Washing Fabric – Part 1

Linda and I always pre-wash our fabric – meaning that we wash it before we cut it up and use it in a quilt. Always. We wash in a washer and dry in a dryer.

I spend time in every class telling students why I wash my fabric and it seems like a good topic for the blog. So, why wash?

  1. Cotton shrinks when washed and dried. Not all cottons shrink at the same rate. For example, a batik shrinks less than most cotton off the bolt. If you construct a quilt with batiks and other fabrics, and then wash, your quilt can draw up in some areas and not in others. This often looks bad. You should also be aware that not all regular printed cottons shrink at the same rate either.
  2. Cotton can bleed. It is our experience that this is mostly due to water chemistry. Fabric washed in one place may bleed and it may not in other places. We think it’s much better to know if there’s a issue before you sew a problem fabric into your quilt. FYI – use Synthrapol, Retayne, or the Color Catchers made by Shout to control bleeding.
  3. In our opinion, pre-washed cotton behaves better. It tends to fray less because it has been pre-shrunk. It has a better hand. We have each used starch in the distant past but don’t any more because we haven’t noticed a need to use it.
  4. Pre-washing removes the chemicals and finishes from the fabric. Because I know quilters who can’t touch unwashed fabric, I asked my dermatologist about it. He said that, yes, these chemicals can cause problems for some people. He also said that some of these chemicals out-gas and that the fumes (that don’t bother most people) can be a problem. It’s also important to remember that most of our fabric is imported and that shipping containers are treated with insecticides and some of that residue could end up on your fabric.

So that answers the “why” question. Tomorrow I’ll answer the “how” question.

8 thoughts on “Washing Fabric – Part 1

  1. I also always wash my fabric and use Retayne and Synthrapol–especially with hand dyed fabrics. I also love Mary Ellen’s Best Press spray starch. If you haven’t tried it, do! Its wonderful stuff.

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  2. What a relief! I am not the only one trying to get people to wash their fabrics! The other reason I like to wash is because it is difficult to straighten unwashed fabric for rotary cutting. And, hand work is so much more pleasant without all that sizing. Love your blog!

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  3. Thanks for sharing you info. I used to wash my fabric before it ever went in the house (my washer and dryer were in the garage). I quit doing that, but have thought about going back to that practice. While I’m not affected by the fumes, etc, your insecticide comment made me realize that pre-washing is the better way to go. THANKS!

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  4. Thanks for a great post. In this hurry up quilting world, so many people don’t wash anymore. I’ve always been a washer, but often feel like a dinosaur when trying to justify my position!

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  5. All good reasons to wash fabric. I found that after I moved to an area that had “hard” water fabrics that had never bleed (and some washed before!) turned the water the color or their respective Kool-aid! At least they didn’t run into other fabrics. It was scary!

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  6. I am not always a good girl and pre wash it all but I do not do it as I hate the threads everywhere.But I got z zig zag blade or wave blade for my rotary cutter. Have it in an old one and cut the top and bottom even before I wash.It does not frey and it tells me I have washed that piece.

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