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To Prewash Fabric or Not?
That is the Question!


 A Quilting Forum discussion

From time to time I collect a thread of messages about a topic of interest to quilters from our own Quilting Forum at Delphi (QFaD). Our Forum is a wonderful group of all levels of quilters who help and advice each other.  This discussion of whether or not to prewash is an interesting one and so we are sharing it. To read further in this discussion, see the link in the box at the right, "Prewash Fabric or Not".

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How to Prevent Backing Fabric Puckering

The Question Asked:

I'm new to sewing and want to learn to quilt too. I've got a couple of books and they recommend pre-washing and ironing the fabric but my mother-in-law (she quilts and sews) says that you don't have to. What is the right thing to do?

It all boils down to personal preference.

I think the best advice I was given was to either wash every bit of yardage that goes into your stash of fabric, or don't. Either one extreme or the other. That way you won't get confused about what has been washed and what hasn't. You don't want both ending up in a bed quilt for instance, because the rate of shrinkage of the two different fabrics will affect the final appearance of the quilt. If you have some places shrink and others don't, the shape of the quilt may be off, and the 'puckeriness' will look different in different areas.


Also, how much are you willing to risk? What if you do a beautiful red and white traditional bed quilt and you haven't prewashed? All that time, effort, and money wasted after you wash it the first time and it runs! I would cry! I know there are product out there (dye magnets) that might help, but I would hate to take the chance.

I personally can't stand working with and ironing fabrics that still have all the chemicals and sizings in them. I get a sore throat and sinus congestion if I do. That is why I tend to wash my fabrics first. I can tell if a fabric has been washed if the corners are clipped off (to prevent threads and knots). But for small projects or art quilt projects, I might not wash them.

So there is no single answer to this question. It is a matter of preference. And there is lots of differing opinions out there. Remember that mother-in-laws are not always right!
Laura in Nova Scotia

I'm a fabric prewasher, because I've had a fabric bleed in a finished quilt. There are many, many quilters who never wash, and many, many who do. I did hear a new "pro" for washing last week that I'll pass along -- I took a hand quilting class from the woman who won the "most exemplary hand quilting" award at the AQG quilt show last year. She prewashes fabric as well, and she said that if you are using fabrics in your quilt that have different thread counts, they could shrink differently when you wash them, so she prewashes because she doesn't want that to happen after she had completed her quilt. For instance if you purchased all the fabric for your top from one line of fabric, the thread count would essentially be the same, so if you didn't prewash the fabric, they should shrink at the same rate when the quilt is finally washed. But if you used unwashed muslin as a backing, which has a lower thread count, when you washed the completed quilt, it might shrink substantially more than the fabrics in your top. Or if you used regular unwashed quilt shop fabrics in your blocks, but unwashed muslin as the background fabric, when you washed the quilt, the muslin might shrink more than the other fabrics. This was a concept that I hadn't ever really considered before, I've always just prewashed to prevent fabrics from bleeding -- just thought I'd pass it along. There may be someone on the forum who actually has used unwashed fabrics of various thread counts in a quilt, and can give you a better idea of whether it might really be a problem.
Pat H.

As an instructor, I'm asked this question quite frequently and I give the answers that have been given here already. Personally, I'm not much of a "washer" myself. I've been thinking about this lately though and here's a question...Obviously all fabrics shrink differently. What about the ones that shrink a little more even after they are washed once? Anyone ever had experience with pre-washed fabrics of different types used in a quilt and one or more shrinking again/more? Does this question make sense?

It is primarily personal preference, but having had invested over $100 in a quilt and having it ruined pretty much put me into the prewashing camp. It is true that many cottons will shrink again even after having been washed. A good example is a new pair of jeans--typically shrinks 5 or 6 times before it stops shrinking. However, the subsequent shrinking is considerably less than the first wash and dry.

The only fabrics I don't prewash at this time are Thimbleberries-the shop owner says that they are pre-tested for bleeding and I actually want the shrinking 'look'. For easier handling of prewashed pieces, I use starch.

I know I've mentioned this in previous threads, but many fabrics are treated with formaldehyde or other chemicals to limit insect damage. Some folks develop a sensitivity to these chemicals from repeated handling. Most do not, but once you do, it makes fabric shopping a lot less fun. I was cutting out fabric to make pillows for my boys and it smelled like chemicals so I'm washing it 1st. I had no idea that fabric were treated with different things. I guess there would be no harm in prewashing (other than it might be a waste of time, but it could cause problems if you don't.

I'm very thankful for all of the replies. I really get a lot out of these boards (I took up crocheting and knitting and read posts on there as well)! People are so helpful.

Hey, you for got one important fact.. Mother in Laws are always right !!!!
and she is.. you don't have to... but if you don't you do risk dye migration. And, I hate to tell you this, even if you wash, sometimes you will get dye migration.....

No guarantees....... I prewash (I only iron when I am making a quilt)... when I prewash black, dark dark blue, green, red... the dark colors.. I add a product called RETAYNE. you can purchase it in most quilt stores. It stops continual bleeding.
Jane in Austin

I pre-wash. I did make one quilt recently and didn't prewash as I was in a hurry to get the fabric cut for a workshop. Now I have a problem of what to do with the scraps, they will have to stay in labeled bags in their color boxes so I don't forget they weren't washed. So either wash or don't not some of both.
Jeri's Stitches in Time

Jeri I have heard that it is the wet fabric that is put in a hot dryer that causes the shrinkage. Take your scraps put them is water with little or no soap. Rinse them a bit to get all the soap out but be gentle. Then iron them dry and you will have the same effect as the dryer and they should be good to go............that is what I would do. Once in a class one of the fabrics I brought was unusable so I bought some, took it to the ladies room and got it wet and pressed it dry and used it.......the instructor told me to do this.
Ami - sewing up a storm in New Mexico

Kim, yes your question makes sense. The one fabric that is guaranteed to shrink again after the first washing is flannel! I always wash my flannel at least once. If I want it to not shrink AT ALL, I'll wash it minimum of two times if not three. Most everything I just wash once before cutting and sewing for the following reasons:

- to preshrink
- to test colorfastness
- to remove sizing/starch or any other chemicals that may be present as it irritates my sinuses and skin
- to soften the fabric if I'm going to do any quilting/sewing by hand.*
- to remove any sheen and make sure I still like how it looks.**
*Batiks are known for not "needling" well for hand sewing. However, I've heard and had it confirmed (on this board no less) that if you wash a batik at least 4 times, it will be easier to needle. Denim also falls into this category.

I often use flannel as batting for my quilts and I like the slight gathering in that it will give a quilt if it's only washing once before the quilting is done. If I don't want it to gather in a bit (ok, ok, it's puckering!) then I wash it twice. The only ones I've wished I washed a third time were some really cheap ones.

**This is sort of related to item three, in that sometimes fabrics look shinier before they're washed because of the chemicals used to treat the fabric. Once you wash the fabric, it may look slightly less shiny, which could make some of the detail of the print less easy to see. I also want to make sure the print doesn't fade after washing (again, something you risk with cheap fabrics).

I prewash and iron simply because I like to get to know the fabric I buy. I can see the quality much more clearly when all the sizing is out. I just love to handle freshly washed fabric. So, I iron mine and fold it lovingly, then place it on the shelf.

I tried skipping the ironing part of this ritual because I will iron it at the time I use it anyway to get all the creases out, but I found that ironing is a part of this bonding process. I am not kidding. Now you know why I'm the RABIDQUILTER!

I have always been of the prewashing camp, but i hate to iron. Recently I have taken to stacking my new fabric unwashed away from my older fabric washed fabric. I know I will wash it before I use it but the newer unwashed stuff is so much easier to store than all of that un ironed fabric. My mom will come and iron my fabric for me some days. She hates that I don't iron but then it is hard to tell if I have washed it so I do it again.
My hand dyed fabric also gets washed a couple of extra times and man does it shrink. The dyes make it harder to work with but they do make a product that I have seen somewhere that helps soften the fabric. It would probably work on batiks as well I will try to figure out the name of it.
Colleen Casey

I never really considered the chemicals that are in some fabrics.....I do usually pre-wash, but am just finishing a very small quilt with unwashed fabrics. Wanted to try it.

I kind of enjoy preparing my fabrics.....I love ironing the freshly washed pieces.........I also like cutting into unwashed fabrics! I find that using spray starch when ironing the washed fabrics helps to give them an "unwashed" feel.
Sandy from Cincinnati

Read Lots More.... Prewash Discussion Continued on Second Page Here


Susan Druding

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