Using Flannel Backing

Please note: All pictures are clickable for a larger image – also I’ve put a highlighted ‘footnote’ to the posts where I go into more detail / steps regarding each of the points I’ve discussed – Please feel free to click on those ‘footnotes’ for more detailed information / pics.

I t’s been suggested that I put all my flannel experiences, tips n hints on one page, so that maybe other’s can benefit from my battle with flannel (which I won :)), and I thought, why not – maybe this can help someone else while they use flannel in their quilts.

I’m going to cover specifically using flannel as a BACKING only – not the top or the batting. I haven’t had these issues using flannel as a batting.

I decided to use flannel as a backing based on several suggestions for Gran’s quilt as she doesn’t like the weight of a regular quilt. Sounded like a great idea at the time.

I actually tripped across a reference to progressive shrinkage while researching shrinkage rates of flannel vs cotton batt. Boy did that get MY gears going! This progressive shrinkage implies that it constantly shrinks. So in a nutshell progressive shrinkage loosely defined:

  • Progressive shrinkage is quite similar to felting in wool fibers – loosely woven fabrics or fabrics woven with relatively long staple fibers are subject to greater fiber movement when agitated in water. The loose weave and the napped surface of the fabric allow the fibers to shift and become more dense when they are agitated in the washing machine. The fibers will continue to become more densely packed in the weave, wash after wash, until they are stable and cozy with their neighbors… and there you have it: progressive shrinkage. 1
  • The easiest way to deal with this – wash your flannel before you cut it. I washed my flannel twice in hot water and dried it in a hot dryer each time.

    I did find my answer of shrinkage for cotton and flannel tho – cotton shrinks 3%, flannel 5%.

    I pieced my back and went blissfully along, unaware of the ‘fun’ that was waiting for me. I had decided to tie this quilt (I’ve never tied a quilt before and I thought it would fit this quilt nicely) I talked to Carmen about this as I had no experience with this and she gave me some wonderful ideas2 ..

    1. Don’t use embroidery floss – she’s never NOT seen it break – use yarn or perle cotton
    2. Use a double surgeon’s knot (square knot) for tying – I started out that way, but with the bulk of some of my seams, it was just to much, so I went to a single square knot.
    3. quilt about every 8″, so that if your ties do break, you won’t have it flapping in the breeze
    4. do your ties roughly 4 – 6″ apart

    So I basted this quilt, and did my quilting lines. Every thing was fine, until I did the diagonals – altho i didn’t notice anything at the time .. Then I tied it based on the above. As I was getting ready to put the binding on I noticed that I had puckers in the backing3 .. I was a little bit more than stunned .. it’s been YEARS since I’ve seen puckers in the back of my quilts .. (and that was because I basted in a hurry) This was when I found out that other ladies starch their flannels like crazy before they do any quilting with them .. I starched around the borders like crazy and then put the binding on .. not ONE pucker .. so that worked. Which means that when all is said and done, I would be going back and ripping the puckers out, starching them, and re-quilting those areas, which was at the borders.

    I get the binding all sewn on and hand stitched down. I lay it on the floor and my God – I was about to be drowned by the tsnumai that was barreling around the quilt edges4 .. oh jesusmaryjoseph .. God help me .. I canNOT give this quilt to Gran looking like THIS!! I got all depressed for a few hours, then an idea rather hit me – I thought of using a gather stitch (Thank you mum for teaching me to sew :D)

    With some experimentation, I decided to use a handquilting thread, and use a long basting stitch for the gathers. I gathered the quilt edges until they were flat, stitched a loop twice, then knotted it off. Went around the whole quilt doing this then resewed down the binding. Glory Be!! The quilt laid flatter than it had. 5

    Now the puckers in the back .. I ripped them out (I got lucky – only 3 bad spots) and then starched the snot out of them .. requilted those spots, turned it over and not a pucker left!! If it wasn’t for the double line of quilting, you would NEVER know it 6..

    Put it it the wash (again on HOT water), dried it and then laid it on the floor .. some of the waves translated to the middle, which I am fine with – it’s a rather ‘informal’ quilt, but the important thing .. there were NO MORE waves at the edges! 7

    So in a nutshell

    1. wash your flannel in hot water and dry it at least twice
    2. starch, starch, starch, starch like crazy .. make it like a board if you have to .. but you do NOT want it to easily stretch – doing these 2 steps you should eliminate any issues you might have with using flannel as a backing
    3. when you baste, baste 2″ apart instead of the normal 4″
    4. If you do have waves and puckers, they are easily fixed with hand gathering and a lot of starch again

    I honestly thought that I would have to toss this quilt, but was able to ‘save’ it so I would feel good giving it as a gift. Not that she would have cared, but I would have . it just wasn’t in givable condition as it was.

    I hope this helps and if you need more information, you can check out the posts with the tags of gran’s quilt or with the tag of flannel.

    21 thoughts on “Using Flannel Backing

    1. Thanks for posting this. I have not used flannel as a backing – have enough trouble with cottons – but will remember this.

      How is the feel or weight different with flannel?

      I’m glad it’s not confusing – I was worried about that .. I didn’t want to repost ALL that I did, so I was hoping the links would work okay ..

      On the weight .. I’m thinking that when gran was a little girl they used a more ‘raw’ or ‘natural’ batting that wasn’t as refined as it is now .. Gran’s 80 years old, so you can imagine that the batts weren’t as ‘thin’ or processed as now is the best I can figure .. One lady that works at the fabric store told me that back in the day, batts were heavier and there is a good possibility that it was a recycled batt – meaning old blankets etc were used .. So I went extreme with keeping it light for her ..

      I hope this answers your question 🙂

      Thanx for the comment BJ




    2. Grace, did you measure your flannel to see how much it actually shrunk, not just what your source said it would? And, the quilt turned out great. I have some flannel that is similar in color to Pepto Bismol that I’m going to back with, for a lighter weight quilt. Cindi


    3. Can I use flannel as a backing and eliminate the batting altogether?

      Absolutely .. with Gran’s quilt that’s exactly what i did, and this would be great for a spring / fall quilt when it’s not quite cold enough for the heavier quilt batts.


    4. Hi Grace,

      I have never used starch before and was intrigued that you used it on flannel to keep it from stretching as you quilted it. I have a quilt top that I want to back with a knit blanket (very flat weave, machine woven cotton yarn blanket). I am not using batting in between. I know the blanket is going to stretch a lot more than my pieced quilting cotton top. I was wondering if you could tell me how you starched the flannel. Is it a liquid that you spray on? Does it wash right out?

      Thanks for any advice you can offer,
      Angela Bumpus


    5. Thanks for you insights! I’ve also never used starch before and will give it a try. I’ve been working on baby quilts flannel front and back with hand quilting.

      Liked by 1 person

    6. Wow Grace, you came along just in a nick of time for me. I am just finishing a king sized quilt top for my daughter for which I am using polyester batting (she likes comforters rather than quilts) and was planning on using flannel as the backing as she loves cozy. I will definitely be using all your wonderful advice and purchasing extra flannel to allow for the shrinkage. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

    7. I wish I’d seen this post before I started quilting with a flannel backing! Yes, it stretches like nobody’s business and puckers like crazy, while sewing slow and carefully, with safety pins every 3-4″. I’m now trying to quilt w/o many pins, with a bit more success. I’ve probably re-pinned in several places 5 times (ugh!). I forgot to pre-wash the flannel and it’s now half-way done. I only have a few hairs left on my head since I’ve pulled the rest out! I may try to starch (the “snot out of it” ha!), on the remaining half, to see if anything improves. Thanks for your post of this hair-tearing method. I’ll definitely remember to try your great suggestions for my next quilt, if I re-visit a flannel backing. It does make a lovely, cozy quilt when it’s done, BUT, does it get all ‘pilly’ from machine washing though? I wonder…

      Liked by 1 person

    8. I used flannel with a large (8″ squares) design as my quilt facing. I washed, dried, and startched before starting. It looked fantastic……then… son had an accident and I ran it through the gentle cycle. That’s when it all goes south. I took it out and noticed many places that “came open”. I used my machine with a 3.5 stitch. What did I do wrong?


    9. I was thinking of using flannel as the backing for the bed-sized quilt I’m working on. You’ve changed my mind in a hurry! Now I think I’ll stick to quilting cotton. Thanks for the warning.


    10. It is usable. You just have to use a ton of spray starch and make sure you wash it at least twice in hot water to ensure it’s shrunk as much as possible. I learned a lot from this experience


    11. Thanks for your tips. Last summer I tried my first baby quilt with a flannel backing, I figured perfect for babies. The headaches were awful! I did wash it hot and dry it but only once. But no matter how much I tried I could not get it to behave so ripped it out and did a regular cotton batting. The 3 other baby quilts I did since that one I used the quilt as you go method and even quilting 12 inch blocks was a headache but more manageable. (But it does screw up some patterns to have all those extra strips!) It doesn’t help that I’m using a fluffy poly batting either. Next time I try a one piece backing I will use your methods and flat cotton batting!


    12. Using flannel is a whole new world! Wash it in HOT HOT HOT water and use LOTS of starch . and I mean LOTS. I learned you have to be very aggressive with the basting and quilting lines. Much closer – but oh so worth it – nothing is better than the feeling of well loved flannel against your skin 🙂 I hope it works for you!


    13. With flannel, closer quilt lines, washing it several times in hot water before making your sandwich and LOTS LOTS LOTS of starch to keep it together and behaving.


    14. I don’t see why not – I would wash it several times, use a LOT of spray starch and be very liberal with pins and quilting. It is a fabric – so it does seem possible.

      If you do use it, please post back, I would love to know how it turned out 🙂 Good luck and have fun with it!


    15. Hi Grace – I wanted to use flannel for a backing in a baby quilt. I want to personalize with the baby info on the back with my embroidery machine. Start here extra in area of embroidering? I read that you will get some pucker from embroidering but the said to wash first to limit that. Guess I could do a practice run! Nervous!


    16. Definitely a practice one. Lots of extra starch and the stabilizer … maybe double it? I wish you success and my fingers are crossed for you!! Good luck


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