You’ve been to the fabric department a couple of times if you are into sewing. And distinguishing fabrics from one another can sometimes be difficult, especially when they look so much alike.
A typical scenario is picking up a delicately fluffy soft fabric. In your mind, you ‘re thinking about what beautiful fleece this is, only to find out it’s actually sherpa!
Confusing sherpa for other fabrics is a familiar thing among shoppers. If it has happened to you, like many others, you are often left wondering what kind of fabric sherpa is.
So, what is sherpa fabric? Sherpa is a synthetic, natural, or blended material with an ultra-soft pile on one side and flat knit on the other. It mimics sheepskin and provides superior warmth and coziness.
If you are yet to experience sherpa fabric, this post is for you. Hop on to learn more about its texture, uses, care, and how it compares to similar fabrics like fleece.
What Is Sherpa Fabric Made Of?
We’ve already established that sherpa is a type of fabric. But before we look at what it is made of, here’s a little backstory of how it came to be.
In one of the coldest regions of Nepal live the Sherpa tribe. To keep warm, Sherpa people wore clothing made of sheepskin.
Sheepskin is naturally soft and warm, and it was the traditional choice of clothing for many other ethnic groups in mountainous regions. However, with the growth of technology and population, the flock couldn’t keep up with the surge in demand.
In addition, there was the rise of veganism and cruelty-free fashion. All these factors contributed to the need for an alternative material to sheepskin.
That is how the idea of making sherpa fabric named after the ethnic group was born; a sheepskin-like material expected to provide the same level of coziness and warmth.
Sherpa fabric was engineered and turned out exactly as envisioned, resembling sheepskin. And the name sherpa was adopted from the Sherpa people.
Sherpa is sometimes referred to as faux fur or faux shearling, and this is how it is made to mimic shearling.
Fibers are first twisted into yarn that is machine knit into a fabric. Next, a wire brush is used to roughen it up such that the loosened fibers form a nap. The pile is then crimped to resemble wool.
But what fibers is sherpa fabric made of? Sherpa fabric is made of synthetic or, less commonly, plant-based fibers or a blend of both knitted into cloth. Unlike the Nepalese cloth lining made from natural lambskin, aka shearling, sherpa fabric is manufactured using yarn.
Let’s look at the fibers used to make sherpa.
Synthetic Sherpa Fabric
Sherpa fabric is widely made using polyester and is predominantly a synthetic fabric. But it is nothing like the polyester fabric you know.
While the core component is polyester and carries its intrinsic characteristics, sherpa was intended to be a plush and luxurious version.
Notwithstanding, it is not uncommon to find blends with acrylic, wool, cotton, lycra, or other fibers.
Natural Sherpa Fabric
Sherpa fabric is also manufactured from 100% natural plant-derived fibers like cotton or bamboo. This type of sherpa is, however, rare and very expensive.
Still, it is preferred by those looking for natural alternatives to plastic-based fabrics. Notwithstanding, only organic cotton or bamboo sherpa is truly an eco-friendly option.
While the manufacturing and disposal of plastics like polyester is a pollution menace, the manufacturing of cotton fabrics is no lesser evil.
Not only do the chemical pesticides pollute the soil, but it also uses a lot of water to produce. If you care about your carbon footprint and green fashion, the type of sherpa that is organic certified is definitely for you.
In this article, however, reference is to the ubiquitous sherpa made from polyester unless stated otherwise.
Characteristics Of Sherpa Fabric
Sherpa fabric has lots of remarkable characteristics and a few downsides too. Let’s look at each one of them.
The two sides of sherpa fabric do not have the same texture. There’s the side with a nap that is incredibly soft and the opposite side that is a smooth flat knit.
It’s the silky soft fur-like side that goes against the skin in clothing and blankets, and the softness is amazing. It is a snuggly texture that can easily pass for shearling.
Sherpa is a cold-weather fabric commonly used for making warm gear. It is superior to fleece in warmth. The delicate soft hairs have trapped air that provides an insulation layer that prevents the body from losing heat.
Surprisingly, sherpa is not as bulky as expected of warm fabric. It is not sheer thin either. The thickness of sherpa fabric is like cotton, and it is light in weight too.
Synthetic fabrics are known to be excellent moisture wickers. Sherpa, made from polyester, has good moisture-wicking properties too.
Being a fabric choice for warm wear, it is comfy on the skin even when you sweat. It doesn’t become cold, drenched, and clingy. Sherpa dries rapidly, ensuring you stay warm and dry as the wicked sweat evaporates quickly.
Sherpa fabric stretches slightly, thus providing good fitting. The elasticity can be enhanced by blending with other stretchy fabrics.
Sherpa is a strong fabric owing its strength to the polyester component. Polyester is one of the toughest fibers on the planet, and sherpa is a luxurious form of it.
It is tear, stain, and chemical resistant and, with good maintenance, lasts really long. Unfortunately, the nap of sherpa fabric tends to shed.
Uses Of Sherpa Fabric
Sherpa fabric lends itself to warm wear manufacturing thanks to its luxurious feel and great warmth. It is used to make sweaters, coats, jackets, sweatshirts, sweatpants, mittens, and lining boots.
In addition, it is also a go-to for blankets, throws, upholstery, cushions, and lining pet beds.
The fabric has also found uses in baby and kids products as it is allergen-free, easy to clean, super cozy, and skin-friendly. It is used in diaper making for washable inserts and as an outer fabric for plush toys.
Tips For Sewing With Sherpa Fabric
Sherpa, like other furry fabrics, can be a challenge to sew, especially for beginners. So if you’d like to experiment with this fabric sewing clothes, here are some considerations:
- Arm yourself with very sharp scissors. A pair of sharp scissors guarantees accuracy when cutting through high pile fabrics. A rotary cutter would not be useful here.
- Baste with clips rather than pins. Pins are more likely to go unnoticed under the fur and are left behind. Wonder clips are bigger, thus a visible option.
- Take note of the nap’s direction when cutting patterns. You want to place your pieces with the fur facing one direction.
- Ensure your machine has a walking foot; if not, install one. A walking foot will effortlessly pull the thick fabric, which will be the case if you sew multiple layers of the furry sherpa fabric.
- Secure all raw edges properly. Since sherpa fabric sheds quickly, raw edges are even more vulnerable to fraying and must be finished. You can use a serger to serge all edges before sewing.
- Set your sewing machine appropriately by reducing the foot presser and increasing the stitch length. Install a ballpoint needle or stretch needle as those are compatible with knit fabrics.
Caring For Sherpa Fabric
Synthetic fabrics are never fussy when it comes to keeping them clean. Likewise, it is very easy to launder and care for sherpa fabric.
The low-maintenance fabric is machine washable as long as it is done in a cold cycle. Fabric softeners and bleach are a no for sherpa fabrics.
Where sherpa loses points is the tendency to shed in washes and pills. To counter this, place it in a mesh laundry bag. It helps contain the shedding.
Another downside of sherpa fabric is that, like most synthetic fabrics, it absorbs odor when one sweats. You might need to launder it often to get rid of smells before they set.
Cotton and bamboo sherpa do not have the problem of trapping odor though.
Also, sherpa fabric is a magnet for lint and pet hair. Some brushing and lint rolling ever so often is necessary. You also want to wash it separately from articles with lots of lint like towels.
When it comes to drying, it would be best to avoid the agitation of dryers. Instead, hang your sherpa item on a clothing line to air dry.
Because it is wrinkle-resistant, no ironing is ever necessary. But keep in mind that high heat is an enemy of sherpa. When pressed, the pile may melt in high heat or even flatten and encourage matting ruining its appearance and feel.
The Price Of Sherpa Fabric
Like many luxurious fabrics, sherpa fabric isn’t cheap. It is mid-range priced.
Because it is the prestigious one of the two, it costs a bit more than fleece but is a cheaper alternative to other fine fabrics like Merino wool, cashmere, and fur.
And because it is near the same quality, you can enjoy the exquisite plushness at a fraction of the price without hurting any animals.
Polyester sherpa is probably the cheapest sherpa though the price increases with the thickness of the fabric and quality (plushiness) of the pile.
Cotton and bamboo sherpa have higher price tags, while luxe and minky sherpa are at the top tier.
Sherpa Vs. Shearling
The resemblance between sherpa and shearling is undeniable. But the two are entirely different.
The actual difference between sherpa and shearling is that the latter involves the processing and tanning of genuine sheepskin.
Sherpa manufacturers use petroleum or plant-based fibers to make the sherpa fabric resemble sheepskin and do not involve skinning animals.
Both sherpa and shearling are soft, durable, excellent at wicking moisture, and fast-drying. In addition, shearling is static resistant and flame retardant.
Sherpa and shearling provide excellent warmth in extreme weather, but sherpa-lined articles give better insulation.
Unfortunately, shearling is not easy to launder and cannot be thrown in the washing machine. It must be cleaned professionally. Sherpa being synthetic, can be washed at home.
Shearling is perceived as more elegant and thus expensive than sherpa.
Sherpa Vs. Fleece
Like sherpa was made to be an alternative for sheepskin, fleece was also designed to resemble wool. In fact, sherpa is but a fancier version of regular fleece with the same core, which is polyester.
Sherpa and fleece are technically members of the same family. Like siblings, the two fabrics are not far different in resemblance, yet each has its own uniqueness.
There are many variants of fleece, so we compare polyester sherpa with regular polyester fleece.
Both fabrics have a soft medium loft pile, but sherpa’s is curlier, bumpy, and feels softer and more luxurious. Only French terry and microfleece come close.
Fleece, however, has a furry texture on both sides of the fabric, while sherpa has a pile on just one side.
In addition, sherpa is much warmer than all types of fleece, except polar fleece, which is adequately warm. They are both excellent at wicking moisture and drying quickly.
Both fabrics are easy to launder, but fleece is less likely to shed and pill than sherpa. Fleece can also be ironed, while sherpa cannot.
When it comes to thickness and weight, fleece is lightweight but thicker than sherpa fabric. You can create all kinds of products with it as a fabric on its own.
Contrarily, sherpa is a non-bulky and lightweight fabric. As a result of sherpa being pretty thin without enough body and cuddly on only one side, it cannot stand independently.
Therefore, it is often utilized as sherpa lining in clothing. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the three fabrics:
|Component||Polyester||Polyester||Real lamb skin with the wool still attached|
|Texture||Ultra-soft bumpy nap on one side||Soft nap but not as smooth as sherpa or shearling. Pile on both sides||Ultra-soft wool|
|Thickness||Thin and lightweight with no body||Ranges from thick to extra bulky||Medium thickness and lightweight|
|Feel next to skin||Warmest of the three, moisture-wicking, fast-drying, can be static||Warm, moisture-wicking, fast-drying, can be static||Very warm, wicks moisture, dries rapidly, static resistant|
|Care||Machine wash on a gentle cold cycle, sheds, and pills||Machine wash on a gentle cold cycle, sheds and pills less than sherpa||Dry cleaning by professional, no shedding or pilling|
|Price||Mid-price, costlier than fleece but less expensive than shearling||Low to medium price range, costs less than sherpa||Pricier than sherpa and fleece|
|Uses||Inner lining for cold-weather gear and must be paired with a dense fabric outside||Used on its own to make all types of clothing and upholstery||It can be lining or outer fabric for elite class clothing.|
What Is Sherpa Lining?
Sherpa lining is when the sherpa fabric is used in reverse as a lining in cool-weather clothing items such as coats and jackets, boots, mittens, hats, etc.
The warm fluffy side is placed inside the article to provide comfort and warmth and directly contact the skin. However, it must be paired with another outer fabric.
This is typically the most common way sherpa fabric is incorporated into warm clothing since it cannot stand on its own.
Remember, the opposite side is somewhat porous, being a flat knit and will easily let in cold air or wind. Therefore, sherpa lining is always paired with another fabric as an outer shell, such as leather, flannel, denim, etc.
Cushions and soft toys, however, use sherpa as the outer fabric since the primary purpose is not insulation but cuddling.
Where To Buy Sherpa Fabric
China is the largest manufacturer of sherpa fabric. Other east Asian countries and Mexico are also producers of sherpa.
The fabric is exported globally and is available in retail stores across America. If you have trouble finding it, you can also buy sherpa fabric online.
So the next time you are choosing fabrics to sew clothing for keeping warm while shoveling snow off the driveway, sherpa is a fantastic option.
It is an extremely warm, ultra-soft, fuzzy, delicate, synthetic fabric for lining coats, sweatshirts, pants, hats, and mittens. It wicks away moisture and dries rapidly, so you stay warm and dry at the same time while feeling cozy.
For some inspiration, here’s a fantastic tutorial by MeeraMeera on making a simple sherpa jacket.
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