To Prewash Fabric or Not?
That is the Question!


 A Quilting Forum discussion - Page Two of the Discussion

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• Make Your Own Sewing Table?


This is Page Two of the Discussion - Page One is Here.


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?


Colleen, the fabric I used to dye was PFD (prepared for dyeing) and part of that means no treatment to make it soft, so it is a bit stiff and certainly not nice to sew with. In the beginning I ran a dry bar of soap (white bar soap, I use it to mark quilting) lightly down the place I wanted to machine sew. That helped. Later I learned to give the area a swipe with a dryer sheet such as Bounce. That helped, too, and was easier. I could have used fabric softeners in the last rinse, but didn't think of it.

Jeri--I know several women who combined washed and unwashed fabric in very scrappy quilts. Don't hesitate to use them!! The trick is to use smallish pieces (3 inch or smaller) and quilt somewhat close (meander would do fine here). The smallish pieces will not distort your quilt--larger pieces will if they shrink a lot. I would still recommend testing for dye migration for any red, purplish or deep blue (the most notorious migrators).
That said, this will not work in a one piece quilts like 1000 pyramids. If the fabric distorts, it will be obvious.

I see that you already sew a lot. You may have heard that it's always wise to wash fabric as you will wash the garment after it's sewn. (If you won't be washing it, then skip the pre-washing.)

Same with quilt fabric. If you're going to sew a utilitarian quilt that will definitely be washed over the years, then wash and dry the fabric just as you will do later with the quilt. It certainly won't hurt it. All the reasons have been given. I would not want to spend the weeks or months on a quilt and later have it shrink or fade or run.

If you don't remove the selvages before washing and drying, then clip them every 3 inches or so, because they always shrink more than the rest of the fabric. Removing them is probably wiser. If you don't like a tangle of threads on your fabrics in the washer or dryer, a mesh bag is a good idea.

One more afterthought...I've read that if you want a quilt to lie flat and not pucker after washing, it's wise to preshrink the batting, too, if it's part or all cotton. I guess polyester batting does not shrink. I haven't preshrunk my batting, and when you do not, you will get a puckery look that many quilters prize, because it looks antique. <G>

Unsewn cotton batting is somewhat fragile, so just soaking it and squeezing it in hot water, then squeezing it (not wringing it) damp dry, and laying it on a towel or neatly over a shower rod to dry should do it. I'm not sure if it can be dried in a dryer or ironed before it's quilted.

I wish that when someone tells a new quilter to wash the fabric they would also tell them how to wash it with out getting that mass of tangles on the cut ends. What a mess that is. I do not like to take the time to zig zag all ends before washing. I have heard that making a small diagonal cut on each corner will help. I do find it better but not satisfactory all the time. Does anyone have a better solution?  easy!!

I fold the fabric into four (more if the piece is really large, and then safety pin the corner where there is no fold. Washes well and doesn't tangle. Small pieces get put in a pillow case and washed like that. Again, no fraying or tangling.
Marijke, in Montreal

Clip about a quarter inch deep, every six inches or so. That way, the threads will still fray off the raw edge, but they'll only be 6 inches long. <G> If you don't clip the raw edge at all, the thread could be a lot longer than 45 inches, as it turns the corner and wraps back, so it can get very long.

Cutting off the corners will at least make sure the threads are only 44-45 inches long.

I never ever preshrink batting, I love the soft puckery look of antique quilts and I rarely use poly battings in my own quilts.
Jeri's Stitches in Time

Wash the fabric using the gentle cycle. It decreases the amount of raveling.
Clipping the corners didn't work for me, so I don't bother.

<<I fold the fabric into four (more if the piece is really large, and then safety pin the corner where there is no fold. Washes well and doesn't tangle.>>

Just be careful the pins don't rust. Don't leave them long in the wet fabric, just in case. Also, I used large pins and they left holes in the fabric.

No one probably wants more of my opinions, but here I go anyway: I really don't mind the tangle. I clip away as much of it as I can when moving the fabric from the washer to the dryer. When I remove the still-damp fabric from the dryer I clip away the rest. I like this handling of my "treasure" I guess its some sort of of grooming instinct. This is also why I like to iron fabric. Call me crazy.

Ok, you pre-wash & press. My question is: After you press, how do you store it so it won't have to be pressed again when you get ready to use it? I'd hate to do all that work over again.
Thanks, Lee

Unfortunately, I can't think of any way to store prewashed and pressed fabric so I don't have to press the creases out of it again before I cut it. I generally fold it selvage to selvage, and then fold the folded edge to the selvages. Then I accordian fold it up, the folds of the accordian about 4 or 5 inches wide. Then when I need some of this fabric for a project, I can take it to my ironing board, unfold some of the top, leaving most of it folded up accordian-style still, and iron just the amount I need. Then move it to the cutting mat and I'm ready to cut with a minimum of fuss.

All this works really nice if you are organised.... However, I don't always prewash all my fabric when I get it home (I have to hide it from my husband....the fabric police!!!) and sometimes I am rushed to get things put away or rushed to finish a project.... etc. At least I can imagine what my sewing room would look like if I were Martha Stewart!

Hi Lee,
I guess some don't press the fabric until they use it. I have tried this, but I just love to stroke my new fabric, and I just have to press it, too. Yes, I end up pressing it again. Worse, having pressed it the first time, there can now be pretty firm creases where it was folded from the weight of other fabrics above it. I guess to be truthful I have to say I really don't mind pressing it again. It's sort of like getting to know it again.
Am I crazy???? YES!

Partially a personal preference. With all the wonderful dark/bold colors, I think it's even More important to pre-wash. When I've been to the quilt shop, the first stop (after putting the tea kettle on) is to take the new fabbies to the laundry room. Give them a good hot rinse and dryer. I know they've ALL been washed this way. Press or, just fold and flatten to store and press when you need the pieces.
I HATE to worry about the 'bleeding' after the quilt is done if I don't prewash, not to mention shrinkage when I Don't want it.
Karen Bush


Susan Druding 

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