To pre-wash or not to pre-wash: that is the ultimate quilting question. Some people swear by it, while others think it’s not worth the extra time. The good news: you can’t really go wrong either way! Here we present both sides of the argument, so you can decide what works best for your future project.
Those who won’t move forward on a quilting project until it’s pre-washed often do so for these reasons.
1. It Prevents Vibrant Dyes From Spreading onto Other Fabric
Some bright colors, like reds and purples, can run and bleed when washed, which is a devastating surprise when it happens to a finished quilt. Washing fabrics beforehand reduces this risk.
2. Fabric Shrinks When Washed and Dried
When stitched together, the fibers of the fabrics are pulled nice and straight. But laundering causes them to either shrink or relax back into their natural shape. If you haven’t pre-washed fabrics before they were cut and sewn, this can cause some distortion in a finished quilt.
3. It Removes Any Chemicals That Have Been Used on the Fabric
This is especially helpful for people who have sensitive skin, essentially giving the maker a clean slate that they know is safe for them to work on.
Tips for Pre-Washing
If you’ve decided to pre-wash your fabric , keep these tips in mind before tossing in the machine.
1. Sort Fabric by Colors, Separating Light and Dark
Always wash like colors together on a cold cycle with a gentle detergent, and follow the manufacturer’s directions for laundering. Once the wash finishes, shake out fabrics before tossing into the dryer. (And remove fabric promptly to prevent wrinkles.)
2. Trim the Edges Before Folding Your Fabric
The edges will fray during this process, so make sure to trim them off. You can also serge or zigzag stitch them to keep everything tidy.
3. Never Wash Precut Fabric
The small pieces are likely to get lost in your machine, so it’s best to avoid that situation altogether.
Team No Pre-Wash
Some quilters think pre-washing fabric is a waste of time — here’s why.
1. A Little Shrinking Isn’t Such a Big Deal
We’re not talking massive distortion here, rather the cozy, crinkly look you get after laundering a quilt made from fabrics that weren’t pre-washed. The exception here is flannel and minky fabric — they shrink a lot and should always be pre-washed.
2. Dyes Bleed Way Less Than They Used To
Many manufacturers realize that pre-washing isn’t exactly fun, so they work hard to ensure that dyes are set completely. If you’re really concerned about this though, do a test: soak a small piece of fabric in warm, soapy water. If the water is still clear after 30 minutes, you’re good to go. If the water has taken on color, pre-wash the fabric with a color fixative like Retayne, which helps the dye become more permanent.
3. Unwashed can be Easier to Piece
Starches and sizing agents provide that extra crispness that makes it behave so nicely during piecing.
4. It Won’t be Laundered Again
If you’re making something purely decorative, like a wall hanging, that won’t be used and laundered over time, there’s no reason to take that extra step. Skip straight to crafting!
Will my canvas fabric be easier to sew pre-washed or NOT-prewashed?
What is Synthrapol?
Very informative for a beginner such as myself
I always prewash. Some fabrics such as Tilda recommend you do as they will have some shrinkage.
No pre-washing needed, even with flannel backing. I have only had one color “run” ( Indigo) and it happened before the wash. Most came out with the first washing. I always use color catchers with the first wash.
I almost never pre wash my fabric. I like that little pucker when I take a finished quilt out of the wash for the first time. 99% of my quilts are meant to be used and loved, they are taken on picnics and laid on the grass, food spills on them, they are dragged around by little kids. Babies spit up on them. They are going to get used, washed, dried, washed again, and no one is going to look at they little edges that are not perfectly straight. I’ve only had a problem with colors running once, and that was on a red minky back and some old rickrack that I found that was g-d knows how old. I don’t even pre wash Flannel or Minky and I’ve never had a catastrophe.
The exception, hand dyed fabrics. I had a pack of hand dyed fat quarters that I had to wash 3 times before the color catcher was clean.
I also always use synthrapol when I’m washing a quilt the first time.
On a similar note, I also use spray niagra starch on the fabrics before I start piecing. I find the crisp fabric helps me to piece much more accurately than the softer fabrics. I used to use BestPress but that got to be expensive and hard to find so I use the niagra. I know it’s not great for long term use, but I only use it once and I always wash my quilts before I give them as gifts so were all good.
Yea,totally agree with you I’ve been quilting seen I been 7 and I’m 69 , and I made many ,many quilts and never per wash ever and never had problems ,and yes they have been washed and Jesé’s time and time again my grands kids love to sleep and just have the warmth around them.
In my classes at NMSU, our professor, doctorate of fabric design, always prewash fabrics, but that was in 1994, but at 70 I still prewash and then spray with Niagara starch on wrong side. I do not wash small pieces nor laser cuts. Happy Quilting!
After all the Quilts I have made, only two big disasters when washed after being made. One a complete top made by someone else which I was going to sandwich, quilt and
complete. The fabric pieces ended up every which way, bulging and pulling.
The others have all been baby Quilts with some flannelette, usually for the backing. I always wash the fabric for these now as they irretrievably buckled.
Go team pre-wash. Love the smooth feel. If wash pre-cuts just out in lingerie bag. Easy
Go team pre-wash. Love the smooth feel
I have been bitten by colors running in finished quilts. My rule of thumb is to prewash yardage and don’t prewash fabric if any type of precuts will be used in the quilt. I also use a color catcher in the prewash. If it comes out colored, I wash again until the color catcher comes out clean. I also use Retayne (for printed fabric) or Synthrapol (for batiks) in the prewash. When I wash a finished quilt the first couple times, I throw in color catchers. If the color catchers come out white the first time, then all is good.
Question what is color catchers?? I am new to quilting
Colour Catchers are small sheets. Which you place in the wash to soak up any loose dyei in the water. They can be bought from most large super markets. I always place at least x 2 in the machine when cold washing a quilt.
color catchers work for regular laundry too, helps any fabric that may bleed in wash
Some fabrics are woven tighter then others, pre-wash takes care. Of the shrinkage. My opinion, may not be yours. Share please.
I am nervously beginning on my first pieced quilt (Ive done one other thing an appliqued Christmas wall hanging years ago) I found this article helpful as I’m just getting my materials together. Wish me luck!
Ailsa – Good Luck!