A Fabric Guide To: Flannel

Flannel – think cosy sheets, pyjamas, blankets, baby clothes and even shirts on rugged lumberjacks! 

This sturdy yet soft fabric is relatively inexpensive and easy to work with, but we have a few tips in this flannel guide to help you perfect your projects!

A fabric guide to flannel

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Flannel Fabric Sewing Projects

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What is Flannel fabric?

Flannel is often mistaken for a pattern, and not a fabric. Typically people assume that all plaid or check shirts are made of a flannel fabric texture, but the two are not exclusive to flannel fabric only. Although it’s very common to come across flannel plaid shirts.

Fabric similar to flannel can be traced back to 16th Century Wales – called ‘Gwlanan’. Flannel clothes such as workwear or undergarments (think long johns for the cold weather!), were very popular due to the fabric being warm, durable and inexpensive. It went on to be mass-produced at the time of the Industrial Revolution, moving to more domestic uses such as bedding. 

Is flannel the same as wynciette? Almost! The two fabric types are similar, but flannel tends to be a slightly heavier weight fabric. 

How is Flannel made?

Traditionally, flannel was made from fibres such as carded wool or worsted yarns, but modern flannel can be made from literally any fibre, most popularly; Cotton, Wool and Synthetic fibres like Polyester.

Cotton is commonly used as it has similar properties to Wool, but does not insulate heat as well, perfect for more casual wear. 

The loosely spun yarns the flannel is made from usually provide most of the softness, but it can be woven with a twill or a plain weave, and is then often napped/ brushed to give an extra textured but even softer surface. Spaces between the fibres in the flannel trap air, making it warm and breathable.

texture of red black checkered fabric pattern background
texture of red black checkered fabric pattern background

There are many different types of flannel, including:

  • Wool flannel
  • Cotton flannel
  • Synthetic/Blended flannel
  • Ceylon flannel (50/50 blend of Cotton and Wool)
  • Baby flannel (napped both sides, often made of Cotton or Wool)
  • Nappy/Diaper flannel (napped both sides to increase absorption)
  • Vegetable flannel (made from cellulose)
  • Flannelette (coarser and woven slightly differently than regular flannel)

Flannel is made by first spinning your base fibre – whether that be cotton, wool or synthetic fibres, into a loose yarn.

It is then woven using a plain or twill weave, into a piece of flannel. The flannel may then be napped or carded using a random, non-directional method, to produce an even softer textile and to conceal the weave of the fabric. This can be done on one, or both sides. 

It may then also be finished with a ‘treatment’. This could be to prevent it from producing toxic or excessive flames, particularly useful for textiles that will be used around the home. We stock a variety of different Cotton flannels, perfect for many different projects, and in a mix of fun licensed prints and solid colours.

Preparing and Cutting Flannel

making fabric masks at home
making fabric masks at home during the covid19 shutdown

Flannel is often a loose weave, meaning that it stretches when sewn through a machine, and it may dramatically shrink with laundering over time. 

It is therefore highly recommended to pre-wash and shrink your fabric, so that the project you spent time lovingly sewing doesn’t end up shrunken and misshapen! 

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing your flannel, but try and wash it at least once on the hottest setting possible that is recommended for your fabric. 

Starching your fabric can also help with controlling the amount the fabric stretches. 

We also advise purchasing slightly more fabric than you need to account for shrinkage. Buy several cm/inches more than required, and even more if pattern matching.

Flannel is most easily cut using a rotary cutter and self healing mat, as it can be fairly slippery and sometimes stretchy to work with! However a nice sharp pair of fabric shears are fine if you are patient. 

Flannel can fray very easily, so try and allow slightly more seam allowance and cut your pattern pieces slightly larger than suggested. We would definitely recommend a seam allowance of more than 0.5cm / ¼”.

Red plaid flannel fabric cloth tartan garment textile
Red plaid flannel fabric cloth tartan garment textile

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New Flannel Fabric Guide

To help achieve a more accurate cut, fold your fabric right sides together before cutting. The nap will help hold the fabric in place and line up lengthwise whilst cutting, meaning you have matching and neater cut pieces. 

“Press” rather than “iron” – what does this mean?! Try and avoid ironing with a sweeping motion over your flannel, as the back and forth movement over the fabric combined with the heat/steam will stretch the fabric even further. Instead press by holding the iron in place and lifting, before moving to a different area. 

Avoid using the steam setting.

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Sewing and Handling Tips

  • What needle shall I use for flannel fabric? – As a general rule, Universal machine needle would be fine, however, a sharps machine needle also works well.
  • What thread do I need for flannel fabric? – Use a cotton all purpose thread or polyester all purpose thread depending on the composition of your fabric.
  • What stitch length do I need? – Adjust your stitch length to approximately 2.5mm for the best results. Making it slightly longer helps avoid excess stretching of the fabric when sewing. 
  • What is the right and wrong side with Flannel fabric? – Pick a right side and a wrong side of the fabric and mark this so you can easily see which is which, and ensure all the pieces have the same finish. This is especially helpful if your fabric is napped on both sides.
  • How do you sew Flannel fabric on a sewing machine? – When you sew with flannel allow the fabric to feed naturally into your machine. Use a walking foot when possible to avoid stretching or extra tension. 
  • How often should I clean my sewing machine?  – Clean your machine as you go, as flannel can produce lots of excess lint. 
  • Can I unpick seams and stitches on flannel fabric? – Yes but be careful when unpicking seams or stitches on flannel, as it unravels fairly easily and can create holes.

Seam Finishes

Use flat-felled seams on unlined garments, or plain seams pressed open to avoid excess bulk. Overlock, bind, or use a zig zag stitch on seam edges to finish them.

Flannel is the fabric of choice for rag quilting where the fabric’s characteristic of easily fraying becomes a design feature with the frayed edges visible on the right side of the quilt .

home made flanette rag baby quilt
home made flannette rag baby quilt

Edge Finishes

As with seams, any edges may be finished with bias binding, to create a neat, fully enclosed edge.

You could also use ribbon or any trim, and bias binding comes in infinite prints and colours.  

Ideally hand hem where possible for a clean finish, or use hem tape if sewing on a machine. Top stitch hems with a double needle to avoid puckering and


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Pinterest Flannel Fabric Guide

What is Flannel fabric used for?

Flannel fabric sewing project ideas:

  • Pyjamas
  • Rag Quilts
  • Loungewear
  • Shirts
  • Blankets
  • Use instead of batting when quilting
  • For underlining jackets (helps keep shape and insulate)
  • Bedding
  • Cloth nappies
  • Baby clothes
  • Scarves
  • Hats
  • Burp cloths
  • Pillows

We hope this guide has given you a better idea of what you can do with Flannel fabric, how it’s made, and it’s origin!

You can always come back to it whenever you’re looking for some tips and tricks on best practise for handling Flannel fabric and also some sewing tips and tricks.

Let us know in the comments if there’s any other fabric guides you’d like to see from us.

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Flannel Fabric UK

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