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?
- 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.)
- This skewing effect is likely to be more noticeable on bigger shapes than on small shapes.
- You should not count on pre-cut fabric holding its size or shape.
- For me, this confirms that it pays to pay attention. You never know when you might learn a new thing.
- This is just one more reason to consider laundering your fabric before you use it.