Backing quilts with flannel and skipping the batting will help you achieve soft, cozy quilts with a nice drape that you’ll want to snuggle up with. I’ll walk you through the pros and cons of using flannel to back quilts and explain why it’s the only way I make mine.
Why I Love Backing Quilts With Flannel – and Have Never Used Cotton Backings or Batting
Before I learned to quilt, I had an image in my mind that quilts were pretty, but not a cuddly sort of blanket. They were the kind of blanket that you might put across your bed, but not one you’d want to burrow under up to your chin. And not a blanket that you’d want to mound around you while you read a good book on the couch or snuggled with your family watching TV. I remembered quilts feeling light weight, sometimes puffy, sometimes stiff, and smooth on both sides. Based on these impressions, I certainly didn’t want to have a whole stack of quilts like this, or make one myself.
But then one day, a vibrant, modern quilt on Pinterest led me to Cluck Cluck Sew. There, Allison talked not only about using flannel to back a quilt, but also eliminating the batting layer. The resulting quilt would be cozy and drape nicely. Since I am perpetually cold and prefer to cover myself in afghans at all times, this was a lightbulb moment of inspiration for me.
I set out to teach myself to learn to make quilts like this, making my first quilts with flannel backings and no batting. Unsurprisingly, I loved them. They sewed up nicely with a minimum of quilting lines, which did prevent them from becoming stiff. And they were deliciously soft and I felt “snug as a bug in a rug” (as my parents used to say when tucking me in at night). To this day, I’ve made every quilt in the same way – a pieced cotton top with flannel backing. No batting.
How we use quilts in our house
I’ve made a good number of quilts over the years. Many times my husband has made comments of “Do we really need another quilt?” I mean, really. Is there such a thing as too many quilts? I think not. Because my flannel backed quilts are so soft and cozy, we use them everywhere in our house.
Generally, we cover the couch seat with a quilt to protect it from wear and smells from our dog, Oliver. He spends a lot of time sleeping on the couch. My camera roll is 75% pictures of Oliver sleeping (often on quilts), so you’re getting sleepy puppy spammed today 🙂
While Oliver doesn’t like blankets covering him, he likes it if we use quilts to make a nest. I bunch up a quilt and curve it in a C-shape. Then he curls up in a ball with the quilt surrounding him.
I continually have several quilts on the go as afghans on our upstairs couch because I’m almost always cold and prefer feeling cozy. I love nothing more than to snuggle up under a quilt, with a sleeping dog
beside me on me and do some stitching, knitting or crochet.
On our bed, we use quilts in combination with wool blankets. We have a shelf beside the bed with extras ready to grab for whenever it’s extra chilly. Downstairs, there’s also a pile of quilts that all three of us use on the couch when we watch TV, as it’s much colder and more humid in the basement.
Being able to add quilts for warmth around the house allows us to set our heating a degree or two cooler, which saves us money. And I feel confident that if we lost power (and therefore heat) for a while, that we would have ample blankets to get us through a winter’s night – and probably plenty to lend to neighbours if need be! Being covered in quilts at all times is not just a winter thing though. When the AC makes me feel just a touch cool, I reach for a quilt to keep my bare feet warm.
Meant for using, loving and laundering!
Until I started making quilts of my own, most of our throw blankets were solid-coloured fleece throws from Ikea or similar. They were inexpensive to replace when Oliver was a puppy and he had an accident of some type. But they were lightweight, a bit prone to static, and a whole lot boring.
Then I learned to make colourful, cozy, and weighty quilts. Those quilts have not been inexpensive, and I don’t want to ruin any of them. However, I want them to be used, and am pleased that we do. But, since we use them so heavily on the couches, the bed, and around Oliver (who’s not even a slobbery dog), we machine wash and dry them regularly. I can see general fading, wear on some bindings, and pilling on the flannel backings over time of course. But it makes me happy to bundle up in something colourful that I’ve lovingly handmade. Personally, I don’t see the point of having them sit, carefully folded and untouched in a closet.
For all these reasons, I’m going to continue making my quilts with flannel backings and without batting. They are cozy, and that means they get well used in our house.
Learning About Backing Quilts with Flannel
Can I quilt without batting?
Yes! You can definitely make a quilt without batting. I’ve read things before where people feel that eliminating the batting reduces a quilt to a mere blanket. But I disagree. In my opinion, a quilt consists of a quilt top (generally pieced, but not always), sandwiched with a backing, and then those layers are sewn together (quilted).
To make a quilt without batting, you’ll need to replace the quilting cotton backing with something heavier like flannel. This will help give the quilt substance and weight.
What is the difference between flannel and flannelette?
I’ve often seen the terms flannel and flannelette used interchangeably. I’ll admit that I almost always use the word flannel, though I’m actually talking about flannelette. The difference can be a little confusing. And whenever I tell my mom that I bought flannel at the store, she’ll say, “Do you mean flannelette?”
Let’s sort this out:
Flannelette is usually made from 100% cotton (though it could be a poly-cotton blend). It is brushed on one or both sides to create softness and imitate real flannel. Flannelette can also be known as Brushed Cotton. In North America especially, flannelette is often just called flannel and it is commonly used for making pyjamas and sheets.
Real flannel is made with wool, or it may be combined with cotton or synthetic fibres. It is less common than flannelette and more expensive. Flannel is also more durable than flannelette over time, but it is less soft.
Based on this, I’m certain that almost all of the quilt backings I’ve used and have called flannel, were actually cotton flannelette. They may not last as long as true flannel backings, but they’re holding up just fine after many washings. Since I’m not intending them to be heirloom quilts, I like the better prices and availability of flannelette. If you wish to make an heirloom quilt, perhaps it’s best to search out real flannel.
What are the pros of backing quilts with flannel?
- Flannel backings make a quilt cozy and soft.
- The flannel brings a nice weight to the quilt, making it perfect as a throw blanket on the couch.
- By skipping the batting layer and replacing it with flannel, it can reduce the cost of making a quilt significantly. I usually buy flannelette from my local Fabricland on a general sale, on sale with my membership, or on clearance for prices ranging from $4-7 per metre. For a 5 metre requirement for a backing, that can put me somewhere between $20 and $50 for the backing. It’s also $0 for the batting layer when I eliminate it completely. Since quilts are expensive, these changes can save you a lot of money.
- You can sew minimal quilting lines when batting is not used since you don’t need to avoid batting clumps. (I like to quilt every 12 inches or preferably closer and I do straight line quilting, sewing the width of my presser foot away from seams). In my opinion, the less quilting, the better the drape of the quilt. Combined with the weight of the flannel, flannel backed quilts have a fabulous drape.
- I find that pieced quilt tops somewhat grip the flannel when laying out the quilt sandwich. Therefore I never spray baste, and instead just pin every 6-8 inches or so. I’ve never really struggled with slipping/bunching/puckering because I use a walking foot (which makes sure both layers move at the same rate as I quilt).
What are the cons of backing quilts with flannel?
- Flannel can pill more than quilting cotton. I’m not bothered by a bit of pilling, personally, if it means that quilts are used.
- Flannel generates a lot of lint during washing and drying. It can also produce a lot of lint in your sewing machine. See my tip below to deal with this.
- Flannel frays more than cotton. See my tip below.
- Flannel can shrink a fair bit. I usually buy a little extra yardage than the pattern recommends for the backing. And I also make sure to always prewash my flannel and shrink it in the dryer so I never have any surprises after washing the finished quilt.
- A quilt with just a pieced top and a flannel backing is thinner than quilts with batting. I find that no matter how I adjust the tension on my sewing machine, I can sometimes see the bobbin thread poking through on the top, or the top thread from the back. I do still use a different colour bobbin thread to coordinate with the flannel backing, but it’s best if it’s not a complete contrast to the pieced top.
- Sometimes it is more difficult to find nice patterned flannels that don’t have baby or cartoonish pyjama prints. But solids are always an option. I prefer small prints when I can find them like the tiny houndstooth I used on this Snippets quilt.
Tips for backing a quilt with flannel
- Save money by eliminating the batting layer of the quilt, but increase coziness and drape by using flannel to back the quilt.
- With the batting eliminated, and just a pieced cotton quilt top and a flannel back, the thickness of the quilt is thinner than a quilt with batting. Most quilters cut binding strips at 2 1/2″ wide, but lately I’ve been reducing them to 2 1/4″ wide to account for the reduced thickness of the quilt. This is just a personal preference though, and 2 1/2″ strips will still work.
- To accommodate for shrinkage, I usually buy a little extra flannel than the recommended backing yardage. Then I make sure to always pre-wash my flannel and shrink it in the dryer before sewing. I know there is much debate about this, but I also always prewash and shrink my quilting cottons (unless I’m using charm squares). By washing all my fabrics, I’m confident that there won’t be any shrinking or colours bleeding after the quilt’s first wash.
- Pre-washing and drying the flannel also helps to remove a lot of lint. (Make sure to empty the lint trap of your dryer). This reduces the amount of lint that will end up in your sewing machine. Don’t forget to have your machine serviced or to vacuum out the lint periodically.
- Because flannel frays more, when piecing the quilt back be sure to use at least a half inch seam allowance.
- Use a walking foot when you quilt to make sure that the pieced top and flannel back move at the same speed, reducing slipping and puckering.
I’m confident that you’ll love the result if you try backing quilts with flannel. You can’t beat the coziness!
How do you use quilts?
I want to hear from you. If you own quilts (even ones given to you), how do you use them in your house? Do you display them on the wall or store them as an heirloom for safe keeping? Or do you use them on beds, or as throw blankets? Let me know in the comments below.
All the best,