Prewashing Fabric

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prewash fabric

Prewashing fabric is a personal choice. Some quilters do it; some don't. This issue has been debated since quilting began. So, what's the best choice? Let's look at some pros and cons of each.
There are times when you won't want to prewash your fabric. For example, let's say you're making a wallhanging. You know it's just going to hang on the wall with little human contact. In that case, you don't have to prewash.

Or perhaps you like the rich colors in your fabric. Prewashing would cause those wonderful colors to fade slightly.

What about texture? Unwashed fabric feels thicker and crisper. That means it won't stretch as much as prewashed fabric. Best of all, it's easier to sew uniform stitches on thicker fabric.

On the downside, you might decide to wash your project after it's finished. Now you're taking a gamble that your fabric won't bleed in the wash. Especially if you have red and blue fabrics. These dyes are famous for bleeding into lighter fabrics (can you say white?)

And what about shrinkage? Your project, if you made it with cotton fabrics, will shrink anywhere from 3% to 5%. Could you handle that?

I prewash most of my fabric. Here's a couple reasons:


To Remove Chemicals

Fabrics contain chemicals like formaldehyde and "sizing." Formaldehyde is a pesticide. Manufacturers apply it to fabric to repel insects. That's all well and good, but some quilters might have an allergic reaction to it. All the more reason to remove it.

Sizing gives your fabric a crisp look and feel, but it can also gum up your needle. That means your needle has to work harder to penetrate your fabric. Not only that, but it's harder to sew uniform stitches when your machine isn't stitching smoothly.



To Remove Excess Dyes

I don't have to worry about darker dyes bleeding into lighter fabrics when I wash my finished quilt.

To Preshrink the Fabric

Fabrics shrink at different rates. By prewashing, I know ahead of time how each fabric will react. When I wash my finished quilt, I can expect minimal shrinkage.


Do a Colorfast Test

Before you wash your fabrics together, you should do a colorfast test. A colorfast test helps you decide which fabrics are going to bleed in the wash. Here's how to do it:

Colorfast Test in a Glass
  • Fill a glass with hot water.


  • Add a drop of detergent.


  • Place a scrap of fabric into the water.


  • Let fabric soak for a few minutes.

  • Remove fabric from water. Blot with a white paper towel.
If dye bleeds into the towel, redo the test with the same fabric scrap. If it still bleeds, you have two choices. Either discard the fabric or wash it in Retayne® which removes excess sizing and dyes.




Now, Prewash Your Fabric

  • Separate your light and dark fabrics. If you have small strips of fabric, put them in a pillow case before you wash. This decreases raveling and tangling.
  • I recommend using a mild detergent such as Orvus Quilt Soap,Dreft® or Woolite.

  • Always use a short, gentle cycle with a warm wash, cool rinse setting. Don't use fabric softener in the washer or dryer.


  • After you wash the fabric, toss it in the dryer. Use a permanent press setting for best results. Dry until slightly damp.


  • Remove fabric from dryer and press.
If you want your fabric to feel crisp again, use spray starch when you press. But wait until the fabric dries first.


The Golden Rule

When you're prewashing fabric, be consistent. For example, either prewash all your fabrics, or don't prewash at all.

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