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When Should I Prewash Quilt Fabric?

Summary

Quilting Contessa shares her tips on when to prewash and when not to prewash quilt fabric. Share this article with your quilting friends.

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When Should I Prewash Quilt Fabric?

I frequently hear the question from new and experienced quilters alike, should I prewash my fabrics? So, here are a few things to consider when making your choice.

When Should I Prewash Quilting Fabric?

 

When Not to Prewash Fabrics

Are you using precuts like a jelly roll, layer cake, or charm pack? If so, the only way to prewash would be to carefully hand wash each piece. Otherwise, you run the risk of your fabrics fraying and not being large enough to piece your quilt.

If you are using light colored fabrics that are unlikely to bleed when washing and you would like for your finished quilt to have a soft crinkled antique look from shrinking after quilting. The risk you run though is that some of the fabrics may shrink at a different rate and instead of a loved and softly crinkled-look, your quilt may have a bunched-up messy appearance.

If you are making a “rag quilt” that you want to fray, you will need to make the quilt and then wash the completed project to get the soft rag quilt look.

If you know that the item you are making will only be used short-term and will never come in contact with water by washing, a glass of water being spilled on it, or rain coming in contact with the finished project. Also be careful if gifting your unwashed project to let the recipient know that this item should not come in contact with water (even tears of joy) because the fabrics have not been prewashed. It is also a good idea to gift them a box of Shout Color Catchers just in case they do wash the quilted item so that excess dye can be safely discharged.

Do Not Prewash

 

When to Prewash

Almost every time you purchase a piece of fabric except in the instances above, it is a great time to prewash.

When you will be using a fusible with your fabrics, prewash so that your fusible will perform to its’ best ability.

Always prewash dark colored fabrics that will be used with lighter colors. It is devastating to make a beautiful red and white quilt and wash it only to come out with a mistakenly red and pink quilt!

If your fabric has a strong odor either from chemicals, smoke, or pets, it is always best to prewash it. You certainly would not want to subject yourself to the strong smell the entire time you were making the quilt and then the odor not wash out and you not be able to stand to sleep under it. You also don’t want to chance causing yourself or someone near your quilt an asthma attack from the scent.

Always prewash fabrics being used to make a baby quilt or one for someone who is ill. Chemicals that are used to finish a fabric can be very hard on a baby’s skin or the respiratory system of someone who is ill. A fresh clean smell that is achieved by prewashing will be greatly appreciated.

If you know that your quilt will be used and washed and you like a smooth pretty quilt top, prewashing is necessary so that all shrinkage can occur and you can ensure that your fabrics will not bleed when it is washed the first time.

If you will be using a dark fabric and quilting it with a light colored thread or perle cotton, like is used for Sashiko, you will want to prewash your fabric so that the color from the fabric will not rub off on the thread or perle cotton while stitching should the fabric become moist for any reason.

What are your most compelling reasons to prewash or not? Please take a moment and share.

Prewash

 

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Glossary

Fusible
Various webs or interfacings which can be ironed onto a fabric for easier applique or to support the fabric.
Quilt Top
The top layer of a quilt Sandwich.
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Quilting Contessa
Quilting Contessa is a collection of various authors around the world that have submitted articles for the QuiltingHub 'How To' quilt wiki.  These are authors that do not write enough to have their own authorship, yet provide valuable content for the site.  If you wish to submit an article, contact us on QuiltingHub.
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