Should You Pre-Wash Quilting Fabric?

woman drying fabric

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.

Team Pre-Wash

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!

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