Quilting with Flannel: Tips of the Trade

quilting-with-flannel

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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buy-flannel-fabric

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.​

diy-flannel-quilt

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-flannel-tutorial

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 ¼” all the way to ½”. 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!)

quilting-with-flannel-instructions

Quilting With Flannel Episode 4: It’s Business Time

You have to pardon the Flight of the Conchords reference. I can't help myself 😉

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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.​

flannel-quilt-tips

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!​

couple-on-flannel-blanket

​*The adorable flannel photo above was taken by High Five For Love and used with permission. 

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69 thoughts on “Quilting with Flannel: Tips of the Trade

  1. Cathy M. says:

    I’m fairly new to reading your blog, and I’m really loving it; the inspiration, the tips, and the fabrics…it’s wonderful!
    Thank you for the tips, above, on quilting (or even just sewing, in general) with flannel. Are the photos of your personal stash? If so, I’m curious to know where I can find the flannel in the top photo. The grey windowpane plaid with the pink (?) detail.
    One more question: is there a way to discern flannel quality when shopping online? Obviously, if the seller lists the thread count it’s simple. However, I find that many don’t list thread count, and there doesn’t seem to be any terminology associated with it; it seems kind of hit or miss unless you’re buying a designer brand that you can trust.

    Thanks again!

    • Suzy says:

      Great questions! To answer the first one about the fabric featured, it’s all from Purl Soho. If you click on any of those photos, aside from the main image, it will take you to the specific site to buy. It is true about not knowing flannel thread count from online descriptions. When I shop for fabric, and not just flannel, I typically frequent the same quality places because I know they only carry quality fabric. A local quilt shop is a great place to start. However, if you prefer to shop online, here is a list I compiled of quality fabric shops, Purl Soho being one of them. Good luck, happy sewing and let me know if I can help in any other way! xo

  2. Bridgitt says:

    I’m starting a flannel quilt, but noticed as I’m cutting that the plaids go wonky pretty quick. Any tips for cutting squares without wasting fabric so the plaids don’t go off kilter?

    • Suzy says:

      hmmm…well some of that might just happen and it’s not your fault – flannel is super stretchy. However, if you are a perfectionist and the off-kilter plaids are going to bug you, I would suggest marking guide marks with a ruler and chalk pencil, then cutting with sharp fabric scissors – that way you can have more control making the cuts straight with the plaid rather than cutting strips with a rotary cutter.

  3. Sara says:

    YIKES!!! I just stumbled upon this aaaah-may-ZING post. . .and I have a quilt basted and ready to go but i DID NOT PRE-WASH. . . 🙁 I’m a little freaking out because it’s a gift for my brother and I’m worried about what will happen when I wash it!! Am I doomed. . .say it aint so??!!

    • Suzy says:

      You are soooooo totally not doomed. Just never wash it!

      haha I’m kidding I’m kidding 😉 After the quilt is finished don’t wash it. Give it to your brother and then two years later when he gets around to washing it he’ll think he’s the one who ruined it.

      haha I’m totally kidding again!

      OK OK, when you/your brother wash it be prepared for it to shrink and pucker HOWEVER a lot of quilters choose not to pre-wash intentionally because it gives the quilt more texture and can make it look more “antique.” It’s aaaaall good. That quilt is going to be used, loved and appreciated. Promise.

      • Sara says:

        THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! especially for the laughs haha. . .i actually don’t mind the second idea, he a bachelor so him NOT washing it for two years is probably more accurate than not baaahaha.

  4. Lila says:

    Hi! I just got my first flannel baby quilt for our first Great Granddaughter back from the quilter. It is adorable, but I have been a little worried about some info I got at the quilt store I purchased the fabric from. The older woman said to be sure to machine stitch the binding on, as baby quilts are washed so much that hand stitching wouldn’t hold up well. I, of course, machine stitch the first side of the binding on, but always hand stitch binding on the front side. What is your take o this issue?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      I understand the woman’s point, however if you keep your hand stitching small and precise, it will hold up. I’ve never had my quilt binding fall apart and I usually whipstitch it down by hand too. If you’re worried, though, machine stitching binding can look great and is also very secure. You can see in my latest Instagram post that I machine stitched both sides of the binding down.

  5. Wendy S says:

    Love your post. Thanks so much for all the great info on backing with flannel. My question is, do I still need to add batting when using flannel as a back?

      • Kim says:

        What batting would you recommend? I’d like to keep my flannel quilt fluffy and not have it stiff as a board when it’s finished (I’m not planning on a lot of quilting once it’s pieced to help prevent stiffness).
        Thank you!

  6. Maxine says:

    I don’t quilt with flannel. However, I am machine-quilting a flannel-backed quilt for a friend, and I find that it is very hard work to free-motion this quilt. It requires “”man-handling”, even though I have a “Supreme Slider” on the bed of my sewing machine. Naturally, my free-motion work is suffering from not being able to glide this quilt smoothly. I am using a domestic machine. Do you have any advice?

  7. Maxine says:

    I use quilting gloves. I also put flannel-backed tablecloths (plastic side up) on the tables surrounding my machine. (This is a tip from Sue Patten; I took a couple of classes from her in Toronto in June.) The vinyl/plastic tablecloth idea is a great idea to use when doing any machine quilting on a domestic machine.

    Since writing my query to you, I’ve raised my free-motion foot a bit and changed to a smaller needle (to Quilting 11 from Topstitch 14), and those changes have helped. But quilting a flannel backed quilt is way more difficult than a cotton or silk backing, so I’m pretty sure I won’t be quilting flannel again…:)

  8. Barbara says:

    Great information. I’m new to your site and have already learned so much. I back all my quilts with flannel as I like that cozy feel on one side of the quilt. Since I have not yet had the courage to try free motion, all my quilts have been stitch-in-the-ditch or something equally simple. Maxine’s post was interesting and something I will keep in mind should I ever take the plunge to free motion. I did recently make a quilt using a flannel charm pack and found out just want you mean about flannel stretching!

  9. Maribeth says:

    I’ve been asked to make a memory quilt using flannel shirts. Some of the flannel is heavier than others. Should I use an iron on backing to make them more even in weight?

  10. Tricia says:

    I too am trying to make a memory quilt out of flannel shirts. I made simple 9 patch blocks and now don’t know what kind of backing I should use. Also going to try to long arm quilt it.

  11. DONNA SHANOR says:

    I just stumbled upon this site and freaking out as well. I have the flannel top of the quilt for my soon coming grand baby. I was looking for pointers on finishing up with the fleece backing. Finding out about fleece not shrinking and flannel shrinking a ton. What should I do now??

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Hi Donna, don’t fret! You’re grandson will love this cozy quilt. It sounds dreamy! If you didn’t pre-wash your fabric before sewing, your quilt will experience some “puckering” once it’s washed. That shouldn’t effect the integrity of the quilt, it will simply look a bit more antiqued. To reduce the shrinkage as much as possible, once your quilt is complete, wash it in cold water. This article on washing and caring for quilts might help – https://suzyquilts.com/wash-and-care-for-a-quilt/

      Good luck!

  12. Cwilson says:

    The plaid flannels are not created eqaul and really depends on the manufacturer. I have some sitting on my ironing board as wee speak about to start a quilt- but with large blocks. Baby flannel is a breeze to sew with but will stretch so keep your iron on a lower heat- and don’t pull- press, don’t iron. The larger plaid, you need to cut it on the stripes- many are loaded and get twisted on the bolt- another good way to determine a good tight one from the lesser- they take more care in the loading of the bolts. It also makes it stiffer and feels different. Going to appliqué on top of the flannel instead of trying to use small patches for the blocks. Will see how it works out. TGhanks for the tips

  13. Rita says:

    Hi
    Just completed my first rag baby quilt, used flannel fabric, I must say it looks great, I washed the quilt but don’t have a dryer, but it still came out looking pretty good, one problem I have all these lose threads from the fraying, no matter how many times I shake the quilt, i keep getting more and more, concern is for the baby

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      This may be a frustrating answer, but you probably need to just keep shaking it and pulling at the raw edges until it stops shedding. Eventually it will…it just might take a while. You could try washing it again. I bet that would loosen up some threads.

  14. Patti says:

    When piecing a flannel quilt should the seams be pressed open or to the side? Is it ok to use steam or is a dry iron preferable?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Pressing seams open or to the side is really just a personal preference. I like to press to the side just because I think seams are more stable that way. Steam is totally fine as long as you have pre-washed your flannel.

  15. S says:

    I’m getting ready to start my first flannel quilt and was wondering if a light-weight interfacing could be used to stabilize the flannel, to reduce the stretching problem. Has anyone out there tried this or is it a bad idea?

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  17. Brittany says:

    I quilted with flannel and now noticed there was some stretch while I was quilting…..should I take it all out and redo it? Or will it be inconspicuous after it’s washed again? 🙁 I’m nervous and sad.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      I’m so sorry you’re not happy with the quilting. I know the feeling and it can be disappointing. Some of that might be due to your basting. I’m not a fan of ripping stitches unless the quilt is an absolute disaster – which is sounds like it’s not. I suggest leaving it as is and starting a new project. Chances are once you come back to it a few days later, you won’t see the same “imperfections” you are seeing now. Good luck!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Great question! If you cut parallel to the selvage, or lengthwise, your flannel will have little to no stretch. However, if you cut as you normally would when cutting for a quilt – with the selvages together and crosswise, it will have a bit more stretch. Assuming you are cutting your flannel for pieces in a quilt, eventually they will be trimmed on all sides. So, the very long answer is – it doesn’t really matter. I supposed I could have led with that…haha! 😉

  18. Mary T says:

    I just made a T-shirt quilt for my granddaughter’s graduation present. She wanted it soft and snuggly, so I did things a little different than I usually do for a T-shirt quilt. I used featherweight stabilizer, Warm and Natural batting, and backed it with flannel. It’s at the quilter’s now………….AND…………..I’m reading that I should have preshrunk the flannel backing! It’s a hot pink snuggle flannel from JoAnn’s, and we love it. Tell me it will be OK. I love the old fashioned puckered look, but I just don’t want the quilt to be too out of square after it’s washed.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Mary, it’s going to be OK. 🙂 My guess is that your longarm quilter will quilt close enough together that even if your quilt wanted to shrink up and get wacky it wouldn’t be able to. More good news is that it will shrink uniformly, so if squared corners are your concern, you should be just fine. Your granddaughter is going to love it!

  19. Jill P Davis says:

    Hi Suzy,
    I am making a quilt using a pieced top with a flannel back and no batting. The flannel is a sheet from Garnet Hill, so I’m hoping good-ish quality. If I shrink the flannel sheet, what will happen when I wash the finished quilt and the pieced top shrinks but the flannel backing doesn’t?

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  21. ssherrie vasiloff says:

    I bought a flannel panel for a baby quilt. I did not wash it. I got ready to quilt doing free motion around some of the figures starting in the center . Using a 90/14. immediately experienced puckering. Noticed uneven stitching. increased the stitch length but had difficulty with sliding. Took out the machine stitching and decided to hand quilt around pattern in the center. Ready to put this in file 13 and do something different. Thinking about cross hatching the whole panel.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Is it possible that the quilt sandwich wasn’t basted well enough? Thought could be the reason for the puckering. Flannel is also not an easy fabric to free-motion. You probably will have more luck hand quilting.

  22. Juli Maggio says:

    I am quilting a baby quilt using a precut 5″ flannel charm pack. To keep it from stretching while piecing it together, should the fabric grain go in a certain direction? (all going across in horizontal rows or all going up in a vertical rows?) Or should I not worry about the grain and just starch the fabric? Thanks!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      I wouldn’t worry so much about grain. Your charm pack is probably cut pretty closely to the grain of the fabric already, so all you need now is a bit of starch. Good luck!

  23. Judith N. Raley says:

    How do you make a small quilt with cotton pieced front and flannel backing? Anything I need to do other than prewash the flannel? Should I use cotton fabric or flannel to bind it? Thanks. I am a newbie toquilting in general but no experience with flannel

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Prewashing your flannel is a good start. You can use flannel for the binding, however since you are new to quilting, I would recommend using your regular quilt-weight cotton, since that will be easier to work with. By only advice is to baste your quilt sandwich really well and if you are machine quilting, use a walking foot and sew slowly.

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  27. Randi says:

    Do you have any advice on basting the flannel? I just finished piecing a photo quilt for my niece’s wedding and am working with a flannel backing for the first time. I started and then ripped because I didn’t get the back straight and flat enough. At least now I can prewash and maybe starch will help. Any other ideas?

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  29. Cindy Campbell says:

    So I’m about to embark on my first ever quilt. This bucket list item is happening. It took a while, but I finally found the cutest pre-cut quilt kit! But… it is flannel! I was going to ask how to pre-wash all of those little pre-cut squares, but after reading your helpful article and comments, I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t do this flannel set I found. Should I let the flannel go and continue my search for an easier quilt kit? Thanks for your help!

  30. Debbi says:

    Hello, I’m new to quilting but have wanted to make a flannel quilt for some time. I love all of your tips on this subject and am so glad I stumbled across your site before diving in! I have never tried free motion quilting but I’m not sure I would ever attempt it on flannel now that I have read all the questions and comments. Would it be okay to straight line a flannel patchwork quilt? I plan on using a good quality flannel for this project.

  31. julie cooper says:

    I have just completed a lap size flannel quilt top. I usually wash the quilt once completed, but I am thinking about cotton backing and thought perhaps I would wash the quilt top in cold and machine dry BEFORE backing and batting and binding. Your thoughts? I would either baste the outside of the quilt top OR put it in a lingerie bag or pillow case for washing.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Even though the flannel might shrink a bit more than regular cotton, I still think it would be safer to finish the entire quilt, bind it, and then wash it in cold water. Fluff drying or hang drying would prevent a lot of the shrinking too.

  32. Deborah Melvin says:

    I am making a t-shirt quilt. I have purchased a JoAnn fabric Snuggle brand Plaid flannel, 42″ wide, for the backing. The plaid is wonky. I wanted to use 42″x90″ in the center, then cut a 42″ in piece in half(21″) and seam to the center piece on each side., to avoid a center seam. I can’t match it up and am very frustrated. Any idea what I can do to make it look decent? I know, I know, “buy a solid, not plaid.”

  33. Missy says:

    I bought flannel fat quarter bundles to make a simple quilt for my grandson. Should I prewash them and if so what is the best way to do that? Hand wash?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      I don’t recommend pre-washing precut fabric as small or smaller than a fat quarter. You will end up losing too much do to fraying and quilt patterns that require fat quarters may not work with the new shrunken piece of fabric.

  34. Cathy Kenny says:

    Ok so I recently took up quilting and started with flannel. Apparently that wasn’t a good idea? I am on my third baby quilt right now. My first one turned out great even though I didn’t know you had to prewash until now. The second have me a horrible time with gathering at the ends of the lines. I have only done stitch in the ditch so far but for this one I want to hand quilt it with a cute design. Unfortunately I have not prepared any of these quilts, I’m very bad about doing research and just went off what my mother in law has told me not thinking about she only does cotton quilts. I have four grandbabies 1 year and younger, and I’m not that old lol. So, for my question can I hand quilt this flannel quilt without getting all the gathering and making it look cheap and crappy? Trust me this quilt is anything but cheap, to me anyways. Please help, I’m so messed up at this point I don’t know what to do. I almost have the top put together and as much work as I have already put into it I don’t want to have to go repurchase the fabric and start all over. Thank you in advance

  35. Marilyn J Durant says:

    I plan to buy a high quality flannel layer cake to make a quilt. What can I do to prevent shrinking after the quilt is made to prevent future shrinking? Do you recommend pre-shrinking pre-cut layer cake flannel?

    Thank you and Merry Christmas

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Prewashing precuts is usually on my No-No list because of how much of the precut you can lose due to shrinking and fraying. If you’re following a pattern that assumes you will have the entire precut, don’t do it. However, if you are able to lose a couple inches from each precut, prewashing flannel is a good idea. You could sew a loose basting stitch around the perimeter of each one to prevent some of the fraying. That will get tedious, though, so do that only if you have the time. I’ve tried pinking the edges with pinking shears before and that didn’t seam to help at all.

      Once your quilt is finished, wash on a gentle cycle using cold water and lay it flat on a bed of towels to dry. Heat from the washer and drying are going to be the culprits of major shrinking.

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