I love quilting with flannel. So soft. So snuggly. So many different plaids! But quilting with flannel can get a little tricky because of a few of flannel’s hidden quirks.
Here’s what flannel’s putting on its online dating profile: I love to snuggle by the fire on a chilly evening with hot apple cider.
But here’s what it’s leaving out: I don’t always get along with sewing machines, and I suffer from serious shrinkage.
We get it, flannel. No one reveals all of their baggage on the first date. But if you’re going to make a big commitment together, you know, like sewing a quilt, we’re going to need some honesty.
Sure, flannel has some skeletons in the closet, but that doesn’t mean that quilting with flannel is not an option. The more you know… the better you get at quilting with flannel. Consider this your “Quilting with Flannel PSA.”
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Above is the New Horizons quilt pattern. Get it here in the shop! I used peach Shetland flannel for the backing and binding.
Quilting with Flannel Episode 1: So, flannel, what’s your deal?
Flannel has been around forever. You may remember it from your childhood pj’s to that awesome well-worn shirt you had throughout high school, then college...then the first ten years after college...(whatever happened to that shirt?!)
Flannel fabric is a softly woven cloth made from wool, cotton, or synthetic fibers. How does flannel get so soft? Here’s its secret: part of the flannel-making process is using a fine metal brush to raise some of the cloth’s fibers (usually only on one side), napping it up a bit, and really upping flannel’s fluffy feel.
Quilting with flannel is an obvious fan favorite because of this softness and warmth, but just like quilting with any new fabric, it’s good to know what you’re working with before you really get going. This is especially true when quilting with flannel. Stay with us.
Quilting with Flannel Episode 2: If you’ve met one, you have NOT met them all.
Not all flannel is created equal. Flannel quality varies a ton, depending on what you buy. High priced flannel is often double-sided, washes and wears well, and shrinks and frays a little less. But listen. I know we all go for the lower-priced options sometimes. So if you’re going to be quilting with bargain flannel, know what you’re in for.
Low-qual flannel usually has a pretty low thread-count. That means that even though it’s soft and cuddly, even one wash can pill that baby up.
Lower quality flannel can come with distorted plaid as well. WHAT?! Distorted plaid? I hate distorted plaid! I know. I feel you. So don’t say I didn’t warn you. Flannel is already woven pretty loosely, making it a delicate fabric to work with. If you’re going to be ripping out some seams in preparation for quilting with flannel, rip with care… if that’s a thing? Otherwise, you might end up with a few holes.
Quilting With Flannel Episode 3: Gettin’ Ready
When you’re prepping for your big date with flannel, you’re going to want to add a few extra steps. It all starts when you meet at the fabric store… or wherever you go to purchase your flannel. Most often this fuzzy fabric comes in narrower rolls. Definitely something to keep in mind, though if you’re quilting with smaller pieces, you may not mind too much. You’re also going to be glad that flannel runs on the less-expensive end of the spectrum, because you usually have to buy more than you planned on buying. Here’s why:
- Flannel shrinks. A lot. So when you take your fabric home and pre-wash it (more on that in a minute) it’s going to come out of the dryer smaller than it was when you put it in. This means you’ll have to buy more in the first place.
- Flannel frays. Those loosely-woven fibers that give you that soft and cuddly feel also come apart easily on the edges. Because of this, you’re going to want to increase your seam allowance when quilting with flannel, from the typical 1/4" all the way to 1/2". This usually means purchasing up to a quarter yard more, but trust me. It’s worth it. You’re worth it.
After you make it home with your brand-new flannel, you’ll definitely want to pre-wash it. Use very mild detergent, and crank up your water temp so you can get all that shrinking out of the way before you start quilting with flannel.
You may want to use a lingerie bag to cut down on that fraying problem. Some I even recommend washing it twice. Drying is the same story: crank up the heat! Tip – If you want, add a large bath towel into the dryer to keep the yardage from twisting and accumulating unwanted wrinkles.
If things do get a little wrinkled, it’s not a bad idea to iron things out before sewing. Except… maybe don’t actually iron it. Since flannel is really stretchy, ironing can stretch out the fabric a little too much. Try pressing flannel instead (holding the iron in place for a few seconds), or even trying starch. Because of all of that stretchiness, flannel can slide a bit, making it hard to sew. (Have questions about starch? Read about it here, Fabric Starch: Get it or forget it?
Above is the Campfire quilt pattern. Get it here in the shop!
Quilting With Flannel Episode 4: It’s Business Time
You have to pardon the Flight of the Conchords reference. I can't help myself 😉
Pre-gaming is over. You’ve pre-shrunk and straightened-up your fabric. It's time to get to work. Because flannel is a thicker, softer fabric, quilting with flannel is kind of hard on your hardware. Use sharp scissors, or a larger blade rotary cutter (2-inch diameter) when cutting. Arm your sewing machine with a new, 80/12 or even 90/14 machine needle if you have one.
As far as stitch length goes, try making them a bit longer than if you were quilting with light-weight quilting cotton. It will give you a great seam, since a shorter stitch could stretch the flannel fabric (also, if you happen to make a mistake, it’ll be easier to pick open the seams. It’s ok. We all do it.)
Lastly, I know I'm always harping about this, but use a walking foot on your sewing machine when quilting with flannel. Yes, this has to do with all of that stretching we’ve been talking about. We gotta hand it to you, flannel, you are flexible.
Quilting With Flannel Episode 5: The Morning After
Chances are, after a serious quilting sesh with flannel, things got a little dirty. It's the looser weave that produces all of that lint. A simple fix is to clean out the bobbin, and also around the needle after you are finished with your flannel project. I really like using this compressed gas duster for the small back corners.
And that’s it! That’s the end of your “Quilting With Flannel PSA.” Will there be a second date? That’s for you to decide. Share your experiences (and any other tips you have) in the comment section below!
*The adorable flannel photo above was taken by High Five For Love and used with permission.