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Working with Flannel Fabric – Durability

Working with Flannel - I found some that doesn't pill

When I told folks that I was working with flannel on my next quilt, I got a lot of questions.

How do you keep it from pilling? Is it going to hold up to a lot of use? What about durability?

I got some variation of this question over and over and over again.

I understand! When my daughter was little, I made her a lot of pajama pants using all of those cute flannel prints you can find at the fabric store. Sometimes they held up really well, and sometimes they were very badly pilled after just one washing. And it seemed so random!

A lot of people also wanted to know about how well flannel would work for raw edge applique – particularly how badly it might fray.

I was worried about that too! So I decided to run a test.

I made two sample blocks – one flannel background with a cotton applique, and another flannel background with a flannel applique.

I tossed these blocks in every load of laundry I did for the last month. Everything – clothes, towels, sheets – everything. I put the blocks through both the washer and dryer with each load. That’s a lot of laundry and a pretty rugged test.

I was stunned by the results! In a good way. 🙂

Flannel background and cotton applique - a durability test

Here’s the flannel background with the cotton applique.

No pilling! Not even a tiny bit! It gets a beautiful crinkle and the applique looks great. And did I mention that there’s no pilling?

Flannel background and flannel applique - a durability test

And here’s the flannel block with the flannel applique.

No pilling – and no additional fraying on the applique!

I really expected to see more fraying around the edges but it’s pretty much the same as the smooth cotton.

The only difference I see is that the black outline and mouth line get a teeny bit lost in the fuzzier flannel surface. When I make a finished quilt (get the Peekaboo Bears quilt pattern here) I’ll use 12 wt. thread to outline the applique to get a slightly thicker line.

You know why the results are this good? I used good quality flannel! It makes such a difference.

For this test I used flannel from Timeless Treasures – a well-established manufacturer sold in quilt shops. I’m so excited with how terrific the results are that I’m planning two quilts using it.

The first is a remake of the Peekaboo Bears quilt with flannel backgrounds and non-flannel applique. Here are just a few of those blocks.

Peekaboo Bear quilt in progress from Shiny Happy World.

And someday I’m going to make an applique rag quilt. Oh yes! I think it’ll work great to use my applique patterns for a rag quilt and I can’t wait to give it a try!

Update! I made the applique rag quilt and it turned out great! So cuddly and soft! There’s a tutorial here showing exactly how I made it.

Here are links to all the posts about choosing fabric.

And here are links to posts about using specialty fabrics.

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Happy quilting!


  1. Rosemary SAYS...

    I’ve made several ragged flannel quilts using a good quality flannel and they work beautifully. Last forever, it seems. lol I love the bears on the flannel. Nice and warm and snuggley for those little ones. Have to make one now!! Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Thanks! It is always great to hear about which flannels are trustworthy. It always feels like such a gamble. I used some Timeless Treasures flannel to make some changing mats when my daughter was born (3 years ago) and they held up very well. I also have had good luck with Robert Kaufman and Moda. I don’t touch the stuff at the big box stores!

    • Dottie SAYS...

      Timeless Treasures is a company whose fabrics are always in my stash. The other two are also favorites.

      Our LQS has plenty of Moda. Yum.

      Thanks for the testing of the TT flannels. So glad to read the good news.

      Sewing with a smile, Dottie

  3. Anne Davies Sommerville SAYS...

    Is there any problem with being too bulky in sewing the flannel blocks together in the quilt as you go method? Thanks in advance for a reply

  4. Lisa SAYS...

    Hello there! I am planning to make your “Cuddly Cats” quilt for my daughter, and I wanted to use flannel for the cats (to make them softer and cozier) and cotton fabric for the background. Will this work okay? If I want to give the cats a more fuzzier look, would it be okay to raw edge applique, or would flannel fray too much? Would a zigzag stitch be better than a straight stitch? Or should I play it safe and turn the edges under for a smoother look? And what about shrinkage rates? Also, should I use fusible web, or non-fusible web? I don’t want the cats to be too stiff, as I wanted this quilt to be soft and cuddly (with cuddly fleece for the backing). Thank you for any advice you can give me! I’m trying to know exactly what I’m doing before I even get started on it in order to avoid any future regrets!!