Washing fabric…

A friend recently asked me the fabric washing question. I thought I’d share my response here on the blog… 

Linda and I ALWAYS pre-wash. As I remember it, people quit prewashing fabric back in the day when Harriet Hargrave came up with the idea that if you make your quilt with unwashed fabric, used a cotton batt, machine quilted it and then washed it, the quilt would look more antique. This is absolutely true. It helps to remember that this was back when machine quilting was not accepted in the quilt world and Harriet’s idea was a very big part of what helped machine quilting become accepted.

But, if you are not after the look of an antique quilt, we think you should still prewash because:

  • Fabric bleeds. How much it bleeds has a lot to do with the water chemistry where you are. There is a lot of variation in water chemistry.
  • Fabric shrinks – and not all at the same rate. In my opinion it’s better if fabric is shrunk before being sewn into a quilt.
  • I think prewashed fabric behaves better for both applique and piecing. And, no, I don’t add starch or sizing back into the fabric.
  • Fabric directly off the bolt has chemicals in it in addition to the sizing – formaldehyde being the one I dislike the most. There are also pesticides sprayed on merchandise as it enters the US and that may be in the fabric as well. I much prefer to wash those chemicals out of my fabric before I store it in the closet or sew with it.

So, I wash with Orvus Paste. I add a color catcher (made by Shout) if I am worried about bleeding. I also have Synthrapol and Retayne on hand (the bigger guns for controlling bleeding). I wash in the washer in cold water. I dry fabric in the dryer. I fold it and put it on the shelf until I’m ready to use it. Then I iron it.

9 thoughts on “Washing fabric…

  1. Girls, you are an inspiration. This is the first visit to your blog and I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with both of your adventures. The photographs are outstanding and I particularly loved the blog about Steve sewing. He’s always been such a supportive member of your team – I can still remember the quilt we did together on commission for the doctor’s wife. Whew, lessons learned! Blessings to you all for 2009! Love, Becky (formerly Reaves) Clary. Tulsa, OK


  2. Wow, don’t iron until I use it??/That’s a great idea. One of the things I dread about washing is the hours of ironing before I can fold and put away. But I always iron again when I use it so why bother. Thanks!


  3. Thank you for posting this. I try to convince so many people to wash their fabrics before quilting with stories like yours. I cannot imagine working with fabric that has not been washed .


  4. One of the things I hate most about washing fabric before I use it is all the strings that are created when washing. I have tried pinking the edges which helps a little, but it is still annoying. Any suggestings?Sue in NJ


  5. I am so glad I found your post because a friend and I were just discussing this. She doesn’t and I do; I was taught to pre-wash. But I like that antique wrinkled look and now I have a choice. Thanks!


  6. In answer to Sue: I’ve tried all the tricks to cut down on the threads and none work for me. I just cut them off after the wash, before the drying. It’s a hassle but part of the job. If I used them, the threads could be fun as surface embellishment. But that’s not me so I just throw them away. I should put them out for the birds to use in nests! Maybe I’ll start doing that!


  7. My friend and I were just talking about this the other day. Thanks for the enlightenment. Where can you by Orvus? at a craft store or Target? I will definitely get some. thanks for sharing


  8. I am very new to quilting, and am so thankful for your great information. I do have a question about jelly rolls or fabric cakes… would you also wash the small pieces of fabric before piecing them together? And how do I prevent them from badly fraying? Thank you so much!


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