Flannel has to be on the list of almost everyone's favorite fabrics. It is soft and fuzzy and makes you think of cuddling up by the fireplace in pj's. It is readily available at nearly any fabric shop and overall is a great, low-cost affordable fabric to sew with. It also has a few wacky properties to it when it comes to sewing. So hang on if you are ready to give sewing with flannel a go, and check out these MUST HAVE TIPS FOR SEWING WITH FLANNEL FABRIC.
The Lowdown on Flannel
How is Flannel Made? Flannel can be made from wool, cotton or other synthetic fibers. Generally, most sewing takes place with cotton flannel. Why is it so yummy, soft and scrumptious? When being manufactured a fine metal brush is used to raise some of the fibers creating the "nap" or the wonderfully soft fuzzy feeling of the fabric that makes you want to rub it up and down on your cheek.
Flannel Quality. Did you know that the quality of flannel you are sewing with can make a big difference? Say what? Generally, the more expensive the flannel, the higher thread count. Often it is double-sided and will last longer and pill less. It also tends to fray less and shrinks less. I am a big fan of the Flannels made by Robert Kaufman Fabrics. I have found them to be nice and thick, they hold up well, have minimal pilling and are nicer to work with since the weave is a little tighter. Lower quality flannels have a lower thread count which means they will stretch and distort far easier. They also do not tend to hold up to wear very well.
Is Flannel Hard to Sew? Well....I guess it depends on how well you prepare for it. If you follow all of the tips below it should be a breeze. But if you just jump in thinking its no different than regular quilting cotton, you are likely to come out looking like you just took a polar bear plunge. No, I kid. It's really not that bad. It may make you say a few bad words, but once you learn how to work with it, you will be able to handle it like a pro.
Tips Preparing Flannel Fabric For Sewing
Buy More. Flannel has a loose weave and will shrink quite a bit. You can ensure that you have enough for your project by purchasing more than the project calls for. Generally, a quarter to half is enough.
Ready for the number one question when sewing with flannel? Here it is! It is also my number one tip.
Should You Wash Flannel Before Sewing?
Yes! Flannel is notorious for shrinking and it is necessary to prewash flannel fabric before sewing. Flannel is often sewn together with fabrics that are polyesters, such as minky or fleece and do not shrink. Sewing unwashed flannel with result in bunching and puckered seams.
How to Prewash Flannel:
Washing: I prefer to wash flannel with hot water. This will help to shrink it down before it heads into the dryer. It will fray quite a bit in the washing machine, but you can help prevent excess fraying by using a lingerie bag. Another tip is to make small diagonal cuts into the corners of the fabric so there are less matted and pulled threads on the edges when you remove it from the washing machine.
Drying: Dry Flannel Fabric on the highest heat setting to ensure maximum shrinkage. This will also help remove excess lint and fuzz before you start sewing it. You can also add a towel or tennis ball to the dryer to prevent twisting and tangling.
Ironing. Pressing your Flannel Fabric is perhaps one of the most important steps when it comes to your flannel sewing project being successful. Spray starch on the wrong side of the fabric and use a medium heat setting on your iron. Use the steam setting to help reduce wrinkles. MOST IMPORTANTLY - DO NOT use pressure when pressing the fabric. This will distort and stretch the fabric. Instead of sliding the iron across the fabric, lift the iron and set down lightly to press.
Cutting Flannel Fabric:
Cutting. Starching the flannel will make it easier to line up the fabric without it pulling and shifting. You may find the easiest way to get a straight flannel cut is to fold the fabric Right Sides Together so that the nap holds the fabric in place and to line up the lengthwise grain (the threads going up and down vertically). This can also be achieved by lining the selvage up straight.
How Do You Straighten Flannel Fabric? This is one of the tricky things about sewing with flannel, especially since many flannel prints are plaids which can look wonky when not cut straight. My number one tip starch. But besides that, it depends on how the flannel was made. A higher-quality flannel is usually made with the fibers or plaid being woven together, so the simple way is to line up the grain vertically (the vertical threads in the fabric). Some flannels are printed on instead and are sometimes printed a bit crooked. In that case, your best bet is to line up the pattern straight on your cutting mat as best as you can. This may make the actual grain of the fabric skewed, but the only way you can make the print look straight.
Will Pinking Shears Stop Flannel From Fraying? Yes and no. Pinking Shears will help stop flannel from fraying in the immediate future, such as while you are sewing it, but it will not permanently prevent it from fraying and is not a good solution unless that is the look you are trying to achieve, such a flannel rag quilt.
How Do You Prevent Flannel From Fraying? The best and most secure solution for preventing the flannel fabric from fraying is to serge or overlock your seams. If you do not have a serger or overlock machine, you can use a zig-zag stitch on the fabric edge. This is ideal for garments made from flannel. If you are looking for a shorter-term solution to prevent fraying while sewing, fray check or pinking shears would do the trick.
Sewing With Flannel Fabric
Seam Allowance. It is helpful to use a 1/2" seam allowance when sewing projects that will be pulled on or stressed such as stuffies and baby toys. Also when sewing quilts, blankets, and larger projects, especially if it is a lighter weight flannel that may be more likely to stretch. If using a quilt pattern that calls for 1/4" seams you will need to 1/2" to all block measurements to accommodate the 1/2" seam allowance.
Flannel Sheds. What does that mean? Well since it has a loose weave lots of lint tends to accumulate on your needle and way down in your sewing machine. It is helpful to clean out your bobbin, the bobbin case, and around the needle after sewing with flannel. If you've really been getting down and dirty with it, then you may need to clean it out several times during your project.
Quilting with Cotton and Flannel
- Using a Poly-blend batting will help prevent bunching and shifting.
- If using flannel precuts do not prewash since they will fray.
- Press seams open to reduce bulk since flannel is a thicker fabric.
- If binding with flannel, be sure to add a half-inch to your binding width as well as increasing your finished binding seam.
- Use a walking foot when quilting to help prevent it from stretching. Quilting gloves can also be helpful.
Can You Sew Cotton and Flannel Together? Yes, you can! But I highly recommend preparing your fabrics according to the flannel fabric preparation tips above. If piecing flannel and cotton fabrics together using a 1/4" seam allowance is suitable. It is still recommended to handle these blocks with care.
Tension for Sewing With Flannel. Loosen your tension a bit and sew with a 3.0mm stitch length as a shorter stitch length will stretch the flannel.
Use Caution When Ripping Out Seams. Since flannel has a looser weave than most kinds of cotton fabric it is much easier to stretch and pull on the fabric when ripping out seams. It is also a more delicate fabric and you will find it easy to make an accidental hole while using the seam ripper.
Can You Use Flannel as Batting? Absolutely! It is often the batting of choice when sewing rag quilts as it frays easily and makes that nice and soft rag edge. You can also use it as batting in a quilt. Be sure to prewash it. And because it is a woven fabric you will not need to quilt as closely together since there is no batting to shift around.
Helpful Notions for Sewing Flannel Fabric:
- Starch. Starch is your best friend when it comes to preventing the fabric from stretching and flannel is notorious for stretching and distorting. Spray starch on the wrong side of the fabric or nap and iron on a low setting to remove wrinkles after prewashing. This will also help prevent stretching when sewing and handling the flannel fabric.
- All-Purpose Thread. After prewashing and shrinking your flannel fabric, using all-purpose thread, which is made of polyester and does not shrink will help flannel retain its sewn shape.
- Size 16 Sewing Needle. This large size needle will pierce flannels thicker threads easier. Flannel will dull a needle quicker than many other fabrics, so be sure to change your needle often.
- A Walking Foot. Since Flannel tends to stretch and distort easier than many fabrics, using a walking foot will help to prevent this and feed the fabric evenly when sewing.
- Fray Check. This is especially handy when sewing small pieces of flannel, and will prevent the edges from fraying when sewing and handling.
- Smooth Edge Tracing Wheel and Wax Free Tracing Paper. When transferring markings be sure to use a smooth edge tracing wheel to prevent the fabric from stretching.
Fran Perks says
I have often wanted to make a throw for the bed, in flannel. But, didn’t know how to handle it. This article says it all. I must save it for future memory joggers...
Thank you! I’m so glad this was helpful to you.
Donna M Jacobson says
I made 3 blankets without washing my fabric ahead of time. These will be gifts. Should I give the directions to wash them on cold and dry delicate?
I must have learned these tricks from my Mom although I don't recall doing so. I always wash any fabric that has cotton in it (flannel, cotton or poly/cotton knits, and especially flannel (as you call it -- we call it flannelette to differentiate between the cotton vs wool "flannel". Washing flannelette is extremely important unless you are wanting short pants 🙂 It really does shrink but it is oh, so warm and cozy!!!!! I have been sewing with flannelette for about 60 years and it seems to me that it shrinks way more now then it used to -- but that could be just my imagination 🙂 Living in mid Canada means long, cold winters and most of us dig out our flanelette pjs/nighties/sheets by the end of October! I haven't had much problem with it fraying, however I always buy the thickest, best quality I can as it is warmer and much more durable. I have used flannelette to line pants for the winter as well. Yes, it does shed, however, when it is cold out those lined jeans/pants sure make a difference in how well you get through the winter 🙂
Thanks for sharing your experience sewing with flannel. I love that you call it flannelette! I have never heard that before, but it’s nice to have a name for the different types of flannel.
Thankyou so much for this useful information. I was lucky enough to pickup a flannelette quilt kit with all the pieces pre-cut, but haven't been sure how to tackle it (I think the previous owner was also scared to start it!!)
Now I think I'll give it a go.
Linda L. says
Thank you so much for these tips. Like Karen, I've heard some of them before but it doesn't hurt to be reminded. Some are new to me and I'll be incorporating them into my sewing from now on.
You're very timely since I'm about to launch into a whole series of flannelette items for my great-granddaughter's nursery. And, yes, we've always called it flannelette if it's cotton with 'flannel' meaning the thicker, sturdier wool flannel. I sometimes have to reread the material list when I read patterns for pyjamas or a crib sheet or other lightweight article and it calls for flannel. While wool flannel pj's would be very warm, they might not be too comfortable!
Is I sew cotton flannel with regular cotton fabric without prewash The material how it will be at the end when I wash after the product has made? I understand that will shrink but it will shrink together with the other material since they are sew together?
In my experience, sewing unwashed flannel and unwashed regular cotton creates uneven areas all over the quilt. I did this just once, then washed the quilt, and my quilt turned out crooked, uneven, impossible to iron out. Never did that again. I was not experienced enough at the time to quilt every inch of the fabric before washing - that takes months to do by hand and all those tiny stitches just kill my hands.
Cathy Summers says
Can flannel be used as batting under ironing board fabric when making a pressing mat?
I don't see why not.
Hi thanks for all this info. I was trying to find out why there are the tiniest of silver flecks in my flannel fabric. Almost looks like microscopic glitter. Your comment ‘When being manufactured a fine metal brush is used to raise some of the fibers creating the nap, made me wonder if this is a reason. Have you ever noticed microspic flecks of silver in flannel before? It has not been pre-washed, just bought then cut. Thanks Margi
I bought 8 yards of not-good-quality flannel to make family pj's. Any concerns or advice about washing a piece of fabric this long?
JULIE BENTON says
What kind of starch...liquid, heavy duty or a sizing?
Jenny Pare says
making a lap quilt using flannel "woolies" I am using a 1/2 seam allowance and boy is it bulky! I am find that pressing to one side really creates bulk..do you think there is any reason I should/should not press the seams open?
thanks in advance.
Evelyn C Davis says
I am so glad I found this video. The pre-washing, ironing, starching, etc., told me that I wm not ready to use flannel for batting - not yet. Thank you. I'll stick to batting using fusible fleece, ply-cotton batting, and cotton batting. You saved me a lot of dissapointment and bad words.
I just finished my first big quilt, 70x70 (more or less) using flannel, but I didn't know there were different types or special handling. See where this is going?
Now that it's all together, I was looking for the answer to "can I use cotton backing". Flannel is a bit harder to find in Louisiana. This site not only answered my initial question, but prepared me for the impending disaster. I didn't know I had to pre-wash it.
After I wipe away the newbie tears, should I try to wash it now and see what happens BEFORE I send it to the long arm person? Should I "dry clean only" to prevent shrinkage?
Long story short, you have given me more easy to understand tips and tricks to get me through another quilt flannel project than I have found anywhere else. Thank you more than simple words can say.
Hi Rebecca: I feel your pain! I would suggest you wash it before you send it to the longarmer. Flannel (or flannelette as we know it in Canada) shrinks big time! And it doesn't all shrink at the same rate, it is really important to prewash it. It would be a shame if you send it to the longarmer, get it home and wash it only to find that it is really wonky as the front as shrunk and the thread that the longarmer has used, didn't shrink (of course). If the back is quilting cotton, it will remain the size it was when you put it on. The shrinkage is hard to define as it can be anywhere from 1% - 10% (the 10% is a loose knit flannel). It would make a significant difference in how your quilt looks.
Peggy Murray says
I bought a flannel fabric with llamas on it. I want to make a lap quilt by putting flannel and fleece together. I also want to sew around the llamas. If I use stabilizer behind the llamas, will this hold it together? I've never done this before so any help is appreciated. Peggy
Yang Miano says
In summary, the answer is that yes, fabric shavers are bad for clothes because using them tends to ruin your clothes. However, if used properly and if you know how to work better with them, they can actually work better than regular hair dryers.
Karen Caprio says
Love this article. I’m trying to make toys out of flannel but when stuffing the seam separates. I tried triple stitch but it still happening. Any tips? Thank you.