How to Wash Fabric Before Sewing

You just got back from a major fabric shopping spree, and are dying to get a few of your beautiful purchases cut out and sewn up as soon as possible. If fabric could fit in your pocket, it would be the equivalent of money burning a hole in it!

I hate to throw a damper on your enthusiasm and creativity, but we need to talk about pre-treating fabric before sewing with it. In the end, you will be very glad you took the time to prevent shrinkage problems in a completed garment.

If you’re new to sewing garments and becoming with the processes involved — from lining up a pattern to final touches — expert Brett Bara’s class Sew Ready: Garment Basics will help you to become familiar with the nitty gritty of creating a beautiful garment.

Selection of fabrics - How to Wash Fabric Before Sewing

Pre-washing fabrics

Fibers that need pre-washing

Almost all fabrics need to be laundered in the same manner that you plan to launder the completed garment. You can, however, skip pre-washing for 100% polyester fabrics such as polar fleece and minky, or vinyl such as faux leather. You can also eliminate this step if you will never launder the item, such as a wall hanging.

Different pre-treatment methods

The two main methods of pre-washing are your home washing machine and the dry-cleaners. You can also try hand-washing, although most of us tend to shy away from this task.

For example, if you plan to toss your cotton skirt in the washing machine using cold water, and then dry on medium, make sure to do the same with the fabric prior to construction. If your wool skirt and silk blouse will always go to the dry cleaner, then the yardage needs the same treatment before you cut out and stitch. If you prefer to hand wash your silks, and some wools for that matter, you can do so and then hang the yardage to dry on a rack in your bathroom.

One quick tip: either serge or zigzag the cut edges of your fabric together before you toss it in the washing machine. This extra step will prevent raveling and the fabric from twisting into a snarled up knot.

Cotton fabrics

Guidelines for the right pre-treatment method for the fiber

Cotton

  • Voile and lawn do better with a gentle or hand-wash cycle in your washing machine, or hand-washing is also an option. A few minutes in the dryer followed by hanging dry is fine.
  • Broadcloth or quilting weight cotton does fine in the washing machine and dryer. Be sure to use the temperature settings that you plan to use for the garment, or higher to minimize future shrinkage.
  • Flannel loves to shrink, so I try to remember to use hot water and a hot dryer when pre-treating. That way when my normal cooler laundry temps won’t cause more shrinkage of the garment.
  • Knits also love to shrink, so I handle these just like flannel. After construction I try to keep them out of the dryer, except for a few minutes to remove wrinkles and excess moisture.

Rayon

I have had mixed results with rayon, but in general, knit or woven, it likes to shrink. For yardage only I wash on gentle in warm water, and dry in a medium dryer. As with cotton knits, I keep all rayons out of the dryer after construction.

Linen fabrics

Linen

Wash away! Linen will soften up after laundering, so you can freely toss the yardage and the finished garments into both a hot bath and a hot dryer.

silk fabrics

Silk

There are plenty of differences of opinion on how to handle silk, but my preference is baby shampoo in the bathroom sink and then hang dry. Dry cleaning is another option, and personal preference will dictate what is right for you.

wool fabrics

Wool

Another fiber that elicits varying thoughts about how to handle is wool. I go for dry cleaning 100% of the time, though I do know people who wash wool in baby shampoo or other gentle soap and hand dry. Maybe I’ll try it!

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14 Comments

Melissa Carlson

Is Dryel or other home dry cleaning an option for pe-shrinking yardage?

Reply
Graceful Sewing

Although I have Dryel quite a bit to clean my clothing, I would not suggest that as a method of shrinking fabric. Dryel’s whole concept is a method of cleaning and protecting your clothing so it will last longer. I think the effort the company put into protecting our garments will prevent the cloth from shrinking as much as it would at the dry cleaner. So even when I plan to clean my garments at home with Dryel, I take the yardage to the cleaners and ask them to “steam shrink” the fabric for me. At some establishments, that is less expensive than dry cleaning it and accomplishes what you need. They use adequate steam on the fabric to cause the fabrics to shrink as much as they are going to and they have large enough facilities to allow the garment to remain in the same place until it is completely dry. I have a steam generator iron and a “press” both but I still don’t get the same results at home as I get at the dry cleaners. The price involved makes the difference in a finished garment that looks professionally made and one that has the look of being made by “loving hands at home”, that needs a little help.

Reply
Bobbi

Hi

I have bought a large amount of corduroy fro skirts and a number of lengths of polyester velour. Do I need to preshrunk these. I’m just starting out and not share what fabrics need preshrinking

Reply
Anita

According to Threads Magazine, this is what they say specifically about Corduroy: “If you’re planning to wash the garment after sewing, always preshrink the fabric (plus any lining, zipper, interfacing, or underlining) before cutting. If you plan to dry-clean the completed garment, you may still want to prewash the uncut fabric for a softer, cushier texture.” I personally, do not pre-wash zippers and interfacings :)

Read more: http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/4996/corduroy#ixzz3Q8uyx7B5
Follow us: @threadsmagazine on Twitter | ThreadsMagazine on Facebook

Reply
Graceful Sewing

I don’t preshrink zippers either, but I do place fusible or non-fusible interfacing in a bin of barely warm (NOT HOT) water and let it sit for about 20 mins, Then I drape it over the shower rod or my drying rack (depending on how much yardage I purchased) and let it dry completely. Do not agitate it or wring it out. You will damage any glue on the fusibles and end up with a mess.

Reply
Kim

Could you tell me how to preshrink FUSIBLE interfacing? Thank you.

Reply
Kathleen

My darling daughters brought me six 3meter lengths of silk and silk brocade from a trip to India. two questions. Can I prewash these fabrics in cold water? Should I interline to give them added strength? I plan on making “usable” clothing.

Reply
Joy

I was wondering, does it mean all the Big Designer Labels pre-launder all their fabric before production?

Reply
Graceful Sewing

No, they do not. That is often the only reason that garments purchased from them have to be dry cleaned. If they had preshrunk the fabric, we could toss it in the washer and it would do fine. But because they skip this step, we are left with huge dry cleaning bills so they could save a few dollars and make us think we are. Also, on clothing that is washable, you will often find the the seams are a just little gathered coming out of the dryer, or that the garment is not quite on grain like it was (that why our garments tend to look old quickly). The best way to handle these is to gently tug on each end of the seams (particularly in knit fabrics) and straighten it out while warm. The lay the garment out flat or neatly fold it without wrinkles and let it set until it cools completely. If the garment is twisted off grain, gently tug on the two shorter corners to pull it back into alignment and then proceed as above. Your clothing won’t have the advantage of custom-made (and preshrunk) does, but it will look better and last longer.

Reply
Kim

In regard to the comment that you don’t have to preshrink fabric that will not be laundered: I believe you DO need to preshrink any part of the fabric that will be steamed during garment construction. For example, if you plan to add fusible interfacing, you need to preshrink that part of the garment BEFORE you cut it. I learned this lesson the hard way!

Reply
Susan

For wools you can also do the “London shrink” to get shrinkage out before sewing. You lay your woolen on a flat surface (I use a bed) spray on water in a fine mist until lightly covered with water. Do not soak the fabric. Then allow it to dry. Then steam press (not iron, just press in one spot and lift the iron). Learned this trick in a tailoring class in a college fashion department. It takes a bit of time but you are assured that when you steam press in construction no further shrinkage will occur. You do need to have the garments dry cleaned after wearing.

Reply
ChrisBee

In reference to washing 100% cotton flannel in hot water, I found hot water fades cotton flannel, especially dark plaids. Hot water also fades the lighter flannel colors. I only purchase quality flannel yardage. I discovered it’s the hottest dryer temp that mostly shrinks fabric, not hot water. Perhaps you could be more specific about the hot water temps. Some say 120 is considered hot. My hot water is 154/160 because the hot water tank is set on high. I’ve ruined flannel yardage using those high temps.

Reply
frannella

ChrisBee, I am not so much of a garment sewer as I am a quilter. Your comment about washing flannel in hot water resulting in faded frabric grabbed my attention. On the package information of the pricey cotton bats I use for most of my quilts (I also use wool and silk batts), there is a warning about drying the quilt fabrics in the dryer. Essentially, the bat manufacturers say that dryer heat (as opposed to prewashing?) compromises the surface dyes of fabrics. Just throwing it out there–could be the hot water, could be the hot dryer, could be both are a factor in fading. Having read your comment, I will start testing washing and drying practices and writing down the results. Thanks for your comment.

Reply
Amy

Thanks for the tip! I just purchased 2 cuts of linen and have put my first batch in the wash.

Reply

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