What do you do when you purchase new fabric? Do you toss it in the wash before you start quilting with it or do you sew with it as is?
A big debate in the world of quilting is whether or not fabric should be washed before it’s ever used in a quilt.Boundless Solids Fabric by the Yard
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What exactly is prewashing?
It’s just what it sounds like: washing fabric before use.
To do this, sort fabric by colors, separating light and dark. Always wash like colors together on a cold cycle with a gentle detergent. Once finished, shake out fabrics before tossing them into the dryer. Remove fabric promptly to prevent wrinkling. The edges will fray during this process, so trim them off before folding the fabric. If the fraying bothers you, the edges can be serged or zigzag stitched to keep them tidy.
Prewash? Don’t prewash? That is the question!
Most quilters seem to have a very definite opinion on the subject. There are many benefits to both options, so let’s take a look at them today.
Arguments FOR prewashing:
- It prevents vibrant dyes from spreading onto other fabric. Some bright colors, like reds and purples, can run and bleed when they are washed. This can be very devastating if it happens to a finished quilt. When fabrics are washed beforehand, the chance of this happening lessens.
- Fabric shrinks when it’s washed and dried. When woven together, the fibers of the fabrics are pulled nice and straight, so laundering causes them to either shrink or relax back into their normal shape. This can cause some distortion in a finished quilt if the items have not been previously washed before they were cut and sewn.
- Any sizing or chemicals that have been used on the fabric are removed before the fabric is used. This is especially beneficial to those who have sensitive skin.
Arguments AGAINST prewashing:
- The amount of shrinkage really isn’t that bad. Yes, it’s still there, but it creates the cozy, crinkly effect many quilters desire.
- With today’s quality fabrics and dye, bleeding is not much of an issue. Most manufacturers realize that a vast amount of quilters do not prewash, so they ensure that the dyes are set completely.
- Brand new fabric has sizing, creating a nice crisp material. This creates ease when cutting and piecing. Once the sizing is washed out, the fabric loses that crispness.
- Prewashing takes too much time! Plenty of quilters prefer to spend their precious crafting time cutting and sewing, not prewashing.
- When creating quilts that aren’t often used, like wall hangings and heirloom quilts, prewashing is unnecessary. The fabrics remain sharp, vibrant, and smooth.
If you decide to prewash your fabrics, here are a few tips:
- Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for laundering.
- Never wash precuts. The small pieces can get lost in your machines.
- Flannels and minky are soft additions to quilt, but and they should always be prewashed. They shrink a lot more than regular quilting cottons.
- If you decide not to prewash but are unsure about certain fabrics, always test them. To do this, soak a small piece of fabric in soapy water that is the same temperature you plan on washing the quilt in. If the water is still clear after 30 minutes, you are good to go. If the water has changed color, be sure to prewash the fabric with a color fixative like Retayne, which helps the dye become more permanent.
How about you? Do you prewash your quilting fabrics? Let’s hear your thoughts!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2013 and was updated in January 2018.