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Pre-wash Or Not Pre-wash Your Quilt Top?

Summary

Before starting your quilt top, you will need to decide if you will wash your fabric or wait until the project is done to wash it. We discuss your options.

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Pre-wash Or Not Pre-wash Your Quilt Top?

Before starting your quilt top, you will need to decide if you will wash your fabric or wait until the project is done to wash it. There are 2 schools of thought regarding pre-washing the fabric. This is an argument that will always have those who do and those who don’t.

Pre-wash Or Not Pre-wash Your Quilt Top

 

Most quilting fabric is 100% cotton, a natural fiber that absorbs dyes easily. This can cause the fabric to bleed when it gets wet, thus the main reason to pre-wash your fabric. The excess dyes in the fabric will be washed out so when your project is washed afterward the dyes will not bleed into the surrounding fabrics, making the finished work less pleasing to the eye.

bleed example
 

 

When deciding to pre-wash, first look at some factors. Is the fabric dyed, such as batiks or solid colors, or is it printed? Printed fabric uses inks that lay on top of the fabric and will have an obvious right and wrong side, such as calicos. The printing process makes it less likely to bleed since the colors tend to sit on top and are dried to set the details. Dyed fabrics usually use natural dyes that are absorbed by the cotton fibers. Fabrics that are dyed, such as batiks don’t have an obvious right and wrong side, so either side can show. Cotton can only absorb so much dye and will release the excess when it gets wet. To make darker fabrics, they are dyed several times to create the richer tones. Dark blues, blacks and reds are such tones, that make pre-washing a plus, since these will tend to bleed. Dampen a sample and rub with a white cloth or paper towel. If it changes color, pre-washing may be indicated. Batiks, which have become very popular lately, are another fabric that may bleed. If in doubt do the wet test to decide. In these 2 cases pre-washing is a reasonable conclusion. There are several methods to set the colors in your fabric, from color catchers, commercial dye setters, to as simple as adding vinegar or salt to the wash.

look

 

Manufacturers will add a sizing to their fabrics to help in the printing process, making them less likely to wrinkle and are more appealing to the eye while on the bolt. Consumers are less likely to buy fabric that appears wrinkled.

 

Finally, pre-washing will pre-shrink the fabric since it is woven, as opposed to knitted together, and will loosen during the manufacturing process. Pre-shrinking makes the weave shrink together and can cause the piece to become smaller. When making clothing, pre-shrinking is a must since an article of clothing will become smaller after being washed. Not a surprise you want after putting in the time to make a garment. When quilting, take into consideration that any pattern will give final measurements for the quilt. By not pre-washing, the quilt will shrink after washing. It may not be the size desired, thus making all your time and work a waste. Quilting does cause some shrinkage, so take this into consideration too.

 

Waiting to wash can have some unexpected and not so unpleasant results. After a quilt is made, washing can cause the fabric to shrink up around the quilt stitches. The result can be that the quilting will become more prominent since the quilt line will prevent the fabric from shrinking in those areas. It can make the quilt look puffier in the areas without stitching, depending on the batting used. It is a personal choice and the pattern used can be a deciding factor. Do you want the blocks or the stitching to be the most prominent?

 

Lastly, it’s the time factor that can be the reason to skip pre-washing. Washing your fabric will be an extra step to the quilting process. This can take up time you may not have or do not wish to spend. It can be time consuming, especially if you have several yards of different fabrics that can’t be washed together i.e. bleeding factor, drying and ironing.

 

If you decide pre-washing is a necessity, (wet test failed) follow the simple steps:

  • Wash yardage separately. Dark blues and blacks can be washed together, but reds should be washed on their own.
  • Use cold water and add 1 cup of white vinegar or 1 cup of salt to each load. This helps set the color.
  • Follow manufacturer’s directions if using a commercial product
  • Dry until damp, then iron dry or remove from dryer after spin cycle and iron until damp dry. Gently fold and hang over a plastic hanger to finish drying
  • When working with pre-cuts or small pieces: fill sink with cold water, add vinegar/salt with mild soap and swirl fabric in water. Squeeze out excess water and rinse until water runs clear. Squeeze until damp, then iron dry.

 

An inexpensive salad spinner works well to remove excess water.

Pre-washing may be an as needed decision. Taking into consideration the type of fabric being used and the time factor may be the main reasons for your decision. It will always be a personal preference. The results can be surprising.

May all your seams meet and points be sharp!

 

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Glossary

Batting
The layer in the middle of a quilt sandwich between the Top and Backing layers consisting of wool, polyester, blends, silk, or cotton.

Same As: Stuffing, Filling, Wadding, Filler
Bleeding
The effect when there is excess dye in fabric or dye that has not been properly set. The wash water will take on the color of the dye and it will set on other fabric.
Ironing
Moving a hot iron while it has contact with fabric. Often ironing can stretch and distort fabrics and seams. A better alternative is to press, where you just lay the hot iron down and lift straight up from the fabric.

See Also: Pressing
Quilt Top
The top layer of a quilt Sandwich.
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