Tuesday, October 5, 2010


This post is to answer a question from Rose.  She asks about having special issues when quilting on flannel.  We love flannel!  Is there anything more soft and cozy than to cuddle under a beloved flannel quilt in front of a fireplace in the winter?  Makes me long for some Canadian winters again.

Flannel does pose some challenges when quilting.  First, make sure that it is 100% cotton flannel.  You can find less expensive blends of polyester and cotton flannel.  That's great for shirts and will help them last longer and shrink less, but it is a nightmare in a quilt.  She talks about using Superior So Fine thread and was wondering if that was part of the problem.  So Fine is a beautiful 50 weight polyester thread and should have worked just fine.  Let's look at the issues when quilting with flannel.

The combed fibers that make flannel fuzzy is why we love it--right?  Those same fibers cause a drag on the surface of the sewing machine.  This means that it is harder to move the quilt around on your sewing surface. So--how do we solve this?  I use two methods together.  The first thing I do is starch and press the backing fabric on the right side to help give it a smoother surface to slide around under the needle.  I love Mary Ellen's "Best Press" starch alternative.  You can saturate the fabric and iron it dry with no flaking!  The second thing I do is make sure I use a "Supreme Slider' on the bed of my sewing machine.  There are several other brands out there and I feel sure they all work the same.  The "Supreme Slider' is a Teflon sheet that is placed on the bed of the sewing machine to help the quilt slide around under the needle.  You are definitely going to need this to accomplish free motion quilting on flannel with any ease.  If I am doing free motion quilting on flannel, I also use quilting gloves to help grip the quilt as I doodle all over it.  I like Fons & Porter's cotton quilting gloves.  They are lightweight and I can thread the needle of my machine without taking them off.

This is MY flannel quilt.  Have you noticed how many quilts we make and never have one to call our own?  My choice when deciding on quilting patterns for flannel is to do something pretty simple.  The pieced area of this quilt was quilted with all straight line quilting using a walking foot.  It has a diagonal straight line quilted through all the red and green squares.
This type of quilting is called crosshatching.  It usually done in 1 inch or 1/2 inch increments.  It makes a beautiful background for applique blocks and you will find it in the background of Baltimore Album quilts.  On this quilt, it is 3 inches apart.  The batting in it is 80/20 Hobbs Heirloom so it was perfectly safe to quilt it that far apart.  I use my walking foot when piecing flannel and to do everything except free motion quilting.  Remember that you can use many of your decorative stitches with your walking foot.  Think about what the crosshatching would look like with a feather stitch or a buttonhole stitch.  That would be a lovely way to add something special to a flannel quilt.
Stippling on flannel
On the wide border, I did a fairly large stipple.  The spacing between the stitching lines is about 1 inch.  Again, I had to use gloves and did everything I could think of to make the quilt slide around on my sewing surface.

On the subject of thread, the thread Rose chose was fine.  Any good 50 weight thread will quilt nicely under the right settings.  If you wanted a heavier thread, I would suggest a 40 weight machine quilting thread such as Superior's King Tut.  All the good thread companies have a 40 wt. quilting thread but I mention Superior's since Rose seemed to have access to that brand.

The old wive's tale that polyester thread will cut through cotton fabric is kind of misleading.  It will in 100 years but so will strong 100% cotton thread.  I love all good threads.  I don't like cheap, slub-filled, bad thread which will simply never work well.  The main difference you might see between using polyester and cotton thread (especially on flannel) is that the cotton thread will sink down into the quilt becoming more a part of the background.  Polyester thread has a tendency to sit on top of the quilt.  Now, that is a very good thing when you want your quilting to be a very noticeable part of the overall design.  Keep in mind when adjusting your tension with polyester thread that computer machines have a difficult time "reading" the weight of polyester thread.  It doesn't really have a weight like cotton does.  The companies use weight just to tell you that this polyester thread is the same size as a corresponding weight cotton thread.  That "sinking in" issue I mentioned with cotton thread is why most quilters prefer to piece with a fine cotton thread.  The thread will sink into the fabric and become less noticeable--like it becomes a part of the fabric.

The last issue with flannel is that you might want to use a light weight batting for a flannel quilt.  The flannel, itself, is going to add heft and warmth to the quilt without adding a heavy batting.

Thank you to Rose for the great question and the opportunity to tell you more than you really wanted to know.  I love questions!


  1. Very nice - and we can use flannel quilts in Oklahoma - we've had some strange and frosty winters of late.

  2. Thank you so very much for answering my question about fmq on my flannel quilt and for sharing your knowledge with me. I love your idea about spray starching the fabric and will definitely try that next time. I do use the Supreme Slider and find it helps a lot. I was also happy to hear that my choice of thread was appropriate and next time I think I will try King Tut to see if I can notice a difference. I have a Bernina Activa 220 and after reading your suggestions, I think that I might have been having a tension problem. I am one of those people that is afraid to fool around with the tension wheel. I quess I'm afraid the "tension police" will get me. Once again, thank you for answering my question and I hope your other blogging friends will profit from your suggestions. You are my new BFF!

  3. Wow when I find a good thing, I don't want to let it go. I have another question for you.
    Do you stitch in place to lock your threads and then cut them off or do you hide your threads? I have been hiding my threads, but it is a bit tedious, however, I'm never confident that my threads are holding when I just stitch in place.
    Any suggestions?

  4. I do love flannel and the feel of it.
    Great tips for sewing with it. I need to get to my pfaff store and see what is new for my machine. I want to do more machine quilting.


  5. Hi Rose,
    For the most part, I stitch in place, then cut the thread tails off after I have stitched away from the area. That said, it really depends on the quilt. I bury my thread tails on show quilts because I know judges who look for that specifically. For the rest (including my samples) I anchor the thread with a couple of stitches and clip.

    For Woolen Sails, make sure the Pfaff person shows you how to set up your machine for free motion quilting. Pfaff machines have a very unique set up which is different from other machines. You might want to check out Patsy Thompson's web site (link from the right side here) because she quilts exclusively on a Pfaff machine and does incredible work.

  6. How gorgeous! The flannel fabrics look so soft and comforting! ♥

  7. I made an all-flannel quilt for my first great grandbaby. Well, the blocks weren't flannel--I used a plain cotton fabric that I embroidered, but the sashing, borders and backing were flannel. It was the first quilt I have made since my children were small--in the 70s. It came out so well, I was inspired to take it up again and that spurred me on to join a group, take classes, etc. The flannel was wonderful and exactly the right fabric.

  8. Hi! I am a Maine quilter and have quilted a few quilts on my Baby Lock Ellageo. It works well but is a bit awkward when quilting a large area. I am ready to move up to a longarm and have "testdriven" the Pfaff Grandquilter. I found it works smoothly, and would like to know how the product holds up over time, and if there are a lot of troubleshooting issues. Thanks! Jan

  9. Thanks so much for your blog. I am about to embark on my first quilt using flannel and googled "special problems quilting with flannel." Your blog pretty much covered it. I'm doing what I call a "fake quilt" for a coworker: a panel with squares for the middle, and adding borders. It should be a good first flannel project, because the body will just have squares, and the borders I will do a big stipple on.
    Sue from Illinois