Do You Pre-Wash Fabric?

Do you wash your cotton quilting fabrics before you start a project? This question is asked frequently at my workshops. My answer is yes, but washing fabric is a personal preference. I was taught as a young girl in the 4-H program to always wash my fabrics before starting projects.

Prewashing Fabric Before Sewing

The quality fabrics sold in quilt shops contain excess dyes and chemicals. I certainly don’t want to take the chance of a dark fabric bleeding onto a light fabric once the quilt is completed and washed. Along with the dyes, various chemicals are used to produce fabric. Formaldehyde is used to give the fibers stability. Bleaches are used to whiten the fibers. Chemical stiffeners are used to help with the weaving of the fabrics. More chemicals are used to relax the fabric after dying.

Fabrics can have quite a journey before they arrive at your favorite quilt shop. Most have been manufactured in another country. They travel in a container on a ship and then sit on a dock. The fabrics end up in a warehouse before being shipped to your local store.

Sometimes you may meet a friendly cat or dog on staff at a quilt shop. I love animals, but some members of my family are highly allergic to cats and dogs. Washing my fabric is a must. First stop is the laundry room when I bring home fabrics.

Fabrics shrink differently. Some of the shrinking occurs when the chemicals in the fabrics are released and the fabric relaxes. If you are using fabrics from more than one manufacture, the fabrics may crinkle or pucker when you wash your quilt after completion.

I wash my fabrics with like colors. I put a dye catcher sheet in with every load. There are several manufactures of these dye catchers. They can be found in the laundry section of your local store. I am always amazed at the colors of dye that are on each sheet after washing the fabric.

Prewashing Fabric Before Sewing Using Dryer Sheets

If I am feeling very ambitious, I will serge the edges of my fabric before washing. This will eliminate the fabrics from tangling together. Smaller pieces of fabric can be washed in a lingerie bag. Once washed I give my fabrics a good shake to remove wrinkles and air dry. I don’t have a clothesline. The fabrics are usually outside all over my patio furniture. With a good steam iron, fabrics should press out nicely and are ready to be cut. If you prefer you can spray starch your fabrics when ironing.

Prewashing Fabric Before Sewing with a Serger

Washing your fabrics may seem like more work in the beginning. There is always the excitement of new fabrics just waiting to be cut for a new project. A little work in the beginning might prevent an unwanted surprise in the end. See you in the laundry room!

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9 comments on “Do You Pre-Wash Fabric?”

  • I do prewash all my fabric but I buy mainly thrifted so it is an absolute must. I stumbled onto the lingerie bag for smaller pieces and that helps so much to reduce fraying.
    Just started following you on Feedly.

  • I stopped prewashing as I like the crinkly look after washing. But some of my stash is washed. I prevent tangled up strings by pinking the edges. Those edges are my clue that it’s pre washed….

  • You all seem to be coming from a quilters point of view. I am a garment sewer and I definitely prewash all my fabric. I once had 100% polyester shrink and the garment no longer fit. That was back in the 70s but I learned my lesson. ALWAYS PREWASH! I even preshrink wool with steam.

  • I always wash fabric before cutting out but now I use plain water. In the past when I used various detergents some darker pieces would come out with a lighter or whitish area through them that would not come out no matter what I did.

  • I am allergic to fabric before washing. I can just start itching just walking into some regular clothes stores..Soooo I have to prewash.
    I really miss touching fabric. My husband puts the fabric into the washer for me. Benadryl helps sometimes. With a grand baby on the way, of course I need more fabric………

  • Like Junkroon, my hands had become allergic to the chemicals on unwashed fabric. It was painful! So, I began prewashing all fabrics a few years ago. It was time since I felt the itch (ha ha!) to make clothing again. ☺

  • I have read about the implausibility of prewashing precuts until this solution was offered. Of course, massive fraying causes many to dismiss all thoughts of laundering precuts but buying a salad spinner will offer a nearly fray-free washing option with precuts.
    Just imagine sloshing your jellyrolls in sudsy water only to operate your hand-operated spinning system as all water gets spun out of your 2 1/2″ strips. Just imagine the damp strips hanging to quickly dry & then be pressed with spray from your best recipe of 1 gallon unscented Best Press & 1 quart oc Linen Best Press, then flattened using one’s Janome Heat Press (or whatever brand) but if a steamer, no, do not steam but spray & ‘Heat Press’ & then fold or re-establish jellyroll status as it’s put in the ‘ready to go’ fabric stash!
    Next, Take a nap!

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