Using Flannel as Quilt Backing - Tips and Fabric Options

Using Flannel as Quilt Backing - Tips and Fabric Options

When I first started quilting I made a big, giant quilt and backed it with (what I thought was) warm, snuggly flannel.  I had pre-washed the fabric, but after a couple more runs through the washing machine the flannel became much less snuggly and more scratchy.

Since then I have used flannel to back a few quilts (see here and here) with wonderful results, but I am always nervous.  A few weeks ago I contacted every fabric manufacturer that I could think of and asked if they would send me some flannel so that I could test and compare the results. I also purchased a yard of Joann's flannel in order to compare quality with inexpensive flannel. I received fabric from the following manufacturers.
In order to compare the fabrics I first cut 2 pieces of each print and then washed and dried the flannel and measured the shrinkage.  I then cut two 10" squares from each print and sewed them together to enclose the raw edges so that I could test how the fabric held up to repeated washing.  Each of them was included in every load of laundry that I washed and dried this week (6 loads total).

Before I get to the details, here are a few tips about working with flannel.  Other than adding some bulk to the quilt, I have not found flannel to be more difficult to work with than regular quilting cottons but these tips should help if you do have trouble.
  • Always prewash flannel
    • If you need to piece together flannel for the quilt back, use a 1/2" seam allowance to account for extra fraying
    • Flannel is very linty - clean out your machine frequently
    • Quilt with a walking foot
    • Use a fairly thin batting since flannel will add more bulk to your quilt than quilting cotton
    • If you have trouble with the flannel stretching, use spray starch

    ***Please ignore any variation in color, I had trouble getting the color balance correct for some of the photos but there was no significant fading or change in color for any of the fabrics.
    Weight: 4.5 oz
    Shrinkage: 2% length, 9 % width
    The Cloud9 flannel (which is made with organic cotton) was the sturdiest feeling flannel that I tested and very soft pre-washing.  Also, those foxes are incredibly adorable.  The colors held up really well after repeated washing and even though there was some tiny pilling, the fabric remained very soft and substantial feeling.  This would add some nice weight to the back of a quilt. This was my personal favorite flannel to work with.

    You can find Cloud9 Flannel here, here, or here.  These foxes have gotten hard to find but they will be available in new colors soon!

    Weight: 176.3 g/yard
    Shrinkage: 4% length, 4% width
    The Dear Stella flannel is a little lighter weight than some of the others but got softer and softer the more it was washed.  The colors held up well and this particular print would be great for a more masculine quilt.  This would make a very snuggly quilt back.

    You can find Dear Stella flannel here and here.

    Weight: 4.4 oz. cotton
    Shrinkage: 3% length, 3% width
    Free Spirit flannels are the ones that I have the most experience with and knew that they wouldn't disappoint.  I was surprised that this flannel was the thinnest that I received, but it was also the softest and it remained that way after washing.  This flannel also had the least texture change after washing.

    You can find Free Spirit fabrics here and here.  The flannel pictured here is from Parson Gray's new collection which will be available soon.
    Shrinkage: 8% length, 5% width
    I wanted to test Joann's flannel to compare to the others.  This is definitely the least expensive (I paid $2.49 for a yard of this) but it was also the lowest in quality. It had the loosest weave and was the least soft.  While it would be tempting to use this less-expensive option, I don't think that this would hold up well as a quilt backing.

    Shrinkage: 6% length, 1% width
    5.4 oz. cotton flannel 42/43" wide.
    I have not used Riley Blake flannel before but they have lots of cute flannel options so I was excited to try this one out.  This fabric was a little floppier than some of the others, but had a great fuzzy texture.  I conducted a very scientific test where I had my 5 year old daughter close her eyes and choose which texture she liked best and this one was her favorite.

    You can find Riley Blake flannel here and here.

    Weight: 5.2 oz.
    Shrinkage: 3% length, 8% width
    I had recently used Remix Flannel to back a quilt and was impressed with the quality so I wanted to see how one of the brighter prints held up.  It is hard to tell from the photo, but the prints didn't bleed; the flannel fabric is a little fuzzier and some of of the brighter fabrics migrated a little onto the white.  I was very excited by how bright the colors stayed after several washings and I am looking forward to using more of these Remix flannels in the future.

    You can find Robert Kaufman flannel here and here.

    Shrinkage; 4% length, 6% width
    The Windham flannel was just about as substantial feeling as the Cloud9.  It did pill a very tiny bit after washing and also seemed to stay a little stiff, but it also had less fraying than any of the other prints.  I think that this fabric would hold up well to continued washing and would make a great quilt back.

    You can find Windham flannel here and here.

    In conclusion:
    I was expecting to recommend some options and not others, but I would honestly use any of these options to back a quilt (other than the Joann's).  I love using flannel as a quilt back because it is fuzzy and cuddly but breathes better than Minky since it is made from cotton.

    I hope that more prints are available in flannel in the future.  If you have any questions or tips that you would like to share, I would love to hear them in the comments! 

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