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Tips on using Flannel in Quilts
Quilting Forum members share advice and questions about sewing flannel fabric

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The quilters on our Quilting Forum at Delphi answered with some great tips when asked what they do when working with flannels.

Flannels tend to stretch very badly....so my tip would be to pin good and when pressing, be careful not to pull out of shape....no steam, just press down and hold.

Ginny in TX

Having made several flannel quilts I do have a suggestion or 2.
Always, always pre-wash flannel. It shrinks at different percentages. Keep this in mind when buying so you don't come up short.


Be sure to check the width before buying if you need an exact amount of something. Some flannel is quite narrow compared to other fabrics.

Add a little to the seam allowance. Flannel can fray quite a bit and the seams can come apart if they are only 1/4". I have used 3/8" and 1/2" seams on flannel quilts and they hold up much better than those made with 1/4" seams.

Flannel - A warm, soft fabric made in tightly woven twill or plain weave and finished with a light napping. Derived from the Welsh word gwlanen, which means wool.

All flannel is not the same. Some is of very poor quality and you may not know it until after washing off the sizing. You may not be able to use a distorted plaid, for instance, in anything but a crazy quilt. You may not be able to straighten it out and it may distort again after sewing. Be flexible and willing to substitute.

Flannel will stretch. Use a walking foot whenever possible.

Flannel makes wonderful, soft, warm cuddly quilts. It's also thicker than other fabric. If you are using flannel for the back and top you may want to try using a thin batting.


I swap/make a lot of flannel blocks/quilts each fall/winter....this is what I have learned.....

1.) Wash at least 2 times in HOT water and dry both times in HOT dryer (flannel tends to shrink a lot)

2. "Size" the flannel when you press-don't use "steam" setting. I lightly spray the flannel with "Magic Sizing" when I press...helps to hold the shape better when cutting, be sure to rotary cut.

3. Lots of pins when sewing. Press your seams OPEN when possible.

4. Your needle will dull quickly. Put a new needle in before you begin sewing and discard it (or save it for paper piecing) after you have pieced your blocks. (personally, I label mine and use it again to sew only flannel if not too dull)

5. Flannel will LINT UP your machine very quickly so clean often!

6.It is hard to hand quilt flannel so usually I opt to tie it or have someone machine quilt it for me.

7. Keep the pattern simple...some suggestions are: 9 patch, rail fence, pinwheel, bow tie, card trick, double four patch, log cabin, Greek cross, etc.


Watch the quality when you buy and get the heavy kinds. You may have to hunt a bit for what you want and try several sources. There's a lot of very flimsy flannel out there, even in the quilt shops. Clothworks makes some really nice ones. Also pre-wash as they all shrink differently and drown them in spray starch when you press.


Pre-washing is a must.
I prefer to use patterns without bias edges and try to stick to squares and rectangles only. Flannel really stretches.

Warm and Natural or other cotton batting is absolutely perfect for machine quilting with flannel. They are the warmest and coziest quilts you can make.

Julie in Michigan

1. pre-wash your fabric
2. use a larger seam allowance one half inch instead of one quarter inch


Okay. I know now I need to wash flannel first to shrink it. How about using flannel sheets to back quilts? I am making a quilt for my daughter who wants flannel backing and no batting. I am going to use cranberry and forest green in large squares. The finished blocks are 20 1/2".

So if I prewash the sheets, how large do I need to cut the flannel? I am going to machine quilt the blocks before I assemble the quilt with a Whitework Quilt pattern. I've never done this method, so I could use tips on that also.

Sandy C. in Houston

I wish I'd seen this thread about 2 weeks ago. I just finished a flannel quilt top and just did standard 1/4" seams (some may be even less than that). I sure don't want to take it apart and redo....is there any way to quilt it that might stabilize those narrow seams. This is a pretty special quilt. I made it for a very close friend who lost her husband a couple years ago. It's 9-patch blocks set together with alternating blocks. The alternating blocks have hearts from some of his old flannel shirts appliqued on them. I would HATE to have this thing fall apart in a few years because of my ignorance. If anyone can offer any suggestions about how I might be able to salvage this I'd sure appreciate it. Would a light weight fusible interfacing be a dumb idea? Thanks for your help.


Did you do it 'rag style', with the fuzzy seams on the outside? If not, you might consider doing a feather stitch along the seams to strengthen them. Or, if your machine has embroidery stitches, use one of them in a wide , not too fussy stitch on the seams.

Linda H

We're a quilt store in Montana that currently carries around 1000 bolts of flannels. We find the quality of flannels has changed dramatically over the last year or so. Old bias and rules just don't apply today's fabrics. 

We rarely pre-wash any flannels. After we've quilted our quilt we use a Dye Magnet when we wash to be sure colors don't bleed. Flannels tend to shrink about 5% compared with regular cotton which shrinks between 1 and 3 percent. The extra shrinkage gives them an old fashioned look. Because of the methods in making flannels, they are usually closers to 40-42" wide than the 44-45" in regular cotton.

You're right to clean your sewing machines often. Flannels are addictive. Once you're sewn with them you want that wonderful, soft feeling from all of your quilts. Flannels lay very well for piecing. We've done some fairly intricate pieces and find they work well. We make the lone star--all bias pieces as well as simple large blocks.

A suggestion--don't make a quilt from inexpensive, stretchy flannels. Your time is too valuable.

Penny Copps
Deer Country Quilts


The flannel that is printed is stiffer and will not fray as much as the woven. If you can't or don't know the difference turn the fabric over it will look the same on both sides if its woven and will fray a lot and probably fray right on the bolt before your eyes.

I have used a serger with great results on flannel. this would be on quilts you do not want to fray at the seam.


Something I have been doing with the queen quilt I am currently making...... made the stitch length shorter where the flannel is. The more you man handle flannel the more if frays too

Ginny in TX

My favorite flannel quilt tip is to use spray sizing when ironing the fabric before cutting. It makes it much easier to cut and sew. Using sizing, i have even used flannel in large scale PFP blocks for a swap a year ago.

I am at my parents house in Michigan now, sleeping under a flannel quilt I made for them a little over a year ago. It's made of lots of 3" and 6" half-square triangles, sewn with 1/4" seams, backed with a flannel sheet and heavily machine quilted with free-motion loops and stars. So far, it seems to be wearing well.


I'm in the middle of a flannel snuggle quilt - just something to curl up with on the couch. It's distracting to work with because it's so soft, I just want to keep petting it ... but there are four things I discovered right away:

1. Flannels really do stretch a lot more than quilting cottons as others have noticed. If you're strip piecing, cut on the long grain, parallel to the selvedge. Even if you are cutting free hand, it stretches a lot less on the longer grain than on the shorter grain.

2. Check the pressure of your presser foot on scraps and lower it if necessary. Flannel grabs everything, feed dogs included, and is thicker. A little less pressure on the presser foot keeps the feed more even.

3. Clean your sewing machine often. Flannel is fuzzy and sheds lint like mad. It piles up around the feed dogs and the bobbin (and around the top of the needle/presser foot) much faster than most other fabrics.

4. When you buy flannel fabrics, unroll some from the bolt, open it, and hold it up to the light, or over a light colored fabric/surface (or dark if the flannel is a light color). Flannel has a loose weave, but if it's too loose or uneven, you'll be able to see thin patches. Those patches wear unevenly and fray a lot more than the good spots. The fabric I bought for the one I'm working on now started with a roll of 23 fat quarters - out of those, one of the fabrics had so many bad, thin, lose spots that I couldn't use it. I had another piece of the same color purchased separately, and when I opened it up found it too was mostly unusable. The rest of the fabrics - same manufacturer, same line, different colors - were all fine.


I'm wanting to make a "Rag Quilt" using flannel and jeans. From reading everyone's advise, I have learned the following:

1) Pre-wash flannel;
2) Use 1/2 inch seam allowance;
3) Spray flannel with spray starch after washing;
4) Use no steam just a hot iron


Thanks to everyone who pitched in with Flannel Tips published here.


Susan Druding, 
Email: quilting -at- equilters.com

copyright 2001 Susan C. Druding

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