DIY flannel receiving blanket with custom stencil design

DIY Custom-Printed Flannel Receiving Blanket

Remember that incredibly soft, GOTS certified flannel we used for the Eco-Friendly Blanket project? Were you thinking: these blankets are great, but wouldn’t it be fun if I could also make one with a pattern on it? Me too! So I set out to find some kind of paint, ink, or dye that would let me do just that.

Obviously any fabric paint will stick to the oh-so-soft Two-Sisters flannel fabric, the trick is to find something that will not diminish the softness. After experimenting with what felt like every fabric paint, marker, dye, pen, etc. on the market, I finally found one that works. The flannel stays soft! It’s perfect for making a custom-printed receiving blanket. I really couldn’t wait to get started on mine.

What you need to make a receiving blanket

  • 1 yard flannel twill (from Two-Sisters Ecotextiles)
  • Dye-na-Flow fabric color from Jacquard
  • Paint brush
  • Plate or tray to catch paint drips
  • Cookie cutters for stenciling
  • Cotton drop cloth, dish towel, batting
  • Waterproof surface, trash bag, or drop cloth
  • Scissors

Making a receiving blanket

Prepping the fabric

The first step is to pre-wash the flannel. This will remove any residual chemicals from the manufacturing process. It will also pre-shrink the fabric, so it doesn’t shrink later and distort the pattern. I used the warm water setting for the wash, and high heat in the dryer. That way, no one will have to worry about what setting to use for future washing.

After washing, I cut the yard of flannel in half. Now you have enough for two blankets! I actually used one half to test the durability of the fabric color, and the other to make the blanket I’m giving to a friend.

Next, cut the selvedge from each side. That’s the edge that doesn’t unravel, and looks like this:

detail of flannel twill selvedge

Then tidy the other two edges as necessary.

The next step in preparing the fabric is rounding the corners. This will make binding with a blanket stitch much easier. I like to use a mixing bowl to get an easy curve. Just tip it upside-down, align it with the edges at the corner, and trace around it. Like this:

rounding blanket corners with a mixing bowl

Then, cut along the line for a lovely, rounded corner. Repeat this for the other three corners.

Last, and this sounds really boring, but is absolutely necessary, iron the flannel. Wrinkles will make it difficult to get a good, clean design, so don’t skip this step. While the flannel dries from being ironed, you can start prepping your work space.

Preparing the work space

This part is going to vary by what you have available, so I’ll just tell you generally what needs to happen here. The reason the fabric color keeps the flannel soft is that it absorbs into the fabric, instead of staying on the surface where you could feel it. This is great for our receiving blanket project, but not-so-great for whatever surface you’re painting it on.

I found out the hard way that the fabric color will go right through the fabric when you paint it. Seems like a plastic sheet, trash bag, etc. would solve that problem, right? Well, not quite. The color also stays wet for a long time, so it will smear and bleed a little if the blanket is just on a waterproof surface. What does work, is a layer of thick cotton directly below the blanket, then a waterproof layer below that.

The cotton (I used a drop cloth) absorbs some of the extra fabric color and keeps it from bleeding. Then the waterproof layer keeps the color from staining the work surface below. I also like the drop cloth because I could drape it over the table and protect the surrounding floor from the fabric color. And me. I am a mess with paint, I don’t know why.

Anyway, my set-up looked like this:

table covered in drop cloth ready for fabric painting

Now let’s paint!

After all that prep, we’re finally ready to paint. Decide which cookie cutter you want to use first. Shake the paint (as directed on the packaging), then remove the lid. Press the cookie cutter firmly where you want the design:

cookie cutter held in place for painted receiving blanket design

Then use the brush to paint inside the cookie cutter. Push the brush in all directions so the fabric is covered evenly, adding more paint as necessary. Be sure to get into all of the edges. Like this:

cookie cutter stencil for moon design on receiving blanket

When you’re done, wait a second for the last application of paint to absorb, then carefully lift the cookie cutter straight up. If you pressed hard enough, the edges will be nice and crisp:

finished half moon stencil on flannel fabric

The good news is that even if the edges aren’t exactly perfect, the haze (fluffiness) of the flannel will make them less noticeable.

Keep going with your first color until you have as many stencils of it as you like. For me, that was just a few of the moons:

first color of stenciled blanket finished

Cap that jar, then shake the next color, and start stenciling with it.

Tip: I found that using a plate to hold the ink, cookie cutter, and paintbrush reduced drips, especially as I worked in the middle of the blanket.

use a plate to hold stencil, paint, and brush while working in the middle of the flannel blanket

Here’s my blanket after both sets of stencils:

flannel receiving blanket before binding

Be sure to leave about 1 1/2 inches (3 cm) of space around the edges to account for the binding. It also helps to recap and shake the fabric color periodically while you work.

Finishing your receiving blanket

Now all that’s left is binding the edges and heat-setting the fabric color.

Binding the edges

Once the fabric color is dry, it’s time to bind the edges to keep them from fraying. You can use any binding technique you like. I prefer the blanket stitch, folded twice. It completely hides the edges, and I like the little bit of detail the colorful embroidery floss adds. Craftsy has a helpful tutorial for blanket stitch here. There are a few extra things you will need for a blanket stitch binding.

Supplies for blanket stitch:

  • Twisted embroidery floss (5-8 ply)
  • Needle
  • Straight pins (optional)

Note: there will be some fabric color that seeps through to the ‘back’ side of the blanket. If this bothers you, use the other half of the yard of flannel as a backing. I don’t mind that the blanket has a back side, since most printed fabrics do. Here’s how mine looks:

back side of DIY printed receiving blanket

Heat setting

There are a few ways to heat-set the fabric color, but I find that using a commercial dryer is the easiest. When I finished binding the blanket, I headed to the local laundromat, with the blanket and a good book. I found an empty dryer, popped the blanket in (dry), and set it to the high heat setting for an hour. Yes, less time might have worked, but for all the effort I put into this blanket, I wasn’t taking any chances.

Now your blanket is completely machine-washable. Here is how mine looks after heat setting and one time through the washer and dryer:

finished receiving blanket bound and heat set

The color will fade a little from the surface as the fluffy nap of the flannel comes through. After ten trips through the washer and dryer on the setting I use for really soiled items, my test blanket looked like this:

detail of fabric color on flannel after ten washes

Over time, the pills will fade and the flannel will get even softer. Think of your favorite flannel shirt! In the mean time, if you can’t wait, use a lint brush to smooth the pills:

detail of fabric color on flannel after ten washes and brushing

Sooooo soft! I can’t wait to dive into my cookie cutter collection and make more of these. Have fun designing and making your own custom receiving blankets. If I had more floor space I’d make one in grown-up size, too.

DIY receiving blanket with moons and stars pattern

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