Washing Fabric, part one

I am revisiting an old post.  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?


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.

  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.

3 thoughts on “Washing Fabric, part one

  1. I’ve been going back and forth on this issue and your e-mail helped me to decide. I’m going to make the 2010 Pieced quilt on The Quilt Show. I’m living temporarily in a very small apartment in Vermont and my stash is in Washington state, so I bought their kit. My mother always said that when she paid so much for fabric, it should be ready to sew with and not have to be washed. I will have to use the commercial washing machine and pay for the pre-washing. It’s such a hassle especially since the background fabric is 10 1/2 yds. I need to do it tonight, but perhaps I’ll wait for tomorrow’s post.


  2. My family has an allergies to unwashed fabrics even in ready made clothing. Rashes and hives are not a nice thing. So we zig zag the edges of fabric and wash and dry before it is ever used or stored. The zig zagging stops the thread tangles in the wash and you have less of a mess to undo when you take them out of the washer. It takes only a couple minutes. In large background pieces can you cut them to a more managable size then wash? Chris


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