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Tips and Tricks for Sewing Flannel Fabric

Flannel, Flannel, Flannel…

You can sew so many great projects using Flannel Fabric. It’s soft, warm, and surprisingly strong. However, it’s also deceptively tricky to sew. I say deceptively tricky because way back when I was learning to sew, I thought sewing flannel would be as easy as sewing any medium-weight cotton fabric.

I was wrong.

When I sew Flannel, I spend the majority of my time prepping the fabric. First, I always buy more than the pattern calls for; at least an extra half yard. You need the extra yardage because flannel shrinks a lot, frays a lot, and usually comes in a plaid pattern.

Make sure to pre-wash and dry your flannel before you start cutting. I like to serge my raw edges before washing to prevent excessive fraying. If you don’t have a serger, zig-zag stitch your edges.

Next, you need to lightly starch the wrong side of your flannel to prevent the fabric from warping. I swear by Best Press. When ironing, remember to lift and press. If you “push” the fabric while setting the starch, your fabric will warp off grain.

Speaking of grain…

Just like any fabric, you want to make sure you’re cutting on grain. However, since Flannel often comes in plaid, you may find this to be particularly challenging. If your plaid is a truly woven plaid, following the lines will usually get you right on grain. If your plaid is “printed” on the flannel, the lines will likely not be exactly on grain.

All this prep work makes Flannel seem “high maintenance”, but this prep work makes the actual sewing easy. The rest is just making sure you have the correct supplies.

You’ll need a 100/16 Universal Needle. Why such a large needle? Flannel wears a needle down quickly, so you’ll get more sewing hours out of a size 100/16. For thinner Flannel, you can get away with a 90/14 Universal Needle. A Straight Stitch Foot or General Purpose Foot should work just fine, but if your feed dogs are struggling, switch to a Walking Foot.

You can use a regular straight stitch to construct your seams. I recommend increasing your stitch length to around a 3.0mm and decreasing your tension slightly. Also, when sewing multiple layers of Flannel, you may benefit from reducing your presser foot pressure dial a smidge.

I’ve found All Purpose Polyester Thread to be best for Flannel due to its strength and give. However, you can use 100% cotton thread if you prefer to match fibers.

To finish your seams, a serger/overlock machine works best. If you don’t have an overlocker, you can use an Overcast Stitch or a Zig-Zag Stitch with Fray Check. For a truly tailored and neat finish, opt for French Seams or Flat Felled Seams.

I hope this helps you more easily sew Flannel. If you have any comments or questions, be sure to leave them in the comment section below. Happy Sewing!

39 thoughts on “Tips and Tricks for Sewing Flannel Fabric”

  1. Hi, would you use a light weight interfacing for pyjamas collar and lapel? Or something firmer? I would think my flannelette is medium weight perhaps.

    1. Hello Heather!

      Another great option is to do a zig-zag stitch along the edge to give a serged appearance. You can also use an overcast foot.
      If you would like us to help find a compatible option for your machine, please call us with your make and model and we will be happy to assist you.

    1. Hello Kristine! We do suggest referring the instruction manual for your machine to find the right settings you should use since it does depend on the make and model. I hope this helps!

    2. I’m curious about wether the right (fuzzy) side of flannel is supposed to be on the interior of the shirt or on the exterior. Any thoughts?

      1. Hi Collin. I am sure that the “fuzzy” side of the flannel is intended to be on the interior of the shirt. I hope this helps!

    3. I am making a t-shirt quilt I am cutting flannel for the back of ea t shirt square I struggle to keep sizes in line while sewing what is your sugg on needle type etc? Thanks Much Cheers Monica

      1. Hi Monica!

        You’ll need a 100/16 Universal Needle. Flannel wears a needle down quickly, so you’ll get more sewing hours out of a size 100/16. For thinner Flannel, you can use a 90/14 Universal Needle.

    4. Hi Sarah, I’m making a memory bear out of a flannel blanket. Do I need to stabilize flannel and do. All pieces need to be on grain. I’m just a smidge short on blanket

      1. I would just make sure to put the whole yard on grain and then cut based on the pattern grain lines. I would also apply a lightweight fusible interfacing. Good luck!

    5. Excellent teaching Sarah. You cater for those of us who learn by watching, listening and I like how you take the trouble to repeat it written down.
      I find this covers all bases for me, reinforcing what I miss the first time.
      We are all at different stages of learning, and this is so well done. I too am enjoying a renaissance in sewing/machines/techniques and notions in retirement.

    6. I am making burp cloths and the zig zag finish I am putting on the outer edge is waving like a swimming sting ray. Could you please tell me how to possibly fix this?

    7. I am sewing multiple layers of flannel and have just purchased a Janome HD3000 to do the job. Do you know how this machine performs with flannel?

    8. I have a question regarding flannel. I don’t see another place for asking a question so I’m trying it here. I’m making my granddaughter pj’s. Each leg has only one seam (the inseam, child’s size 10) so the pattern piece is wide enough to use the entire width of the fabric. The easy way to cut this solid color flannel, as I’ve done in the past, would be to fold the fabric cut end to cut end, pin and cut both leg pieces at the same time. This puts the top of the fabric for one leg in the opposite direction of the other leg. Does this matter with flannel as long as the right and wrong sides of the fabric are the same for each leg? Or should I be cutting one leg at a time making sure that the cut is made with the top of the pattern going in the same direction for each piece?

      1. Flannel does have a very small nap, so it’s recommended to follow the nap layout of patterns. The nap doesn’t affect the construction or durability of the flannel – it’s just an aesthetic feature. So if you don’t mind the naps not matching – then you can cut it any way you please. Good luck!

    9. Thanks for clearing some of the issues I have encountered with flannel, Sarah. I am new to sewing (recently retired) and just chocked my flannel frustration to my ignorance. Very rear information! I love all of your instructional tutorials and have ruffled up a storm after learning how from you. Keep teaching on my level…

    10. Thank you, great tips. I sewed a lot when I was younger, now that I am retired I’d like to start sewing again. Things have changed a lot! Improved techniques and tools.

    11. Thank you so much Sara. I love your videos. So easy to learn from you even though I’ve sewn most of my life. You always teach me something. Thanks again.

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