This detailed article provides an answer to the question of what is flannel? It also goes further to give more information on this woven fabric. Flannel has to be one of those fabrics that are everybody's favorite. Usually made with worsted yarn or carded wool, this fabric is perfect for keeping warm in cold weather. It feels comfortable, soft, warm, fuzzy, and is quite affordable too. This fabric can be quite challenging to sew if you do not understand its peculiarities. Luckily for you, these peculiarities are discussed in detail and at the end of this article, you should know what is flannel and how to sew with this fabric like a pro.
What is Flannel?
Flannel is a soft woven fabric of diverse weights. In the past, it was originally woven with worsted yarn or carded wool, but it is now made from cotton, wool, or other synthetic fibers. It is known for its softness, which can sometimes be created by brushing or can be as a result of its loosely spun finish.
Brushing refers to the mechanical process of rubbing the loosely-spun fabric with a fine metal brush for the sole purpose of raising fine fibers to form a nap. The napped or fuzzy finish can be found on either one or both ends of the fabric.
Due to its soft, fuzzy texture, this fabric is perfect for keeping warm in the winter mainly because its hair traps air. As flannel is often woven in plaid or tartan patterns, some people often mistake these patterns for flannel.
What is Flannel - Origins
There is a bit of conflict on the origin of the term 'flannel', with some believing it originated from the French term 'Flanelle' in the late 17th century, while yet others are of the opinion that it was coined from the German 'Flanell' in the early 18th century.
But this controversy on the name notwithstanding, there is evidence indicating that a similar fabric was available in Wales in the early 16th century. This suggests that it has a Welsh origin. The Welsh fabric was finished as cotton or frieze, with a frieze being a coarse material with an uneven nap.
Flannel is the much better version of the frieze that was created in the 17th century to replace the Welsh plain fabric. Towards the 20th century, the production of this fabric moved from wool to a cotton and silk mix, with cotton being more predominant. These days, flannel is made with 100% cotton, more often than not.
What is Flannel - Types?
Sometimes the type of flannel will determine how it is used. The different types of this fabric and their uses include:
- Flannelette: This is a napped cotton fabric that has the texture of flannel. It can be napped on one or both sides and can either have a long or short nap. It is available in solid and patterns, and also in many different colors.
- Baby Flannel: This refers to a kind of flannel that is mostly used for making children's wear. It is a lightweight fabric.
- Diaper Flannel: Made from stout cotton material, this material is napped on both sides. It is also popular for making cloth diapers.
- Ceylon Flannel: This is created from a cotton and wool mixture.
- Canton or Cotton Flannel: As its name implies, it is a flannel woven with cotton. It is also napped on either one or both of its sides.
- Vegetable Flannel: This type of flannel originated in the 1800s and is made from fibers sourced from Scot's pine. It was invented in Germany by Leopold Lauritz.
What is Flannel Used For?
This soft fabric can be used in various ways. Some of them include:
- Clothes: When used in making button-down shirts, this fabric is extremely popular. In fact, it goes rather well when used for outdoor wear. In addition to shirts, this fabric can also be used for other everyday wear like cardigans, sweaters, and other clothing items that prevent cold.
- Accessories: This fabric can be used in making accessories like belts, purses, bags, etc. For making accessories, the plaid color pattern is used more often than not.
- Beddings: Softness, fuzziness, and moisture-wicking are some of the characteristics of this fabric. Based on its texture, this fabric is preferred for making items like bedsheets, blankets, and other household items that are used for warmth.
What is Flannel - Sewing Tips
If you give room for the peculiarities of this soft fabric, then you shouldn't encounter any challenges while using it for your sewing project. Here are some tips that should come in handy:
What is Flannel General Sewing Tips
- Buy More Than You Need: Flannel is not one of those fabrics that you can decide to scrimp and save on by buying the exact amount you need to get your sewing done. Instead, you'd need to buy at least a half-inch or more than you require. This is because flannel is notorious for shrinking due to its loose weave. If your flannel has checks or a pattern, you should purchase more to allow for pattern matching.
- Finish Seams: The edges of this material will fray and you will need to use some type of seam finishing to manage this. If the fabric is very thick, you could simply press the plain seam open. This should be sufficient for most projects. However, cut edges will fray and you'd need to finish it in one of two ways: by overlocking with a serger or running a zig-zag stitch along the seams.
- Unpick Seams with Care: Flannel has a loose weave and so is more delicate than other fabrics. When unpicking seams, handle as gently as possible to stop the yarns from breaking and creating holes in the material. (how to use a seam ripper)
- Wash Before Using: The need to wash your flannel fabric before sewing cannot be overemphasized. Pre-washing your fabric before use will prevent any problems that might arise from shrinkage. If you sew before washing, you might notice that flannel will shrink while any other fabrics that were sewn together with it would not, resulting in puckered and bunched seams. This would leave you with two unfavorable options: manage your imperfect sewing project with uneven seams or redo the job. More about washing this fabric will be discussed in the course of this article.
- Shedding: You might as well accept that this fabric is renowned for shedding and factor that into consideration. Accepting this will help you make necessary adjustments in regards to cleaning your sewing machine and work area, or managing the frayed seams. Because it has a loose weave, lint will accumulate on your needle and might even filter into other parts of your machine. Carefully clean around the needle, the machine's bobbin, and the bobbin case after sewing. You might need to clean as many times as possible during your project.
- Starching Before Cutting: Flannel tends to pull and shift a lot, which makes cutting difficult. Starching the fabric before attempting to cut it will stiffen it a bit and usually helps resolve this issue.
- Marking: Use a smooth-edged chalk marking tool when marking this fabric. This is because a spoked wheel might make holes in the fabric.
- Cutting: Fold the right sides of the fabric together before cutting a straight flannel. When folded, the nap will hold the fabric in place and line it up lengthwise.
- Use All-Purpose Thread: Using an all-purpose thread for flannel helps it maintain its shape after sewing. All-purpose threads are usually made of polyester and do not shrink.
- Use a Walking Foot: A walking foot will feed the fabric evenly while sewing. This, in turn, will prevent the fabric from distorting and stretching.
- Needle Size: Flannels are thick and so are better handled with a larger size of needle. A size 16 would do perfectly in piercing the thicker threads easily. Also note that flannels dull a needle much quicker than other fabrics, so be sure to change your needles as often as possible.
Pre-Washing Flannel Before Sewing
Here are a few tips for pre-washing this material before sewing:
- WASHING - Wash your fabric with warm to tepid water. If you want it to shrink down, use hot water. You can hand wash or throw your flannel item in a washing machine. For the washing machine, use a lingerie bag to prevent fraying and pilling.
- DRYING - Dry your fabric on a high heat setting. This helps in removing excess fuzz and lint before sewing. It also ensures that the fabric shrinks to the maximum before you start sewing with it.
- IRONING - For a successful sewing project, it is necessary that the fabric is pressed before use. Set your iron to medium heat, and use the steam setting. Spray starch on the wrong side of the fabric and press. To prevent distortion and stretching, it is of utmost importance that you do not apply pressure during this process. Rather, lift the iron and lightly set it down until you're done. Do not slide the iron across the fabric.
What is Flannel Item Washing Instructions
Above we discussed what is flannel and its washing instructions before sewingc. But if you have an item that is ready-made from flannel, you will need to make a few adjustments primarily because you do not want the fabric to shrink excessively.
- WASHING - Wash the flannel item by hand or washing machine with a mild detergent with either cold or tepid water. This will prevent shrinkage as much as possible.
- DRYING - Using a tumble dryer will shrink your item so instead air dry either flat or on a line in the shade.
- IRONING - Iron the item with a warm iron on medium heat. Use an up and down motion to prevent distortion and stretching.
What is Flannel? - In Conclusion
Since you now have the answer to the question what is flannel? And have also been educated on its uses, care, and types, it should be relatively easy for you to work with it. Flannel is a good fabric for making clothing items and accessories that would tide you through cold winter days.
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