Some quilters like to wash all of their fabric before cutting it, other quilters prefer to use unwashed fabric. While there are definitely pros and cons to prewashing fabric, there are times when all quilters should wash their fabric. It's important to know when you really must wash and, when those times arise, how to wash quilting fabric to avoid ruining it.
You should wash your quilting fabric if:
You plan to dye the fabric
Most fabric dyes work best on fabric that has been washed to remove any chemicals left in the manufacturing process. Check the dying instructions on your fabric dye to see if you should pre-wash your fabric.
The quilt will be given to a baby or child
Quilts given to a baby or child should be washed either before the fabric is cut, or after the quilt has been bound. This removes any chemicals or other residue from manufacturing that might irritate the sensitive skin of a baby or child
You have allergies
If you have skin allergies and find that you are sensitive to dyes in fabrics, you might want to wash the fabric before cutting to reduce or eliminate any reactions.
You are concerned about shrink or bleed
If you plan to wash the quilt after it is completed, you may want to wash the fabric beforehand. Washing the fabric before cutting it will reduce the amount of shrink and wrinkles in the finished quilt when washed. However, some people like the vintage look that comes from washing a quilt pieced from unwashed fabric.
When using fabrics with high contrast (especially red and white combinations), washing your fabrics before stitching will reduce the color from later bleeding onto the light fabrics during washing or storing the quilt.
You are using materials that require pre-washing fabrics
Some materials, such as some fusibles used in appliqué, require prewashing the quilting fabrics before using the fusibles. Read the package instructions on any materials you use in your quilts.
Psst, do you enjoy appliqué? Then check out one of my favorite Craftsy classes, 20 Fresh Appliqué Techniques.
You are making a garment
Every now and then, quilters make clothes instead of quilts. Prewashing fabrics before making a garment will take out the shrink, ensuring that the garment you make stays the size you stitched it. If you plan on sewing a garment, read this article on washing fabric for garment sewing.
Got the need for clean? Here's how to successfully wash quilting fabric:
1. Before washing your quilting fabrics, you must prepare any raw edges. The raw edges will fray in the wash. If you don't prepare the edges before washing, the frayed threads can wrap around the fabric and washing machine, creating a tangled mess.
Here you can see the fraying results from different ways of preparing fabric:
The easiest way to prepare fabric for washing is to use pinking shears. Cut along the raw edge of the fabric using pinking shears. Do not cut off the selvedge. You can do this very easily with a pinking blade on your rotary cutter.
Fringing the edges of the fabric creates less fraying in the wash than pinking shears, and is easy to do. Use shears to cut 3/4" slits along the raw edge of the fabric, with each cut about 1/2" apart. If you fold your fabric so that the two raw edges meet, you can cut both sides at once.
2. Once your fabric has been prepared, you can wash it in the washing machine. Use a gentle detergent that has no dyes or perfumes. Soak Wash makes a fabric wash specifically designed for quilting fabrics. If your washer has a second rinse cycle, take advantage of it to rinse out any extra residue.
3. After washing, you can dry your fabric in the dryer on the cotton or "permanent press" setting. Once the fabric has dried, prepare your fabric for cutting by ironing the fabric with starch or Best Press.
Some quick tips before you start washing your fabric:
- Buy 5-10% extra fabric if you plan to prewash. Your fabric will shrink in the wash, and nothing is worse than cutting into your fabric only to find that you don't have enough!
- Flannels shrink more than quilting cottons, and high quality quilt cottons shrink less than cheap cottons.
- If you expect your fabric to bleed in the wash, add several color catchers to absorb the dye. These can be purchased in the laundry aisle of your grocery store.
- Don't wash pre-cuts before sewing — they will shrink, and no longer be square or the right size for most pre-cut patterns.
- When making a quilt, all the fabrics should either be washed or unwashed. Don't mix washed fabrics with unwashed fabrics.
- Wash like colored fabrics together: reds with reds, blues with blues, whites with whites, etc. to keep colors bright and prevent any bleed.