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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.