Thursday, March 3, 2016

Wishy Washy

Do you pre-wash your fabric?

I hear this question all the time when I'm leading lectures and workshops.

And the answer is I do pre-wash my quilting fabrics. I know this is one of those controversial quilty questions and there are firm opinions on either side of this question.

Therefore, before I tell you how I wash my fabric, let me tell you why I pre-wash my fabric.

5 Really Good Reasons to Pre-Wash Your New Quilting Fabrics

  1. Pre-washing the fabric equates to pre-shrinking the fabric. This translates to less shrinkage once the quilt is assembled and washed.
  2. Removal of excess dyes. This may not seem like a very big deal, and nearly all of today's quilting fabrics are colorfast. But you can't tell by looking at a fabric if it's going to be the one that bleeds from one fabric to the next or from the front to the back of the quilt. I'd much rather know that a fabric is prone to bleed before I put in 1,000 hours of quilty assembly time.
  3. If the fabric is going to release excessive dye when it's pre-washed, chances are it'll continue to bleed once it's in your project. Identify it and banish if from your cherished to-be quilts.
  4. Chemicals and sizing are added to the fabric in the manufacturing process, pre-washing removes those chemicals, making the fabric more accepting of products I want to add to make my quilt, like fusible web, fusible interfacing, or freezer paper.
  5. It's one more opportunity to really appreciate my fabric before I store it away or cut into it for a project. I love the touch and feel of freshly washed fabric, so a part of me really likes to indulge myself!

Now that you know WHY I like to pre-wash my fabric, here's a quick-and-dirty (or would that be quick-and-clean?) run-through.

Instead of throwing my freshly-cut fabrics directly in the washing machine, I use my wash basin instead. This way, I can see any of the dye-releasing culprits, and I'll keep from having all kinds of raw-edge thread tangles and fraying.

When I was in North Carolina and Georgia last month I purchased some purple prints for a yellow and purple themed scrap quilt that needs a border. Rather than bring the quilt top along (that would have been smart!) I went by memory and chose a few prints that I liked, and brought them home to audition with the quilt. I always wash similar-value fabrics together to keep bleeders from invading non-bleeders.

(Have you ever thrown a red shirt in the wash along with your husband's tighty-whities? The red shirt can turn them into tighty-pinkies - that's why I put similar color intensities together)

Fill the basin with HOT water and a squish of dish soap (it dissolves quickly) And swish around.

Let the fabrics sit in the hot water for about 15 minutes, swishing occasionally. Notice that the water in the corner is a light-ish purple. This doesn't alarm me. A certain amount of dye-release is normal and expected. If the water turned the color of grape Kool-Aid, I'd be concerned and look for the culprit and evacuate it from the bath, and refresh the water before the dye adheres to the other fabrics.

Do you see how having the fabrics in a basin allows you to watch for the bad guys?

Drain the hot water, then fill the basin with the fabric with clear COLD water. This should stop any of the excess dye release. Also notice the suds. Make sure you add enough water to get excess soap out of the fabric. Do a second cold rinse if needed. (Impatient Joan usually only does one rinse)

Washer next (Aren't these exciting photos? yep, just like doing laundry, but so much better!)

With the soaking wet fabrics in the washer, set it to drain and spin, or a similar setting on your washer. We just want to spin out excess water before placing the fabrics in the dryer.

Spun-dry fabrics to the dryer next. Because this is part of the process where the fabrics are pre-shrunk, I like to set the heat pretty high, but not hot-hot. (I don't want crispy critters). Depending on how much fabric is spinning around, I only let it dry maybe 10-20 minutes.

Once removed from the dryer (best if the fabrics are removed just shy of completely dry) They only need a light pressing before being folded and stored or used. When I do laundry, I detest ironing. DETEST it. But I don't mind pressing my quilt fabric! I love the feel of the freshly washed cottons and the luscious, vibrant color!

Now I have to decide which one of these purple-y prints is going in the quilt . . .

One exception to my pre-wash rule, I don't pre-wash pre-cuts. I mean, let's not get too crazy here, right?

And a bonus tip for you. If you give a quilt as a gift, consider adding a dye-catching laundry sheet in a plastic bag with the quilt's washing instructions. I even put *cold water wash, gentle dry* on the quilt's label.

Happy Stitching!



  1. I've always prewashed. I do it like you do, less the 15 minutes.
    I ruler fold neatly from the dryer, and press when I need to, for a quilt.
    I do it because of number four.

    1. Well, impatient Joan doesn't *always* stick to the 15 minute rule! And yes, #4 can make a huge difference between washed and not-washed fabrics. Hard to imagine that it would, but it does!

  2. Fun wash, because afterwards you can enjoy the fabric.

  3. When you add your fabrics to the washing machine, do you soap them or just rinse them?

    1. I'm only using the washer to spin out most of the water. I don't add rinse or soap at that point. Just spin.

  4. I don't have or use a dryer. I hang my washing outside or inside to dry. Will ironing do the heat-setting instead?

    1. Hi Ruth, it's not really the heat-setting that the dryer does, it's that last bit of shrinking from the heat. Hanging the fabric outside would have the same effect, I would think. By the way, I would love to see your clothesline the day after a quilt shop shopping spree - I bet it's pretty when it's filled with all that colorful cloth! Nothing like the smell of laundry dried outside, don't you think?

  5. Thanks for this post. I have always pre-washed for the same reasons except that I never thought about it making them more accepting to fusibles and other things. I work with a lot of batiks and find the reds and purples most often do bleed some but also find that there is an end to it. I will still include them in a quilt but maybe skip the white or cream backgrounds when doing so. I love your idea of including a dye-catching laundry sheet with a quilt gift. I will definitely do that! Thank you too for your posts every Thursday on the Splendid Sampler. I am behind several blocks but look forward to each post and will get back on track with it.

    1. Thanks, Julie. I agree about the batiks, they do stop bleeding, but it's wise to keep the white pairings away! Remember, you aren't really 'behind' with your Splendid Sampler blocks, you're just going at your own pace and enjoying the ride!