October 29, 2017

Prewashing Fabric + Sunday Stash

I pulled a few fat quarters for a new project I have in mind.  The creams are Starry Night in Putty by Elizabeth Hartman for Robert Kaufman and Mini Pearl Bracelets in Sand by Lizzy House for Andover Fabric.



The earthy greens are, from the top, an Outback print by Jinny Beyer for RJR from 2010, Jelly Bean by Westminster Fabrics, and Dottie in Olive by Cotton and Steel.


They have not been prewashed which I usually do before adding to any quilting project.



Why I Prewash Fabrics:


  • Remove Excess Dye - Prewashing will remove any loose dyes which may bleed onto the other fabrics in your project.  Even with today's manufacturing processes, there are still those fabrics that may occasionally bleed.
  • Remove Chemicals - During fabric production, many different chemicals may be used at different stages.  Check out this long list here of possible chemicals used with fabric dyeing.  When pressing fabric, I don't care for the smell of the chemicals.  I do a fair amount of machine applique using fusible web, mostly Soft Fuse Premium (affiliate link).  Most manufacturers of fusible web recommend prewashing your fabric to remove the finishing chemicals so the fusible web will bond well to the fabric.
  • Preshrink the fabric - My #1 reason for prewashing is that I have found that fabric shrinks unevenly lengthwise (parallel to the selvage) and crosswise (perpendicular to the selvage).  When you cut up the fabric and piece it back together, it will be turned different directions in the quilt and I want the fabric to be stable without any distortion. 
  • Realign fibers - The fibers are stretched and pulled out of align from folding and winding on the bolt and prewashing will restore the alignment.

How I Prewash Fabric: 


My prewashing method is slightly different depending on the quantity of fabric.  I'm primarily focusing on prewashing small quantities such as fat quarters and half yard cuts here but I will include prewashing yardage as well. 

Fat Quarters and Half Yard Cuts
  • Add your fabric to a bowl (or washing machine) and fill with tepid to warm water just to cover the fabric.  I usually set the bowl in the sink.  

  • I usually add just a few drops of Soak Wash (affiliate link) a gentle no-rinse formula.  I figure it helps break down the chemicals quicker than plain water and smells great.  If I have a problem fabric which is bleeding, I may add a few drops of liquid laundry detergent and then an actual rinse will be required. 


  • Agitate by hand (or by machine on a very abbreviated gentle cycle) and spin to remove excess water.  When I'm prewashing only a few fat quarters, I spin them dry in my salad spinner.  I'm sorry my photo is blurry, I was probably laughing because I knew you would be too.


  • Transfer fabric to your clothes dryer, add a dry hand towel or two which will aid in tossing the fabric around and dry on low heat.  Once dry, press well and your fabric is ready to cut and add to your project.  
  • Note: After removing your fabric from the water, if it is tinted from loose dyes, repeat the process until the water is clear.  Repeat the drying process each time as well.

The Results (Measurements Pre and Post Wash)


I knew shrinkage was not proportional on most fabrics between the length and crosswise grains but I didn't realize how much they were different.  I measured the fabrics before and after prewashing.  Overall, the fabrics shrunk less in the length with the most being 1/4" in an 18" cut.

It was a different story when it came to the crosswise width.  Three of the fabrics, Andover, Westminster and RJR, shrunk a full inch or more.  However, the Cotton and Steel print only shrank 1/2" in width.  Here are the results:


Now, do you see why I'm adamant about prewashing?  It boils down to the fact...I do not want any surprises after I have purchased the fabric and then invest the time in piecing and quilting a quilt.  Do you ever prewash your fabric?





41 comments :

  1. Salad spinner, what a great way to get that water out, I find I wrap mine in an old towel and twist!!! But this is so neat. I recently found some new batiks, for Yvonne's QAL, and did they bleed. I washed them all by hand, pale ones first, then darker, but the darkest had to have new water and soap. Rinsed and rinsed, finally took them outside and ran the cold hose into the bucket.I didn't measure any of them, but have found cotton will shrink in length a bit,and batiks very little. I think a new salad spinner will be on the Xmas list.

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  2. Your Starry Night fabric is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing your prewashing process and your chart! Very convincing!

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  3. I prewash all of my fabrics too for the same reasons. New fabric makes me sneeze!

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  4. I always prewash for all of the same reasons you do. Anything smaller than a yard/metre I wash by hand or in a delicates bag in a gentle machine wash. If I had a lettuce spinner I would use it - great idea. All longer lengths I wash directly in the machine. Then I always hang carefully to line dry as we do with all our washing.

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  5. What a great post. I never prewash fabrics because I didn't think I had to. But your post gives me reasons to really think about this. And what a great use for a salad spinner I don't otherwise use!

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  6. I saw the picture before your text and thought, "that looks like a salad spinner!" And then you are right, I was laughing, because it WAS a salad spinner! A great idea, really. I used to be a die-hard prewasher as that's what I was taught, but I admit I am not as adamant any more. Although I do prewash anything red or dark pink.

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  7. I almost always prewash. In fact, a pattern I just recently finished said to NOT prewash. I followed that instruction because I purchased the fabric and pattern from a kit. She indicated that you may not have enough fabric if I do prewash. That was nonsense because plenty was left over. Well, once I was finished, I washed the quilts (they were placemats and table runner), the placemats were considerably smaller. This did not make me happy but I can live with them. Live and learn, I guess.

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    1. Danette, thank you for sharing your experience!

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  8. you make me laugh too with your salad spinner! but I keep your method!

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  9. Thanks for that super informative post! I admit I never pre-wash ... I don't even post-wash. But this gives me some food for thought!

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  10. I'm totally with you on the pre-wash thing. I've had two quilts (long ago) that bled after the quilt was finished. I've learned my lesson! And don't let anyone kid you that today's fabrics don't bleed. I'd happily show anyone the inside of my white dryer that's tinged aqua from a Kaufman Kona solid! I don't take the care that you do though. I always wash my new fabrics before they even go into my sewing room, and usually toss them in along with regular washing of like colors. I always use a color catcher though. Have had a problem only once... when a cotton fabric dye bled onto a brand new piece of print, ivory-background knit. I do love your salad spinner technique. Makes me want to own a salad spinner for fabric! :-)

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  11. I always prewash my fabrics because I was taught to back in the 50's when I was learning to sew clothing. Old habits are hard to break, and I just couldn't change my thinking on the subject. But your chart is a dramatic illustration of what happens to fabric during the washing process, thanks for sharing. Nancy A: rangerer@sbcglobal.net

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  12. I do not pre-wash, with the exception of flannel (for backings). I am making blocks for a Christmas quilt (red and green on my brain). Therefore your green fabrics look absolutely droolworthy :-)

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  13. I am mixed but I usually lean toward prewashing. I have seen so many fabrics bleed so with reds, pinks and dark colors I do prewash - also I often use thrifted fabric and always want those washed.

    But a salad spinner???? Paige you are a genius. I never even considered it and I do hate how frayed some smaller cuts (eg fat quarters) will become if I use the washing machine. I have a huge spinner tho and this is the perfect solution. Thanks for the post.

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  14. Great tips and explanation, Paige! Thank you for sharing. I don’t tend to prewash my fabric, but there are times when it is necessary. Either prewash all the fabric or don’t; that’s my rule of thumb.

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  15. Ditto! Exactly why I pre-wash -- don't want any shrinkage surprises later. I didn't realize that print was called Starry Night. I had an orange piece. Now I can go on the hunt for more.

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  16. The fabrics you highlighted are beautiful! Those greens are precious. And, a great use of the salad spinner! I have been wondering of late whether the chemicals used by the manufacturers might contribute to the migraines experienced amongst some quilters which is another good reason to wash before ironing; the smell when ironing new fabric is very strong - this is only a theory of course. I used to prewash but decided to save the extra half day of washing, ironing and starching. I may regret it some day though I've been lucky so far.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Patty! I have not experienced headaches from the pressing, but have noticed the odor. You may have a point there!

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  17. Great post--thanks for the info on shrinkage! I've discovered that some of the wide back fabrics can shrink up to 5"--crazy!!

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  18. I prewash all the time. As you I don't like surprises after the quilt is together.

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  19. Great post and info. Did you cut off the selvages before you washed the samples?

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    1. Thank you, Mary! I left the selvages on each fabric, so I was measuring the exact cut each time.

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  20. Oh Paige I did laugh about your salad spinner but what a fabulous idea!!! I have never preached my fabric but you certainly make a great recommendation to do so. Thanks for such a great post

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    1. Thank yo Fiona! I was surprised at the results as well!

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  21. Paige, I am a pre-washer from way back. The only thing I don't pre-wash are charm or mini-charm packs. Everything goes in the washer before going to the sewing room. I can live with the fraying of the cut edges. And after washing, fabric has shrunk, some fabric considerably. If buying for a specific pattern, I almost always buy an extra 1/8 - 1/4 yd to compensate for the shrinkage as well as uneven cuts or uneven selvages on the bolt.
    Interestingly, my experience when I first started quilting in the early 90's was that most patterns stated that yardage was assumed to be 40-42 inches wide. Today most patterns state that yardage is assumed to be 42-44 inches wide. I have not worked with many fabrics that are 42-44 inches wide after pre-washing except for batiks. I wonder if this change is because so many pattern designers do not pre-wash or if there was an industry shift in sizing? But I am going to break out my salad spinner for the smaller cuts now!!

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    1. Michele, thank you for taking the time to share your experiences. You've brought up some great points!

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  22. HI there, well thank you for your blog. I have been pre washing even when others say no need and you hve confirmed my reasons why.

    hugs x

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  23. Thanks for your informative post!!! I also always prewash all my fabric and have followed some of your techniques. I will add in the use of my awesome salad spinner in the future!!! No surprises for me either!

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  24. It's a very interesting and well documented post Paige ! It makes me think ... I rarely prewash my fabrics but I will definitely use my salad spinner next time :-))

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  25. I usually prewash my fabrics unless they are precuts. If using precuts I don't wash other yardage in the quilt either. I feel it should be either prewashing all or none of the fabrics on the same quilt. When I prewash I first serge the cut edges to prevent fraying. And I love your use of the salad spinner, I'm going to try that sometime.

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    1. Kathy, great point about prewashing all or none! Thank you for your comments!

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  26. I prewash all my fabrics with the rest of my laundry. I want them used and abused just as I would expect the finished quilt to be. Like you said. No surprises.

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  27. I prewash, always. There was never a question after years of clothing construction.

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  28. Great post Paige! I'm a steadfast believer in prewashing. If I'm doing dark colours I use a Color Catcher because I've had some bleeds in some of my prewash sessions of late that have surprised me a lot! Not the usual suspects. the only thing I don't prewash are mini charms and jelly rolls and i really don't buy them much.

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    1. I forgot to mention color catchers, but, yes, I’ve used them too. They are a good gauge to see if I need to run through the process again! Great point, Sue!

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  29. I never prewash. It's because I imagine i will never iron as smooth as it was when it was bought . Never had any problems though

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  30. I love the lumpy, comfy feeling of a quilt after its constructed and washed. The main reason I never prewash. I will prewash for appliqué.

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    1. Thank you for commenting, Mary! There's nothing better than a just washed snuggly quilt!

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  31. Do you never use precuts? I too wash all fabric fat quarters and larger, but precuts are not only convenient, sometimes they’re the only practical way to get all fabrics of a line into a project. Of course, I don’t wash them or any of the yardage I use with them, but I’m always nervous about that first wash. I use color catchers to help. Here’s a tip I found really helpful: when using a machine for larger cuts, to prevent excessive raveling, make tiny snips along the cut edges about ⅛” deep and about ½” apart. No long strings tangled everywhere.

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