A few weeks ago I asked this simple question on Facebook:
Do you wash your fabric before you stitch?
Little did I know that this simple question would start such a stir! Within minutes the page was a buzz with comments and you all had such amazing responses. I knew that instant that I needed to seek some outside advice to bring back to the table.
Allow me to introduce you to April from Modern Yardage. April and I met last year at The Sewing Summit and I asked her to help us wade through the murky waters of pre washing fabric.
My name is April Giddings Cobb. I have been sewing for many, many moons now. It all began in my high school sewing class in San Clemente, California. I spent hours in that sewing room where I learned to stitch and serge and read pattern instructions. But through the years, I have found that what I love most is the fabric itself. I see a design I like and want to wrap myself up in it and do the cha-cha. (But only if no one is watching.)
I have sewn with all types of fabrics, but what I love most is quilting cotton, event though I am not really much of a quilter. I love the variety of prints offered on this substrate and the flexibility of use that comes along with it. So this leads to a big topic that seems to be controversial. Should we prewash our fabric? Is it even necessary? Some will say that it is a MUST for any serious sewist to prewash. Others don’t think it is worth the bother or don’t like the way the finished garments look when they lose that newness that fades with wash. Many only wash before making garments but not for quilting and this seems common among those who have posted on Facebook about the issue.
Does it make a difference to prewash? Absolutely! Is that reason enough to compel me personally to prewash before I sew? Absolutely NOT. I would consider myself a fairly serious sewist with a lot of experience. Still, I can probably count on one hand how many times I have prewashed. Clothing, quilts, bags, headbands…you name it. I make them all with fabic that has not been defiled by the washing machine. This is somewhat because I sell a lot of what I sew and I want it to look new but I am probably just using that as an excuse.
When I made my first quilt, I bought a kit. I washed the fabric because I wanted to strictly follow the rules. Guess what! The fat quarters shrunk to the point that I wound up short of fabric to make the quilt as instructed. That was enough for me. Never again!
Many worry about colorfastness or bleeding, or even chemicals that could be looming in the unwashed fabric. This is a legitimate concern. Who wants to make an heirloom quilt or put the time into sewing clothing for their children only to wash it after all that work and find that it has faded or bled all over itself? Who wants to think that there is some unknown chemical rubbing against their fingertips as they sew? Bummer stuff. Still, I can’t recall the last time I heard any stories from people I know about this so I am willing to take the gamble. And it has never happened to me. The risk just isn’t high enough for me to add an extra step.
After reading The Sewing Loft Facebook feed with everyone’s input on this issue, I realized that I am in the minority!! I started feeling insecure. Am I lazy? Am I totally crazy? Am I not actually gaining weight but have shrunk all my clothes washing them since I made them without a good prewash? Oh shoot! Maybe. Ok, probably, but what I think it comes down to is your personal preference. Are you a type-A perfectionist? If so, you should prewash. Are you really easygoing, a bit of a rebel, or just someone who finds excitement in pulling your finished project out of the dryer and not really knowing what to expect? Then join me and the other slackers who just don’t bother. Really, it is up to you.
Many people are unsure so they just follow the instructions and wash, and that is a safe bet. It doesn’t hurt to follow the rules. Others of us will live on the edge and take a chance. A good rule of thumb is that if you are going to be devastated if your project changes after a wash, then prewash. If you might seldom wash your project and you aren’t planning for it to be passed down for generations, then don’t worry about it.
Since I launched my new company, Modern Yardage, in March of this year I haven’t had to feel any guilt or shame about the fact that I haven’t washed a single project that I have made. Yes, I own Modern Yardage, and our fabric comes to you prewashed. What a relief!!! And to make things even better, it is perfectly smooth so you don’t have to deal with ironing it after a prewash either. No shrinking. No fraying. Super easy. Modern Yardage uses only environmentally friendly inks with no unknown chemicals or harmful dyes. So you don’t have to worry about that issue either.
Let’s give April a big Thank you for stopping by to visit with us today. I think in the end, pre washing fabric is really a personal choice that we could debate forever. I would love to hear what you do with your fabric.
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Comments & Reviews
susan b says
I would recommend pre-washing batik fabric. Or red fabric. I made a Christmas (red, green and white) table runner and it ran when I tried to block it. :”(
Chelsea Rae Love says
what about if you are making [i said you are making, but everyone shold know that it is really I that is doing the making here] a duvet cover. I am using a part of an old black sheet as a strip, and the rest of the duvet is from brand spanbking new material, and i have no flapping clue if it has been prewashed or not…. and as i finish typing this, i know that I am not going to pre-wash it – quite frankly because i dont want to….. but you can still tell me what i should have done. Thanks!
That’s a great question Chelsea Rae. My suggestion would be to pre wash the brand spanking new fabric so that it is officially “pre shrunk”. Then when you stitch everything together, it will be less likely to unevenly shrink, twist or torque.
Sabra at Sew a Straight Line says
I’m so not a type-A perfectionist, but I am a type-A worry wart, so I almost always prewash. I make mostly clothing for myself and my family, so looking brand new isn’t necessary and fit is top priority. If it’s to be quilted, I don’t prewash, and I only prewash synthetics if I’m already doing laundry. But all my natural fibers, even blends, I toss in there. I have four kids, I’m doing laundry constantly anyway, so it’s really no big deal. PLUS, it’s kind of incentive to keep up on the laundry, knowing I have fresh fabric to pull out of the dryer along with ten million pairs of socks and underwear 😉
Chelle Chapman says
I ALWAYS prewash but now that I know that Modern Yardage comes to me prewashed, I just may have to look into changing who I purchase fabric from! Sure does change the game plan if I can scratch off a step in my sewing!! Thanks April for your insight & Thank You Heather for yet another AWESOME post!!
Bethany Martini says
Thank you for sharing this, I am new to quilting and made two quilts without pre washing the fabric. When they were finished, I was so nervous to wash them because I had read online that most people do pre wash their fabric and test it to see if the color runs. Since it was too late, I decided to just go for it. I threw in some color catchers with each of them (I washed them separately), and they both came out just fine!
April stated that Modern Yardage’s fabric is prewashed. Is it prewashed before or after they print it?
Great question Jan! I asked April and here is her feedback:
It is printed before we print to prevent shrinking.
A few other points that we chatted about are: The ink is all environmentally friendly and won’t cause problems with allergies. There might be some fading in the first wash, which is normal but that fading doesn’t continue in future washes.
I hope that helps.
Jo H. says
My question was for April – sorry that wasn’t clear!
Sheila S says
I prewash anything that I know will shrink when I’m going to make clothing. I want it to fit after it gets washed. I do not prewash for crafts or quilts. The crafts will never be washed and I want the gorgeous look of the “shrunken” quilting fabric on the quilts. Gorgeous to me, that is. 😉 I have friends that don’t prewash. I agree that it’s just a personal preference. 🙂 Thanks for bringing up the subject! It’s good to hear other’s opinions and why they choose to prewash or not.
i’m no worry wart … I prewash my fabric ’cause it irritates my skin. I love the precuts, but have to really, really want to make the project with them as I don’t prewash them. the rash gets really bad then.
Karen Schulz says
I hardly ever prewash. My mother used to make me when I lived at home, especially for clothes. But for quilts I never do as material not washed is easy to iron and cut and deal with
I HAVE to wash fabric! I am highly sensitive to formaldehyde (and many other chemicalsl), an ingredient in the finish put on the fabrics. Discovered many years ago, when I would sew I would get an intense headache and become extremely irritable. Once I realized how the fabric was finished for sale, I began washing before hand and the problems stopped. I can’t wear clothes right off the shelf either. They all have to be prewashed!
I completely understand this with clothing. Seeing apparel made at the factory level is incredibly eye opening! I once had a shipment arrive in the states infested with bugs. It was quarantined by customs for months.
I always, always wash my fabric before working with it. I’d rather deal with shrinkage before I make a quilt rather than the receiver wash it and the seams rip open.
I prewash everything except precuts. That way, if I change my mind about using something for quilting or clothing, I don’t have to wonder if it’s been prewashed. I also usually wash new clothes before wearing them, because you never know who tried it on, and what they might have had, before you bought it. MRSA, in particular, is VERY long-lived off the body on surfaces AND fabric.
Anyway, if you want another controversial subject, I’d like to know what’s wrong with seamstress, and how come people started referring to women who sew as sewists. There’s nothing wrong with seamstress. Seamster is the male counterpart. Sewist always makes me grit my teeth to read it. It’s a completely unnecessary word. I’ll bet others just love it. 🙂
I’m thinking a seamstress is a person who sees or alters clothing only. A quilter is a quilter….I had never heard the word desist
Before today & I like it. Cuz I’m not really a seamstress or a quilter just a sewer…????????
So it works for me!!
The word sewist not desist
I never actually pre-washed any of the fabric, but after going through all these comments I think I should be doing it too…
Everyone handles their fabric differently so my suggestion is to do whats best for your end use project.
Um…do you use detergent?
I usually wash the fabric before sewing it, thanks for the helpful tips. We really appreciate it
I’m going to start quilting, and now i’m of two minds to pre wash the fabric – and i always wash in cold water anyways .. so i might … and maybe use a little detergent just to get it smelling good .. LOL … so we’ll see if i do … as i go along …. still learning!!
Alison Bunce says
Can I assume that if I am embroidering on white cotton and then stretching this over a canvas to be hung on the wall (in other words never washed) that I don’t need to pre wash? Thanks.
As a 4-Her I was taught to pre wash the fabric before sewing, so I do pre wash fabric before sewing. Although when I am sewing for dolls (especially precut pieces) I have to admit
I don’t always wash them first.
Thanks so much for joining the conversation, Susan! It’s always fun to hear how others handle their fabrics.