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Spoiler Alert: Flannel Shrinks

No worries! Here is what you need to know before working with flannel.

by Beth Cooper
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Sewing with flannel should not be intimidating.  I know you’re asking yourself “Will flannel shrink?” and “Do I have to prewash flannel fabric?”  I bet you’re even thinking “Will this flannel fabric fall apart?”

Lucky for you, there is absolutely no reason to be afraid of working with flannel fabrics!  Flannel has a lot going for it.  It is so super soft and cozy and is a favorite of all ages.  You probably have a favorite memory of flannel in your life.  Grandpa’s flannel shirt?  Those pajamas from 5th grade? Flannel makes an impression, that’s for sure.

To answer your first question, “Will flannel shrink?” The answer is YES!  A lot.  A lot lot.  You cannot prevent the shrinkage problem but you can solve the shrinkage problem.  Prewash the flannel.  Prewashing it will allow the shrinking to happen before you start sewing with it, instead of after, which will save you a headache later.  Prewash the flannel in hot water.  Dry the fabric in your dryer, you guessed it, on high heat.  You may consider doing the whole process twice.  You have now prewashed and preshrunk your flannel.  Yay! 

Now that it’s prewashed, you may have another problem.  It’s super wrinkly.  This is not uncommon for flannel.  You may be ready to iron out those wrinkles but before you start, a word of caution:  Don’t iron.  Press it instead.  There is a difference.  Pressing is less motion.  You simply press your iron down for a few seconds, and then lift up.  No back-and-forth ironing movements when you are pressing flannel.  This is important because the flannel will stretch and become misshapen or wonky.  And nobody likes that.  There is nothing sadder than wonky plaid flannel. 

Flannel has another issue.  It will fray.  This is because flannel is made with a looser weave than regular quilter’s cotton (that’s part of the reason it’s so soft!).  How can you prevent fraying?  You can’t.  Not really.  But you can sidestep that problem.  First off, since you know it will happen, allow for it.  This means buy more flannel than you think you will need.  It will shrink and fray and you will lose quite a bit of your yardage to that.  By thinking ahead and buying extra fabric, you are prepared and won’t be freaking out later when you suddenly don’t have enough fabric to finish your project. 

Flannel quality is another problem.  Get ready for the understatement of the year:  flannel quality greatly varies.  High quality flannel can be found in your local quilt shops or online.  Big box stores typically sell lower quality flannel.  The lower the quality, the more shrinkage and fraying you will have.  The lower quality stuff is always going to be wonky and it is very likely to pill.  Those little bumps all over the flannel are a real bummer.  Some projects have lower budgets though and you may end up with some low-quality flannel at some point.  If you do, prewash the living daylights out of it and press it. 

Check out this gorgeous selection of Woolies Flannels by Bonnie Sullivan for Maywood Studios.

So what happens if you don’t prewash flannel?  Nobody gets hurt.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that the flannel will shrink after the project is washed.  This causes puckers and wrinkles. If you want your quilt to look antique-y (it’s a word), this may work out well for you.  The quilt will end up looking like it’s been around for a while.  It’s definitely not the end of the world, it just may not be how you intended your quilt or other project to look. 

Now that you know the basics of working with flannel, jump right in!  You won’t be sorry.  If you love working with fabric, flannel is sure to make you very happy.

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