Rag quilting is a very different type of quilting and there are lots of questions when people first set out to sew a rag quilt. In addition to our “How to Make a Rag Quilt” article, we hope these Rag Quilt FAQs will give you the answers to your rag quilting questions. We’ve broken common questions into sections to help you find your answers faster.
Rag Quilt Fabrics
Can I use something other than flannel in a rag quilt? Yes, many rag quilts are made of non-flannel materials.
Can I use Minky in a rag quilt? Yes, but it will not fray. Minky will not produce the ragging, or fringe, effect of other fabrics.
Can I use Fleece in a rag quilt? Yes, but it will not fray. Fleece will not produce the ragging, or fringe, effect of other fabrics. However, the clipped edges will curl and stretch over time to some degree.
Can I use T-Shirts in a rag quilt? T-Shirt fabric is a knit and usually does not fray. It will behave mostly like fleece, leaving the clipped areas intact but stretched and curly over time. One solution is to applique the T-Shirts onto a square of fabric that will fray before constructing your quilt.
What kind of fabrics can I use in a rag quilt? Flannel, quilting cotton, muslin, and denim are the most common fabrics used in rag quilting and all fray very well. You can see the differences in cotton, flannel, and fleece in our rag quilt fray test.
How can I tell if a fabric will fray? Pinch the cut edge of the fabric and lightly pull against the weave of the fabric down the edge. If strings come loose from the fabric, it will likely fray very well.
What goes in the middle of the rag quilt? The most common middle layers of a rag quilt are flannel, cotton, or batting. For lighter weight quilts, the middle layer can be omitted completely.
Can I mix fabrics? Absolutely! Just be aware that some fabrics stretch and/or shrink at different rates and a test swatch (sandwich) is recommended before committing time, money, and effort into a full quilt.
Will batting fray? Batting does not fray. Some batting will eventually wash away if it is exposed in the seam but other batting (usually synthetics) will neither fray or dissolve if left exposed in a seam.
Do I need to prewash my fabric? There is no definitive answer for this question and it is one of the most divisive questions in any sewing subject. We prefer to not prewash unless mixing old and new fabric, and have never had a running or shrinking issue. Others have had running and shrinking issues. We recommend you test wash a swatch of your specific fabric before deciding if your fabric will need prewashing or not.
How do I use batting in my rag quilt? It is recommended to cut your batting smaller than your fabric so that the batting does not show in the exposed seams. Please consult your batting package to get the stitch rating (how much stitching is needed to hold the batting in place).
How much fabric do I need for a rag quilt? That varies based on your seam allowance, pattern, and desired size but there are many charts available to help you do the calculations. We like the chart from Fairfield World at the end of their Project Linus tutorial.
Quilting and Top Stitching
Do I have to sew an X? No, you do not have to sew an X. You can sew any design you like. In many cases you can omit the quilting/top stitching step all together. However, if you use batting, you must follow the recommended stitch rating or risk the batting bunching in your quilt.
Can I embroidery my rag quilt squares? Yes, you can use embroidery on your quilt squares. However, remember this is a quilt as you go process and the back of embroidery is not always neat. Because of this you may wish to embroidery the top fabric first, then sew the sandwich together by sewing around the outside of the embroidery design.
Can I use free motion quilting techniques in my rag quilt? Absolutely!
What thread do I use for rag quilting? You can use regular sewing thread or machine quilting thread for rag quilting. Other threads may also be used but be mindful of the strength of the thread being lower in some decorative thread cases. In general, either polyester or cotton thread can be used.
Can I applique my rag quilt? Absolutely! You can use traditional applique techniques or a rag style applique like we did in our team spirit rag quilt.
What seam allowance do I use when putting my rag quilt together? There are several seam allowances commonly used, with smaller allowances used with smaller squares. The most common are 1/2″ allowances with blocks up to about 8″, 3/4″ and 5/8″ allowances used for medium-sized blocks and strips somewhere between 6″ and 12″, and 1″ or larger seam allowances used with the larger blocks that are 9″ or larger. It is perfectly fine to use whatever allowance you prefer with any size block, just remember to make adjustments to your fabric calculations for the amount of fabric used.
Patterns and Styles
What size do I make my squares? Whatever size you want. Pick a size you like and add-on the amount of the seam allowance on each side to figure out what size to cut.
Can I use shapes that aren’t square in a rag quilt? Yes, many rag quilts are made from strips, triangles, or other shapes.
Can I use traditional quilt blocks in a rag quilt? Yes, you can use traditional quilt blocks. You can rag each piece or piece the block in a traditional manner and then rag join the whole block, or some combination of the two.
Where can I get more help making a rag quilt? The author of this article runs a Facebook group of several thousand members who answer questions daily and share ideas. You can find it on Facebook by clicking this link: Rag Quilting
How far apart do I make my cuts in the seam allowance? In general, the smaller the block, the closer together your cuts/clips should be. I like 1/4″ to 1/2″ apart.
How deep do I make my cuts? Stop your cut at least 1/8″ inch but preferably 1/4″ from the seam. This minimizes the risk of weakening or cutting the seam itself.
What scissors do I use for the rag cuts? You can use any scissors you like but most find that spring-loaded scissors help to minimize hand strain. My personal favorites are Fiskars snub nosed rag snips. Fiskars has a lifetime warranty and I have heard very good things about their customer service responsiveness whenever anyone has any problems with their scissors.
Washing and Drying
Can I wash my rag quilt at home? You can wash your rag quilt at home BUT some household plumbing and some washing machines may be damaged by excessive strings.
Do I have to wash my rag quilt at a laundromat? Many wash their rag quilts at home but only you, your plumber, and your washing machine and dryer expert can tell for sure if your machines and plumbing can handle the strings cast off by a rag quilt or if you MUST use a more powerful laundromat machine. Note that some laundromats have larger industrial washers and dryers in addition to the standard wall washers and dryers that you may need to use even at the laundromat.
Can I dry my rag quilt at home? If you dry your rag quilt at home, be sure to clean the lint trap/filter before drying and several times during the drying process.
Can I wash my rag quilt in a pillowcase to reduce the strings? Some people are placing their rag quilts inside large muslin bags before washing to catch most of the strings. Others use clean towels to catch many of the strings. Towels or bags should be shaken outside to remove strings or you will spend a lot of time sweeping up strings in your laundry room if you try to shake them off indoors.
My rag quilt is covered in strings, how do I remove them? Shake off the rag quilt outside to remove loose strings. Then use a lint roller or packing tape to remove remaining strings. Note that the quilt will continue to throw off a lot of strings for several washings but the amount will lessen with each wash and dry.
My flannel pilled, what do I do? Flannel from the same manufacturer can be low pill or pill badly depending on the procedures of the mill it was manufactured in and the process notes are not always on the bolt. Manufacturers often use multiple mills for the same print. If your flannel pilled you can use tape to remove loose pills and then carefully use a sweater shaver or men’s hair clippers to remove the rest.
How can I reduce flannel pilling? You can reduce flannel pilling by washing your rag quilt with soft materials (avoid anything with buttons or zippers or hooks), using cold water, adding vinegar to the wash, using a gentle detergent, and drying on low heat.