Too prewash, or not to prewash… Its a much more divisive question than I would have imagined when I first started quilting.
After much trial and error, I’ve decided that it’s not worth prewashing any of my quilting fabric.
The problem with washing is that, depending on the brand of fabric and the weave, you can end up loosing a good portion of your fabric before you’ve even cut it – and all those loose threads are such a pain to deal with.
It’s also a wonderful way to get some really set in creases that seem impossible to press out, regardless of which ironing aids you use.
Having a garment construction background, it was habit to wash my fabrics before cutting them. I quickly learned that there are reasons that so many retailers advise against machine washing precuts.
Sadly, I’ve had to throw away more fabric than I’d like to admit to, because it came out of the dryer an irrevocably scrunched up, tangled mess. I even tried washing my precuts in lingerie bags: it helped a little, but still resulted in a fairly substantial muddle.
Of course, it’s completely up to you whether you choose to pretreat your fabric in any way. Here are my two recommendations:
- Be as consistent as possible:
You’ll find it much easier to put together scrap and sampler quilts from your stash if all of the fabric is in the same state.
- Do your research:
There are some brands of fabric that really should be prewashed before use, because they shrink during the piecing process after repeated ironing.
Some also have less colorfast dyes, which may be prone to running when exposed to steam. It’s worthwhile doing a quick web search when you pick up fabric you’re new to, and seeing whether anyone has run in to these issues with it.
If you do have to preshrink your precuts before cutting, it’s preferable to do so by hand. It’s time consuming, but I’ve found it preferable to machine washing.
Simply wash the fabric by hand as you would a delicate garment, separating pieces by color, and rinse thoroughly. This will remove any excess dyes. To shrink the fabric, press it with a hot, dry, iron, until excess moisture is removed.
Prewashing your fabric will make a minimal difference to the look of your finished quilt, but all quilts will shrink with their first wash, as all batting will contract.
This shrinkage enhances the texture of a quilt, but can be minimized by dry cleaning, if you’re willing to make that ongoing financial investment throughout the life of your quilt.
Please, do throw a color catcher sheet (or two, or three) in the wash with any new quilt.
Caring for your quilt is easy. It’s best to use a mild detergent on quilting cottons to increase the longevity of colors; a gentle wash, on a cool setting, is best for minimizing wear and stress.
Optimally, quilts would be dried flat, out of direct sunlight, but it’s completely unrealistic to expect that people have the space, and the climate, for that, so it’s usually quite fine to pop them in the dryer in a low heat setting.
These are just my thoughts on this topic at the present moment, and may change in the future. Please let me know if theres anything glaring you think Ive missed out, or something youd like me to discuss in the future.
Thanks to Melissa for reminding me to mention that overlocking, zigzag stitching, or trimming the edges of precuts with pinking shears can all help to reduce fraying during the wash and dry cycles.
It’s back to the sewing machine for me now. Until next time, happy quilting!