What Are Flannels


If you’ll be asking most people about what they know about flannel, they’ll just probably say that it’s soft. Others may think that it’s similar to plaid which is actually incorrect. So, let’s learn more about what are flannels!

What Are Flannels Made Of?

Flannel is a woven fabric that traditionally came from wool. Nowadays though, it can be composed of cotton and synthetic fibers. There is even a type called vegetable flannel which came from the fibers of Scots pines.

The fabric in focus can be softer than usual if it is brushed. Considered as a mechanical process, brushing is completed by using a fine brush made of metal to easily raise fibers from the flannel. The flannel in this stage must have loose yarns to successfully achieve the appearance of nap. The nap can either be one-sided or present on both sides of the flannel.

Because of the flannel’s cozy feel – brushed or not – it is usually used for sleepwear, different types of blankets especially the ones made for babies, and tartan clothing. Its popularity for being the main fabric of most tartan garments leads to the common mistake of automatically considering clothes with plaid patterns as flannel products.

History of Flannels

It doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the history of flannels. Besides, we will learn more about the essence of this fabric.

  • Etymology

    The most popular theory about the origin of flannel was that it was first discovered in Wales during the 16th century. However, the Welsh term “gwlanen” was not used as the basis for the word “flannel.” Some experts believed that flannel came from the Old French word “flaine” meaning “a kind of coarse wool.” Meanwhile, others considered the Modern French term “flanelle” more appropriate.

  • Popularity

    As early as the 17th century, flannel was already a thing. When it comes to manufacturing this fabric for the masses, it is said that in the 19th century, towns namely Llanidloes, Hay on Wye, Montgomeryshire, and Newtown were the major locations for the production of flannel. Studies even suggested that the popularity of flannel was related to the emergence of carding mills. Carding mills handled the preparation of wool for the fabric’s production. Drapers Company of Shrewsbury also did a great job of marketing Welsh flannel clothes.

  • Variations

    Ultimately, flannel had variations or types because of the differences between Irish, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Welsh versions. The main reason behind this was that each locality had a different quality of raw wool. Some types of wool were finer and softer than others.

    As generations passed, more flannel varieties emerged based on color. Today, dyes give color to flannel. However, the coloring process in the past was much different and complicated. Black, brown, blue and white wools were mixed together in different proportions. For lighter colors, sulfur dioxide was used to bleach wool.

    Aside from wool type and color, flannels also vary by material. By the 20th century, cotton and silk flannels started to capture buyers’ attention. These materials got even more popular when flannel trousers were widely used for cricket games and other sports. Flannel trousers were common until the 1970s.

  • Flannel vs. Plaid

    The never-ending misconception that flannel is synonymous to plaid probably intensified when grunge bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam dominated the 1990s music scene. Specifically, the vocalists of these bands were the ones who popularized plaid shirts through music videos, interviews, and live performances. Since fans tend to follow the style of their favorite artists, it was only natural that Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder’s typical look became influential. Plaid shirts were a hit in stores; many of them made of flannel. Hence people continued to associate flannel with plaid.

Types of Flannels

Nowadays, major variations of flannels are based on material and purpose. In the past, it was all about wool type and color. Here are different types of flannels in this modern generation:

  • Baby Flannel

    This type of flannel is designed to be lighter and cooler than the regular version. Childrenswear should be lightweight because kids are not supposed to suffer from intense heat and heavy clothes. In general, though, flannels are perfect for children since they are extremely soft.

  • Cotton Flannel

    Also called Canton flannel, cotton flannel is either a twill- or plain-weave fabric. Usually, only one side contains a long nap. Cotton flannel is ideal for linings, backings, undergarments, and some types of sportswear. It became popular in Canton, China sometime in the 1880s, hence the other term.

    Cotton flannel is not recommended for certain sportswear similar to running shorts and active socks. Polyester is much better for these specific sportswear products. Running involves constant movement for a long time, so it is best to stay away from any cotton fabric in this case.

  • Ceylon Flannel

    This flannel is a blend of cotton and wool. Each of these two materials has unique advantages, resulting in one high-quality fabric. The major purpose of cotton fabric is keeping the person comfy during hot days because of its lightweight fibers. On the other hand, wool fabric is thicker to keep you warm when needed. Imagine how balanced Ceylon flannel is since it has the best of both worlds; cotton is cool while wool is warm.

  • Diaper Flannel

    Clearly, diaper flannel is meant for cloth diapers. It has an ideal thickness with a nap on each side to be more absorbent. It is also made of cotton. Although it is kind of thick, it is still light enough for babies and toddlers. It is incredibly soft as well. The best thing about diaper flannel is that it is very durable. This fabric can last for years, making it useful for the next baby of the family.

  • Vegetable Flannel

    Vegetable flannel looks like hemp but softer and tighter. It can be used as linen for underclothes despite being firmer than the usual material. It was invented by a German named L. Léopold Lairitz in the 19th century. In his time, Scots pines were widely available hence the thought of using them for a new type of fabric.

    Regarding its purpose, vegetable flannel is a good hypoallergenic fabric since some people are allergic to wool. It was even believed to have health benefits and natural pest control properties back in 1900. So, a lot of blankets were made out of this material. They were used in barracks, prisons, and hospitals.


There is more to flannel than its undeniable softness.  What are flannels made of again? They are fabrics composed of wool, cotton, or synthetic fibers. They are commonly used for clothes, bed sheets, and blankets. Although it can also be used for plaid clothing, flannel is not the same as plaid. Throughout history, it branched out into different variations. First, the variations were based on wool type and color. Now, they are all about various materials and uses to keep up with the diverse needs of different consumers.