Quilting With Flannel

Flannel is a type of fabric described as a soft, slightly napped fabric of wool or wool and another fiber, used for trousers, jackets or shirts, or as a  soft, warm, light fabric of cotton or cotton and another fiber, thickly napped on one side and used for sleepwear, undergarments, sheets, etc. Flannel is also used in quilting to make warm and soft quilts.

The popularity of cotton flannel as material for quiltmaking reached a peak in the latter years of the twentieth century. Cotton flannel can be used to piece patchwork blocks and to make rag quilts. However, flannel has distinctive characteristics that make it a little different when trying to piece blocks.

What’s Different About Flannel?

Flannel is more loosely woven than regular cotton fabric is. Therefore, pre-washing is a must before starting to cut flannelpieces for a quilt. When choosing cotton flannel for a quilt, only buy the best quality. Wash the fabrics in either very warm or hot water and measure for shrinkage. It is a good idea to buy extra yardage to compensate for this. If the flannel shrinks a lot in the washer, dry it in the clothes dryer with a hot/heavy setting to finish shrinking it. Although cotton fabric is normally sold in forty five inch width, flannel width varies, so keep that in mind when buying yardage for a quilt pattern if the pattern is not specifically designed to be made with flannels.

Before washing it, it’s a good idea to either pink the raw edges of the yardage with pinking shears or sew a line of zigzag stitches on the edge with the sewing machine, since flannel ravels more than other cotton fabrics do. Flannel also looses more lint than regular fabric does so clean the lint filter in the dryer a couple times while drying the fabric. Also, depending on the colors of the fabric, using a dye magnet sheet when washing it will help absorb any extra dye and prevent the colors from running together. If you notice a lot of dye on the dye magnet, wash the flannels again and even use a color fixative (such as Retayne).

Once it is washed and dried, the flannel will have lost the original sizing the fabric is treated with. Spraying it with sizing or starch and using a dry iron will help restore some of the body the flannel originally had. It will be easier to cut and sew with some sizing applied to it. Press it carefully to keep the grain straight, more so when using plaid flannel. Flannel can stretch out of shape very easily.

Picking A Pattern That Works For Flannel Quilts

In theory, any pattern can be made with flannel. However the stretchy quality of the fabric will work best with block flannelpatterns that have few bias edges. Patterns with few pieces or large pieces are best. Stick to basics, like nine patches or four patch block patterns or be very careful if the block pattern you pick has triangle units. If it does, it’s best to use strip piecing techniques to sew them, then trim and square them carefully before sewing the units together to construct the block. A walking foot attachment can help manage the problem with the bias edges and with long borders if your quilt pattern has them since it feeds the upper fabric at the same rate as the sewing machine feed dogs do.

Sewing Flannel Blocks

It is wise to make the seam allowance on the block pieces a little wider than the regular quarter-inch seam since flannel ravels easily. It will add durability to the quilt. If the quilt is to be used a lot, serging the pieces instead of sewing them on a regular machine might be a good idea for durability.
Try not to manipulate the quilt blocks very much either, as to avoid fraying. Even after prewashing and adding sizing to the fabric, the fuzzy quality of flannel can clog up the feed dogs and bobbin area on the sewing machine, so remember to clean it up often during piecing.

Pin as much as you feel you have to. With flannel pieces, you might have to use more pins than you would with cotton fabric. Use a slightly bigger sewing machine needle and as with other quilt projects and perhaps even more often, change it every few hours of sewing to keep it sharp. A longer stitch length than usual when piecing with other cotton fabrics might be best to avoid stretching the fabric.
As you sew the pieces and units to your blocks, press seams open instead of to one side as you would if using plain cotton fabric.

Quilting a Flannel Quilt

Prepare the quilt sandwich as usual, giving the top a last press with a dry iron before layering the batting and backing. flannelThe backing of a quilt pieced with flannel blocks should also be preshrunk flannel. Use a dense cotton batting and plan on machine quilting either with a home machine or having a professional quilter finish the quilt for you. Flannel is hard to hand quilt. If you decide to hand quilt, it might be best to use the “big stitch” technique and quilt with perle cotton and a long needle with quarter or so inch stitches.

Once the quilt is finished, bind also with flannel fabric cut on the bias. Use a wide binding and definitely use the walking foot attachment to avoid ripples and puckers.


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