JoAnn's fleece falls into three categories (not including micro-fleece):
- Anti-Pill Fleece
This is the most expensive of the choices, but in general, also the nicest. My JoAnn's usually has more color options available in the anti-pill variety. Anti-pill comes in both solid colors and prints, with prints regularly priced at $12.99 a yard and solids at $9.99 a yard.
Anti-pill is special because there is a slightly noticeable difference between the right side of the fabric and the wrong side. The right side is generally shinier and a little fuzzier and softer. The right side of the fabric is also supposed to resist pilling (having the fuzz sort of ball up into small clumps) when washed. I believe this to be true, although if you mistakenly sew with the wrong side of the fleece out, you will likely notice significant pilling after several washes.
The right side of anti-pill fleece is shinier and fuzzier.
When you pull on the selvage edge, it will curl toward the right side.
Note that if you find it hard to tell the difference between the right side and the wrong side of the fleece, you can always check by stretching across the selvage edge. The selvage edge will curl toward the right side of the fabric when released. Conversely, if you stretch the cut edge (perpendicular to the selvage edge, it will curl toward the wrong side of the fabric). This holds true for all types of fleece.
Anti-pill is my favorite of the fleece varieties, but it took me a while before I could tell the difference. However, it is also more costly, so for rat hammocks, if there is a suitable color available in blizzard fleece, I will often opt for the less expensive option - unless there is a really good sale on anti-pill. However, often the specific color I want is only available in anti-pill, so in that case I pay more for the good stuff.
- Blizzard Fleece
Blizzard fleece is JoAnn's name for polar fleece. Blizzard fleece is a little less expensive than anti-pill fleece, and also comes in both solids ($8.99 a yard) and prints ($9.99 a yard). My JoAnn's has a decent selection of basic colors, but often the specific shade I need can only be found in anti-pill.
Blizzard fleece has the potential to pill after several washings. However, I haven't noticed this to really be a problem in any but the most used hammocks and liners. Perhaps this is because most of my hammocks will usually be chewed before they ever reach this stage.
Blizzard fleece doesn't have the same nice sheen that you get from anti-pill fleece, but you can only really notice this close up. From a distance, I can't tell the two apart. I am sure the rats don't care much about this.
It can be difficult to tell the right side of the fabric from the wrong side of the fabric, but for the most part, it is not going to matter. If you can't tell and the rats can't tell, it doesn't make much difference. However, if you want to check, you can stretch the selvage edge as described above.
- Fleece Essentials
Fleece Essentials is the new offering of budget blizzard fleece, coming it at a regular price of $5.99 a yard. It comes only in eight basic colors and only in solids. The first thing I noticed about this fleece is that it appears to be very thin. It was marketed in my flyer as for "crafters," so I am guessing it may not hold up well after repeated washings - although that still remains to be seen.
I was not too impressed with the thickness or softness of this fabric, but I decided to pick up a half yard that I found in the remnants bin (the sale price was $2.99 a yard - remnant are half the current price, so $1.50 a yard, resulting in a whopping 75 cents for the half yard of fabric). The remnant available was the orange peel color. It is not as bright and vibrant as the neon orange I have for some of my Halloween hammocks or the warmer toned orange I am using for my fall hammocks. It was a duller and more salmon tinged color. I am trying it out on a shelf liner as that will be the true test of its durability.
I have heard people talk about the cheap Walmart fleece. I suspect this budget fleece is probably on caliber with that fleece - although my Walmart does not sell fabric, so I have never bought fleece from them
Which Fleece Should I Choose?
I usually put color above everything when I am making a specific set of hammocks and liners. I look for the colors that best blend with the cotton fabric I have chosen. While I prefer the anti-pill fleece to the blizzard, I care more about finding the right color. The rats don't make any distinction between the two types that I can tell and both are nice and thick and soft.
I never buy fleece that isn't on sale. If there is a color that is close enough in the type that is on sale, I will choose that. Or, I will wait until the other type goes on sale. If I have a coupon for a regularly priced fabric, I will use that as well. I go through way too much fleece to pay regular price.
That said, I personally would avoid the new budget fleece. It just doesn't feel as soft or durable to me. The exception would be if you have voracious chewers that destroy your hammocks in no time or you want to make a set of hammocks on the cheap because your budget is very tight. My current rats are not so bad about chewing their hammocks and if the hammocks are going to be around a while, I prefer to use a more durable and nicer fleece. However, if the rats are going to demolish the hammocks in a few days/weeks time, you don't want to be investing in the good stuff just to have to pitch it right away. In that case, it would be much more affordable to go the cheap route (especially when the cheap fleece is on sale) - if they are going to destroy it anyway, no use investing in durability.
For the budget conscious who don't want to sacrifice quality, always check out the remnants bin when there is a really good sale. Blizzard fleece sometimes goes on sale for under $4 a yard, and remnants at that time will be 50% off that price - so under $2 a yard. You won't necessarily be able to pick and choose your colors and you can't choose the size of the cut and sometimes there is nothing there, but standard colors always come in handy - and if you find them in the remnants bin - it is a great time to grab them up. If there are some good deals in the remnants bin, that might be a better option than the budget fleece essentials.
Solids Vs. Prints
I also recommend avoiding the fleece prints except for those most have ones that you just can't resist. Prints are more expensive than solids and their use is not as flexible. Sometimes I think I want to buy up some Christmas patterned fleece and make some nice Christmas liners. However, if I stick to basic red, green, and white solid liners, I can re-use them for other themes (red is also good for Valentine's day and 4th of July and also went well with a Pirate theme I did once). Liners use a lot of fleece and are not as exciting to make, so anytime I can reuse a liner I already have, it is a bonus. Fleece prints also don't always blend well with cotton prints, even when the theme is similar.