Do You Prewash Your Fabric?

There are two different camps for whether or not to wash cotton fabric before sewing, quilting, or embroidery. This is why you should.

Some people always prewash fabric before quilting and embroidery. Others, almost never prewash when using quality quilting cottons and prefer how easy the fabric’s sizing makes it to handle. Many believe that steam pressing is adequate to preshrink fabric.

Picture of floral machine embroidery designs at Sew Inspired by Bonnie

Enchanted Flowers

Bonnie normally recommends prewashing fabrics. Here are some benefits:

Excess Dyes and Bleeding

Reds, blues, and purples are most susceptible to bleeding onto lighter colors and that can spell disaster for any project. Prewashing intense colors helps to get rid of excess dyes.

If you have a fabric that bleeds or just makes you nervous, you may want to pretreat before washing using a color fixative like Retayne.

Color catchers (found in the laundry detergent section) often help tremendously when first washing an already assembled quilt, table runner, or wall hanging whose fabric was not previously washed. 

Picture of machine applique design using GlitterFlex at Sew Inspired by Bonnie

Eggsqusite Jewels

Shrinking/Puckering

Cottons can shrink. Laundering before piecing or embroidering helps to reduce that problem. Washing a quilted piece without prewashing the fabric can make it look slightly wrinkled when it is dried. Some actually prefer that vintage look. If you don’t, prewash your fabrics before using them. With flannel, definitely wash and dry before using it.

In the case of embroidery, you may get puckering after laundering if you do not prewash the fabric before stitching. Remember to pre-shrink your stabilizer, if needed, when embroidering. Some stabilizers will shrink after ironing which also causes puckering.

The other benefit is that prewashing removes chemicals and sizing which is good for items made for children and those with allergies.

Picture of Jungle Buddies machine applique designs using GlitterFlex at Sew Inspired by Bonnie

Jungle Buddies. See how to make the wonky blocks here!

How to Launder Fabric:

  • Use pinking shears or a pinking rotary cutter on raw edges, serge raw edges, clip a small corner off each end along raw edges, or fringe by clipping ¾” slits along the raw edge, a half-inch apart.
  • Wash with gentle detergent.
  • Dry on cotton or permanent press setting.
  • Iron using starch or Best Press.

Testing for Colorfastness

I have used this test on fabrics that made me nervous before I used them. 

  • Cut a small square of the fabric in question.
  • Soak it in cool, soapy water for a half-hour.
  • If the water is clear, lay the wet fabric on a paper towel. If the towel is still white after the fabric dries, it should be okay to use. 

Do you prewash fabric before using it?

 

 

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Comments

  • Bonnie Welsh - February 19, 2021

    Karen—You’re most welcome. I’m working on a t-shirt quilt right now too. I’ve never made a memory bear but they sure are sweet. =)

  • Karen - February 19, 2021

    I do wash 95% of my fabric. My client’s are bringing me their old T-Shirts for a quilts to be made. Fabric must mash whatever they bring me to work with. I also make memory bears out of their clothing. I wash the clothing and all fabric, to remove laundry softener, old stains . If I don’t wash the Pellon will not stay. Thank you for sharing your talents 💕

  • Bonnie Welsh - February 16, 2021

    Sharon—I like to serge the cut edge too just like you. Gives me a great visual. I did respond to your note from January 31st. That’s the last note I got from you. Maybe it landed in your spam/junk folder? It that’s not it, just let me know and I’ll respond as soon as I can. We’ve been having rolling blackouts all across Texas so my Internet has been very off and on lately. =/

  • Bonnie Welsh - February 16, 2021

    Sharon—You’re most welcome. So glad you found it all helpful. =)

  • Bonnie Welsh - February 16, 2021

    Bev—You sound very organized! =)

  • Sharon Bolin - February 16, 2021

    Bonnie,
    I always prewash my fabric. When I get it home from the store, I serge the cut edges, then wash it. I then prep it for putting on the shelf with my stash. When I’m ready to use it, if the edges are serged, I know for sure that it has bee washed.
    Sharon Bolin
    St. Simons Island, GA

    P.S. I’m still waiting for an answer to a question I sent you about a week ago. I’m wondering if it got lost someplace out there in cyberspace.

  • Sharon - February 16, 2021

    I prewash fabrics but didn’t think about stabilizer. Thank you for the great tip.

  • BevM - February 16, 2021

    I always preshrink fabric, zippers, and trims before taking them to my sewing room.

  • Bonnie Welsh - February 15, 2021

    Pamela—I must admit that I don’t always pre-wash as I haven’t found a way to pre-wash pre-cuts. But having a way to catch the color runs as they happen certainly have been helpful in those instances. But if I have a choice, I like to pre-wash too. =)

  • Pamela Meador - February 15, 2021

    I love this post.
    I’ve been Sewing for over 60 years and ALWAYS PRE- WASH.
    Back " in the day" fabrics would ALWAYS shrink and, for sure, the reds would bleed onto other fabrics.
    I make a habit of cutting the corner of each fabric that I buy as soon as I get it home, wash it and label the fabric content and washing instructions.
    By doing this, I know that the fabric is pre- shrunk and should not fade.
    I usually add a color catcher when I prewash. It PROVES THAT the fabrics do sometimes fade.

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