How fabric shrinks…

I always wash my fabric in the washer and dry it in the dryer before I use it in a quilt. One of the reasons I do this is because cotton fabric shrinks and I like to use fabric at its final size.

Individual fabrics shrink at varying rates. I didn’t think about shrinkage details until I washed a 10″x10″ Layer Cake. Like all Layer Cakes, the squares were perfectly cut and all the same size before I washed them.

After laundering, I stacked the squares with the top and left sides even. Notice that the pieces are not square!


The pieces are all about the same length (close to 10″ long), but they vary in width. Once I got to thinking about it, that makes sense. Fabric should shrink more from side-to-side (between the selvages) than it does along its length.

I took the top piece off the stack and turned it sideways. The blue fabric is 5/8″ longer than it is wide. Remember, these began as 10″ squares. The shrinkage across 40″ would be 2 1/2″! Some fabrics shrunk less.


All of the fabric seems a little skewed. I think it’s probably because none of the squares were cut truly on-grain.

So, what is the takeaway?

  1. When you use unwashed fabric in your quilt, don’t be surprised if the shapes skew a bit when your quilt is washed and dried. (It’s possible that air-dried quilts won’t shrink/skew as much as quilts dried in a dryer.)
  2. This skewing effect is likely to be more noticeable on bigger shapes than on small shapes.
  3. You should not count on pre-cut fabric holding its size or shape.
  4. For me, this confirms that it pays to pay attention. You never know when you might learn a new thing.
  5. This is just one more reason to consider laundering your fabric before you use it.


19 thoughts on “How fabric shrinks…

  1. Thanks Becky for going through this exercise and sharing! Most of us know the fabric shrinks, we just didn’t realize how much and in what way.
    Love learning from you.


  2. Great test. Thank you for taking the time and sharing. I do wash all my favorites and use the stuff you recommended, clear container with a white cap (can’t remember the name at this time).


  3. I found this out with a charm pack too. As you said it is enough to make a difference. But if you need a whole collection it is about the only way to get it. I like precuts but use them on specific projects not on a regular basis. That being said they are great for applique!


  4. Hello Becky!
    I do always wash my fabric 🙂 I was wondering, I always thought precut pieces too small to launder in the wash, so I spritz them with water and starch and use my press to dry them. Would this be enough to shrink them all the way??


  5. Of course I think some of the charm of a quilt is how it looks after it’s washed. I only waher/dryer preshrink fabric for garments. I “preshrink” for quilts, with the hottest setting on a steam iron. That’s it.


  6. Becky, I am so glad that you have written about prewashing or not, I have always prewashed and sometimes I just want to jump in to start a project, but make myself prewash anyway, over the weekend I washed a bunch of fat quarters and s few did come out terribly askew and had to cut off a bunch to get them straight enough to use. In the long run after this happens I am so glad I choose to prewash.


  7. Thank you for doing this. I almost always prewash unless I am making a bag. There are two reasons. First so that the fabric is pretty much done shrinking and bleeding. Second, I suffer from chemical sensitivities and washing the fabrics prior to cutting greatly helps me.


  8. How did you keep from having a raveled mess? Did you put the squares in a bag or something? I wouldn’t even attempt to wash them or a jelly roll etc and expect anything usable to come out! Thanks for the info though.


  9. Thank you for this update on prewashing. There are a number of reasons to prewash and the only reason not to is laziness – and haste does make waste when your fabric shrinks or – horrors – runs after all that effort. I always appreciate your tips and recommendations.


  10. Thanks Becky–I always prewash my fabric too. For all the reasons–shrinkage, bleeding, & to get rid of the chemicals, which can sometimes bother me–also, the fabric feels better after prewashing. I do have trouble with the precuts fraying a lot, even when I wash them in a lingerie bag, but I do it anyway! Precuts that are smaller than a fat quarter, I usually wash by hand, & hang to dry so I can keep from losing so much fabric to the fraying!


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