To Pre-Wash or Not Pre-Wash your Fabric


We've all heard the horror stories of someone finishing a quilt, they wash it to remove markings and a red fabric bleeds onto a light colored fabric.  If you've had it happen to you, you know how sickening it can be.  It happened to me for the first time not too long ago.   So, to pre-wash or not pre-wash?  We are asked this question several times a week.  Depending on the number of quilters in the room, you will get several answers. Below are our opinions. Results will vary. We cannot be held liable for any negative results you may  have.  

Fabric that has been pre-washed is less likely to bleed when the quilt is laundered later.  This does not always hold true.  If a dye has not set, just washing it will not guarantee that all the excess dye has been removed.  Using a dye magnet in the wash the first time you wash can help capture excess dye and keep it from setting on other items in the wash.  Again, this is not guaranteed.  To definitely fix the dye, use a dye fixative like Retayne.  Be sure to follow their instructions. Dye magnets can be found in the laundry aisle where ever you buy your laundry products.  Retayne is available here at The Quilter's Studio and our website.

Many people have always pre-washed to pre shrink their fabrics.  The quilt shop fabrics today are such a high quality that shrinkage is minimal.  Because all the quilt fabric is milled similarly, even between different brands, the percentage of shrinkage should be the same.  So if you use all quilt shop quality fabrics and the quilt is laundered correctly, shrinkage should be minimal and consistent throughout the quilt.

The other reason to pre-wash is to remove any sizings making the fabric easier to stitch through, especially by hand.  This is true.  Fusible products like Wonder Under and Steam-a-Seam work better on fabrics that have been washed.  Do not use fabric softeners if you are going to use fusible products with your fabrics. 

If you have pre-washed all the fabrics in your quilt and you decide to add one more fabric, be sure to pre-wash it before you add it to the quilt.  Rule to follow:  If you pre-wash one, pre-wash all!

With all that said, the 3 of us do not usually pre-wash.  Why not?  Since they are high quality fabrics and dyes, shrinkage and bleeding are not a big concern.  But since my recent experience, I have started  to test my batiks for colorfastness before cutting them.  I prefer the feel of unwashed fabric.  I think it is easier to cut and my cutting is more accurate.  And quite frankly, I want to play with my fabric right away.  I'm not patient enough to wait for the washing machine.

Tip:  To test for colorfastness:

Snip a small piece off your fabric and soak it in lukewarm water.  If the water changes color, you know your dyes are not colorfast.  If not, let the wet scrap dry on a white paper towel.  If the color bleeds onto the paper towel, be sure to set the dye with a product like Retayne.  We have heard that the vinegar and hot water technique is not fool proof.

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