picture shows the finished head with seams picked and fleece shaven. What a difference a shave makes!
Where can you purchase antron fleece? Check this FAQ.