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Washing your Fabric– Before or After?

Washing your Fabric– Before or After?

Today’s topic might open up a whole can of worms….washing fabric.  Do you before or after you sew it?

prek patchwork- quilting basics 1 class at a time

I find that I treat each fabric differently….if the color is crazy and I worry about color running- wash.  If I am in a hurry and don’t really have time to wait- no wash.  I tend to love the wrinkled look and that means washing comes after I piece it.

Let’s dive right in and find out why or why not we would wash our fabric.

washing fabric- before or after you sew it? Todays topic for pre-k patchwork on patchwork posse

There are a few things right off the bat that are important to think about when you are working with your fabric.

  • color–  are the colors set? Red is highly likely to blead into your other fabrics when everything ends up in the laundry.  Another color I have had problems with– blues and even brown!  If you find color on your finger tips or counter if the fabric gets wet- I would wash that fabric a few times to get all the excess color dye out.
  • shrinkage–  fabric shrinks. Cotton shrinks.  If you are looking for an antique look of a quilt, then keep the washing for the end.  The fabric and batting will shrink together and give an overall puckering look or used and loved look.  If you do wash before cutting, be aware that you might end up with a smaller piece of fabric than what you started with.  Sometimes that happens.
  • stiffness or starch- fabric when printed goes through a few process and one is setting colors and stiffness with starch.  The fabric can sometimes be hard to handle and manipulate when loaded with it, so washing it to remove that will make it more maluable and easier to sew with. {I find my big quilting machine DOESN’T like starched fabric at all!}

Whether you wash before or after is your own preference– let’s quickly go over what to wash it with.

  • Detergents-  I don’t tend to use any different detergent on my fabric as my clothes, however you want to avoid anything that has a bleach alternative, heavy scents or dyes on it.
  • Fabric Softener- I have heard that this is a no-no.  This can damage the fabric fibers.
  • Bleach- NO!  This will weaken the threads, distort the color, or totally ruin it all!  Keep this away from your fabric {unless you are doing a dye process, and know what you are doing}
  • Hot or cold water-  Cold water is the best.  Will help keep the shrinking of the fabric under control and could help with setting the color also.
  • If the color is still bleeding or running after a wash, consider throwing it into the washer for a second load.  Better safe than sorry!
  • Take the fabric out of the dryer when it is a little damp.  Run it under a hot iron to help with removing the wrinkles.  Don’t leave it in the dryer or it will have wrinkles that will make you crazy angry when you try to use it!

When you wash your fabric, you will find a dryer full of threads and strings!  This happens because the edges or sides of the cuts will get pulled and aggitated and threads will run rampant.  To keep this under control, you might want to consider running the sides under the serger or using a zig-zag stitch.  Someone suggested snipping the corners.  Just be aware that if you don’t do anything, there will be some tangling to sort when all done.

I had asked this question in the Facebook group and here are a few responces that I thought you might like–

Christine says:  I try to always wash it at least once, but I use bright colors most of the time so it’s mostly to prevent bleeding. Some of the reds I will wash twice because they are so much more stiff that the other colors.

Marilyn– Wash…the chemicals in the fabric need to be removed before you do a lot handling and cutting.

Sally shared: I never wash because I think you get better piecing with fabric that is crisp and unwashed…….but all of my fabrics are from independent quilt shops. As soon as a quilt is totally complete I wash it and dry it and think that little puff/pucker you get from cotton batting is what makes a quilt. In the hundreds of quilts I’ve made in 30 plus years I’ve had one red bleed ever so slightly.

Debi said: It all depends on the project. If it is’nt going to be washed and just hung on the wall, I dont bother with washing the fabric. If it’s to be worn, I wash it to preshrink before hand. As for a quilt it depends on the look I want for the finished quilt. Recently I finished a quilt for my grandson. I washed and dried all the fabric as the backing was red and I didnt want it to bleed the first time it was washed as a quilt. I also used just regular salt in the wash for the red backing and washed it twice so the color would set.

Estefania brought up this point: I don’t like to wash them because most of the times they get to wrinkly and annoying to cut, even after ironing…. But I do wash them, just in case they shrink too much…. Which already happened once, the fabric got to small and twisted and I had to change the design a bit to fit the measurements I needed. Better to be with me than after I deliver the product to the costumer…. right?

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Q & A- The debate of washing before or after doesn’t need to continue- but I’d love to hear hints and tips you have when you do wash.  Let’s hear what you have to say…..

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  1. Pam

    23 January

    I fan fold fabric and place safety pins at one selvedge end. Fans are about 12 – 18 inches wide depending on number of yards. I wash with regular detergent in a front loader with cold water. They do not twist as free fabric does.
    I damp dry on low and if it is still wet, I put it on timed dry for 10 minutes on low.
    I iron the fabric and fold selvedge to selvedge a selvedge to fold. I then fold it onto a 6 inch wide ruler lengthwise and have a nice fabric package.

  2. Becky

    23 January

    Pam, this is a great way to keep that fabric under control when washing them. I will have to give it a try! thank you for sharing.

  3. Blanca Rico

    24 January

    Hi, Becky!
    I always wash fabrics before using them, with no exception.
    Once I read that it’s good to do it in order to avoid shrinking after they are sewn and the work is the same.
    Of course I wash them separately by colors, just in case some of the dark dye the bright and whites.
    I fold them when they are dry and iron them when I use them.

    Cheers,
    Blanqui
    (sorry for my English)

  4. NannyPenny

    24 January

    I always wash and iron my fabric with a heavy dose of starch to stiffen it back up for cutting. I also cut the corners and sometimes pull the thread to find the straight of grain on each edge. The cut corners allow me to see easily which fabrics have been washed and what has not. Happy sewing!

  5. Marsha Oberlin

    24 January

    I wish I had heard of this product before …….so I wanted to share with all of you…..SHOUT is a Color Catcher -Dye Trapping Sheet ( I found at my local grocery store) that absorbs and traps loose color dyes in the wash…..so now every time I wash anything that has a chance of the dye bleeding onto the other colors, either be fabric or a knit project I always put a SHOUT SHEET in my washer and my dryer…..IT’S BEEN A LIFE SAVER!

  6. kathleen babbitt

    24 January

    I use mostly cottons and flannels. I always wash my fabric. I have read somewhere that part of the chemicals they use is formaldehyde I don’t need to be pickled too soon! lol it also gets on your pins and where do we put our pins? lol also if you don’t want a tangled mess and it is over a yard of fabric serge the two cut ends together and they won’t get tangled!

  7. Cindy Dahlgren

    24 January

    I wash everything but my smaller pre-cuts and the yardage I’m using with them. I have asthma, and I noticed that when I didn’t wash before using the fabric, I had problems breathing, and got a rash and itchy skin. Needless to say, I immediately started washing, and the problems disappeared. I don’t really like all that extra work, so I absolutely wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have to!

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