Jeremy, I'm not a fleece user for backpacking because of the warmth to weight ratio for down or synthetics. That being said I think a lightweight fleece jacket or pullover is one of the best items when considering functionality versus cost. If you have Jordan's book LB&C chapter 6 "Clothing Systems" is really good. Although a bit dated still completely relevant. There is a great comparison of down vs synthetic vs fleece.
So when don't I use down? and why...its when hiking in weather that are in low 20's. In these temps a wool base + rain shell is too cold for me. Two pieces in my kit are a synthetic vest and synthetic jacket (kits I made from thru-hiker). If you look at the gear list from last November you will see I added a primaloft vest.
This was when we had a freak cold front come through NC and just a few days before the low temp on Mount Mitchel was 6 degrees. This is below the range of my 18 oz quilt and my wife was not real happy with me going out alone, so I delayed and added in my cold weather gear for safety. I did not really need it but was fun to have. The first day I was hiking at dusk, 5k-6k ele, below freezing with really fierce winds (wind is a game changer). I was cold in just base layer and rain jacket so I added fleece gloves, synthetic vest and synthetic balaclava and was happy as a clam. If you hike in down you sweat, down gets wet, and this is a problem.
On a trip to mount Rogers with rain, sleet, snow and a low of 15 degree I used my synthetic jacket and vest. This is an awesome combo. I swear it can handle about anything. And I don't worry about it loosing loft if the air get moist or the jacket gets wet... vest only, jacket only, or vest plus jacket.
So with those pieces I can cover all the temperature ranges that I enjoy hiking in.
As far as my tarp MYOG cuben tarp, it has held up amazing well. It has seen wind, rain, etc. It shows no signs of any failure and probably looks almost new. I will say it is small and probably not what I would recommend to many folks until you have spent rainy nights in a slightly wider tarp. Even a 5x8 is wider at the sides and it makes a difference. My tarp has kept lengthy fierce rain off me but there is almost no room for error (especially at the sides) and it is low enough that it is not the real easy to get under it. I will say once you are under the tarp and there is a light rain it is really nice and comfortable but you are not going to sit up. The most practical, durable, lightweight tarp I used was a MLD grace solo cuben. I think it is probably one of the best all around solo tarps available.
About me making gear, the answer is it depends on your needs and my time. I tend to point people to other really good alternatives which I am glad to do. You can PM with anything you want and I will tell you who I would get it from. If that still doesn't meet your needs we can talk further.
Thanks for all your kinds words.