How important is pre-washing fabrics?

loisflanApril 18, 2012

Some of the responses to Kate's QOTD about storage got me thinking. Sometimes for the quilts I have been making, I purchase only very small 1/4 yard pieces or even less. Washing these makes a terrible mess. And if I can't wash the small pieces, then I don't wash the larger ones that will be used in the same quilt. I purchase fabric only from quality quilt shops. Am I making a mistake? So far, I've not had any problem with colors running, and the amount of shrinkage has not been a problem.

One more question... If you buy a hand-dyed fabric, can you assume that it has been pre-shrunk in the dyeing process? I suppose with hand-dyed fabrics, the problem is that the dye might run.

And finally, if I ever make a scrap quilt using unwashed and pre-washed pieces, will I have problems?

Thanks for your help. Lois

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The answer is yes, you could have a problem.

As someone who dyes fabric, the process does not shrink the fabric. It takes hot water and a hot dryer to do that. Any hand dyed piece should be washed multiple times before using and use a color catcher sheet till the sheet comes out white. (You can reuse these sheets multiple times so save the used ones.)

I've never found good quilt-shop quality fabric to shrink. Even batiks. But, bleed - yes.

For small scraps, I would use a lingerie bag, the mesh type that protects things like nylons in the washing machine. They are often sold as camping supplies. Small pieces won't unravel or catch on things so much in the bag.

Otherwise, I'd prewash or wait till the quilt is done and throw it all in the washer unless it has hand dyed fabric as mentioned above. I like taking any sizing out by pre-washing but I also do it with the finished quilt sometimes, always using a Color Catcher.

Does that help?

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 12:54PM
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I ALWAYS prewash everything as soon as it gets in the house.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 1:28PM
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I preSHRINK mine...even fat quarters or eighths. I put them in either the soak cycle on the washer or in the kitchen sink for a while. Then I spin on low and put them in the dryer.

I usually don't use soap unless it looks like there is something that needs washing off.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 1:38PM
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I pre-wash my new fabrics in the sink with a little dish soap and warm water, rinse, spin in the machine, then dry in the dryer. It goes straight from the shopping bag or tote to the sink before it ever goes into my fabric stash.


    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 2:12PM
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Well, it sounds like everything will get pre-washed (or at least pre-shrunk) from now on. Using lingerie bags for the small pieces is a great idea. I was thinking back, and the only quilt that I can remember making without washing the fabric first was City Lights. I used all Kona solids and I did wash the finished quilt with color catchers because of all the black fabric. It washed beautifully.

It seems as if the main problem is color-bleeding, not shrinkage so much. Thanks, Ladies.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 2:35PM
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Don't send the Quilt police but I don't prewash most of my fabric. I say most because I do prewash flannel, some batik, reds and hand dyed.(I run a test on all of them to see if they run). If I have any doubts I test it or wash it. I have been lucky but have had a couple of issues with running which is the reason for the testing. This has worked for me. I realize I am in the minority. I think the dye catcher are important when washing quilts.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 3:26PM
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I do not prewash. I always wash the finished quilt in hot water with color-catchers, and just don't worry about it.

I've had a few pink and purple color-catchers, mind you, but the quilts never bled after that.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 4:56PM
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Add me to the non-pre-washers. I use a lot of pre-cut charm packs, jelly rolls, etc and it'd be very hard to wash them, plus I like that they have some sizing. I pre-wash batiks if I think they'll bleed and flannels if I'm using them with non-flannel fabric as for backings. But as for shrinkage, I like a poofy quilt and the way shrinking adds to that. Like Mary C I use a few color catchers and some are quite colorful, but are doing their job.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 6:25PM
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I am a prewasher! Except for the precuts I buy, everything gets prewashed. The small pcs I wash in a big bowl in the sink, blot on a white towel & dry in the dryer with the next load. The yardage, I baste the ends together, and on really long yardage, I baste randomly along the 2 selvages.
If it is something I cannot later identify easily, I will write on the selvage with a permanent marker what it is - like "6 yds fake Kona from Joanns".
I am more concerned with the dyes running than I am about shrinkage. I also use a little bit of detergent, as I want the sizing out of the fabric. If the fabric is going to misbehave, I want it to act unruly before I have it sewn into my project.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 7:07PM
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I do not prewash and I always wash after I bind the quilt using a color catcher.

The exceptions for me are reds, garage sale finds, thrift stores.....

This topic comes up on some quilt shows and the pros are just as varied as we are. Cotton fabric dyes are much more colorfast than they were when I started quilting in the 80's.

So IMO, I think unless it is a dark fabric (and I test a piece)it is a matter of personal preference.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 9:38AM
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Another thing I just thought of....I'm allergic to lots of stuff and we don't really know a lot about the finishes on our fabrics. I think that maybe I don't have problems when I handle my own fabrics because I have pre-washed them.

I can remember back in the day when Mom and I would go shopping at our favorite fabric shop and both of us would have trouble with our eyes burning after a while. That was back in the 60s and I don't have the problem in today's stores. I can shop all day.....and have!


    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 10:29AM
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I prewash mainly to get the finishes and smell out of the fabric. I don't know what's in it, so I like to get it clean while I'm working with it.

On the show "Simply Quilts" a few years ago, they were discussing prewashing. Alex Anderson said she usually did, but skipped it one time for a rush project involving multiple items. She said she was wheezing by the time she was done. Never again!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 4:28PM
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FlamingO in AR

I prewash everything because my skin reacts to the stuff that they put in/on fabric. I buy a lot of fat quarters and my trick is to put them in the washer on gentle with a little soap, but I don't let the machine agitate them, I do it by hand. After spinning and rinsing (with a little fabric softener) I machine dry.

Even THEN- the fabrics can still bleed a little. I recently made a rainbow Wheel of Fortune mini quilt with lots of white and I got nervous about all the white so I took my fabric scraps that I was going to use (already prewashed) and hand-washed them again in a white sink and every color had some bleeding, especially the red, green, blue and orange. EVERY color! Even the yellow bled. I was shocked.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 9:48AM
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