Flannel is a plain-woven fabric that has been brushed to create a short-but-fuzzy texture, usually on both sides of the fabric, but sometimes only on the right side. That brushing, plus the fact that the fabric is made from loosely-woven yarn means that flannel is a soft, warm fabric – suitable for shirts, sleepwear and bed linens. Those groovy lumberjack shirts we like in the wintertime? Flannel. Reusable diapers? Flannel.
Way back in the day, flannel was always made from made from wool, but if you type in flannel in the search box at an online fabric store, the vast majority of the hits will be cotton and cotton blends. Why? It’s cheaper. A plain cotton flannel can be as little as $4 a yard. A pure wool flannel will cost about $20 per yard. Pure wool flannel is also known as hooking wool or boiling wool. You’ll see wool flannel used to make tropical suits and the quality stuff can look fantastic.
Because flannel is soft and drapey, this isn’t something you want to make a clingy cocktail dress out of. But it’s apt for historical costuming, some fantasy costumes and if you’re booked for a pajama party, this is absolutely a place to start.
While you’re shopping, you might run into the term flannelette. In the garment industry, cotton flannel is called flannelette. On the consumer side of things, though, you’ll find the terms used interchangeably. Some sellers use flannelette to indicate that it’s cotton, or that it’s a lighter weight of fabric.
Pure cotton flannel will shrink in the wash. So be sure to run it through a hot-water cycle and dry it on high heat before cutting it. If you’re really worried about shrinkage, run the uncut fabric through the washer and dryer a second time. Wool flannel should be taken to a dry-cleaner for pre-shrinking, but if you’re feeling brave and have sufficient time for the task, you can steam-shrink it at home with a steam iron on the wool setting.
Flannel has a nap to it, just like velvet and corduroy. Sometimes that nap might be so subtle as to be practically invisible, but that’s not always the case. When laying out your pattern pieces for cutting, use the “with nap” layout.
Related post: The difference between nap and pile.
Use a universal needle and polyester or cotton thread. Heavy flannel will require a heavier needle.