Fabric Washing – 2018 Update

I keep learning new things! The last time I wrote about fabric washing was in August 2017. (Click here, and on the link in that post, to read about why I always wash my fabric.) Since then I’ve made changes to my washing routine.  FYI: I never use laundry detergent or fabric softeners on my quilts or quilt fabric.

Retayne-RetroWash

  • I now use Retro Wash instead of Orvus Paste as the “soap” in the washer. Both work, but Retro Wash is easier to use.

Retro Wash is a powder. The instructions on the package are clear. Use 1 tablespoon per load in a top-loading HE machine. I don’t mix it with water first, but you probably could. I use the same amount of Retro Wash, no matter the size of the load, which might be wrong, but it works for me.

  •  Retayne is the chemical that sets the dye into the fabric. There is new, much improved, information on the label now.

The label says is to use 1 teaspoon of Retayne per yard of fabric in a HE machine, with warm water. It turns out that I wasn’t using near enough Retayne before! I mix the Retayne in a half-cup of water and pour it into the detergent receptacle.

Click here to find Retro Wash and Retayne.

  • Add 1 Color Catcher to pick up excess dye, just because.

Color Catchers catch the excess dye from the water. (I very much suspect that they have Synthrapol in them, but I don’t know that for sure.)

Since I changed my washing routine, the Color Catchers are coming out white, even in dark loads. I am happy!

When I wash quilts, I will use Retro Wash, at least 1 Color Catcher, and Synthrapol. Synthrapol keeps dye that has migrated into the wash water from re-depositing into the fabric. I haven’t done that yet — I’ll let you know when I do.

I do have one more bit of (mildly disturbing) news that I learned from a student who works for US Customs. There’s not a nice way to say it, so here goes: ships, and the containers on them, are often infested with vermin. Who leave droppings. ICK!!!!

I don’t know how fabric is wrapped for travel inside the container. It starts on rolls and later is folded, wound onto cardboard bolts, and then shrink-wrapped in plastic. That might happen here in the US, or overseas. Either way, the contamination is probably small. But still, that got my attention. (FYI: Most of our clothes are also imported so I’m now washing new clothes before I wear them.)

 

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!

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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.

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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.

 

Keep calm, move fast…

I set off my oh-shit-o-meter last night. Steve brought me a glass of red wine, setting it down next to my computer, as he does almost every evening. (He is really very good to me.) I knew it was there, the fault was entirely mine when I reached past the computer (exuberantly) and knocked over the glass, splashing/spraying wine everywhere. Well, not everywhere, but there were big drops on the floor as far as 4′ away.

The wine also spilled onto the stool next to the computer. The stool where I stack stuff. In this case, a basted quilt, folded backing side out. This photo is staged—I didn’t stop to take a picture last night. The papers on top of the quilt had been white. They are now seriously wine-stained, along with several other papers that I threw away last night. Luckily nothing much else was damaged.

Oops-01

Steve dealt with everything else while I grabbed the quilt and ran to the kitchen. First I tried drying the backing fabric with paper towels, which sort of worked. But, oh no, the batting was damp!!!

I grabbed a knife (because who has time to hunt for scissors in a crisis) and quickly cut the basting stitches.

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I peeled the top back before the wine soaked through to the mostly white quilt top. I found some scissors and whacked out the stained batting.

After I caught my breath, I hand washed the stained backing fabric with Orvus. I was careful not to get it too wet. I didn’t want the wine stain to migrate farther. I can still see a little purple, but no one but me (and you) will ever notice it.

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This morning I pulled back both the backing and the quilt top, placing the batting on a cutting mat. I cut a bigger piece of replacement batting and laid it behind the hole.

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I used a ruler to cut straight edges through both layers, discarding the excess batting.

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Then I basted the edges of the batting together.

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I carefully placed the 3 layers together and re-basted that corner of the quilt.

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That’s when I noticed a very light stain on some of the turquoise fabric in the quilt top. It wasn’t where the wine hit the quilt and then I remembered that that fabric was stained before I cut it up. I had washed it with something red which had bled, even though I had used a Color Catcher. I didn’t realize until this morning that I had sewn the stain into the quilt.

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This stain is almost invisible and I don’t mind it. I suspect it will remind of how lucky I was, this time.

Washing fabric…

A friend recently asked me the fabric washing question. I thought I’d share my response here on the blog… 


Linda and I ALWAYS pre-wash. As I remember it, people quit prewashing fabric back in the day when Harriet Hargrave came up with the idea that if you make your quilt with unwashed fabric, used a cotton batt, machine quilted it and then washed it, the quilt would look more antique. This is absolutely true. It helps to remember that this was back when machine quilting was not accepted in the quilt world and Harriet’s idea was a very big part of what helped machine quilting become accepted.

But, if you are not after the look of an antique quilt, we think you should still prewash because:

  • Fabric bleeds. How much it bleeds has a lot to do with the water chemistry where you are. There is a lot of variation in water chemistry.
  • Fabric shrinks – and not all at the same rate. In my opinion it’s better if fabric is shrunk before being sewn into a quilt.
  • I think prewashed fabric behaves better for both applique and piecing. And, no, I don’t add starch or sizing back into the fabric.
  • Fabric directly off the bolt has chemicals in it in addition to the sizing – formaldehyde being the one I dislike the most. There are also pesticides sprayed on merchandise as it enters the US and that may be in the fabric as well. I much prefer to wash those chemicals out of my fabric before I store it in the closet or sew with it.

So, I wash with Orvus Paste. I add a color catcher (made by Shout) if I am worried about bleeding. I also have Synthrapol and Retayne on hand (the bigger guns for controlling bleeding). I wash in the washer in cold water. I dry fabric in the dryer. I fold it and put it on the shelf until I’m ready to use it. Then I iron it.