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To pre-wash or not to pre-wash that is the question!

From day one of my quilting adventure, I had trouble deciding whether or not to pre-wash my fabric. I read a lot of different books, and online resources, but still wasn't sure what to do. I eventually decided I might as well take the extra time and pre-wash my fabric, just in case.

Shout Color Catchers do they work?

I usually always pre-wash my yardage and fat quarters, and I usually never wash charms or smaller pre-cuts. I have never had trouble with bleeding, but that is because I use shout color catchers every single time, and they work really well for me.

Thanks washer for this mangled mess
Thanks washer for this mangled mess
Thanks washer for this mangled mess
But, every single time I pre-wash my fabric, I get serious unraveling and tangling in the wash. I loose about an inch off my fabric, and waste time unknotting the big fabric mess. I think my biggest problem might be because my washer has an agitator. But, even when I hand wash then dry on a light cycle, I still get the unraveling.

Overcasted edges for pre-wash test
So I went back to the drawing board again, and decided to do a little test. I took about 20 fat quarters and overcasted the edges of half of them and left the other half. Of course the unovercasted ones tangled with the overcasted, so it was still a mess. But, the overcasted turned out beautiful! Although it did take FOREVER to overcast only 10 fat quarters.

I also decided to ask the members of the Modern Quilt Guild Facebook Group, what their pre-wash preference was and what tips they might have.

First I took a Facebook poll. 83 people voted in the poll and here were the results.

49 People said "I don't pre-wash anything"
17 people said "I pre-wash my yardage, and fat quarters. No smaller pre-cuts"
6 people said "I pre-wash all my fabric, yardage, fat quarters, jelly rolls, everything!"
4 people said "I only pre-wash batiks"
4 people said "I only pre-wash yardage"
3 people said "I only pre-wash flannel"

I also asked those who do pre-wash, what they do and if they have any special tips or techniques.

"I just wash all the fabrics together on cold -- regular detergent and no softener. Tumble dry and take out when they are still damp. Iron with steam. I trim off any bad frays and get to cutting. I've never found it necessary to bind raw edges but maybe with a top-loading washer you could have this problem." Kirstin Hepburn Hallett

"I wash on warm, since I want my stuff to shrink so there will be no surprises. I tumble dry on medium or hot then smooth out the wrinkles with a dry iron and fold and put away if it's not being used immediately." Mandy Leins

"I have stopped washing as I usually buy lots of jelly rolls and washing 2 1/2" of strips is not fun. And having some washed and some not is bad for a quilt." Tina Winslow

"I wash in cold water, dry on warm" Linda Wallin

"Want to know what I do ?? !! I soak each color in a separate bucket for at least 4 hours, then I rinse and rinse till the water runs clear, then I either sun dry or put them in the dryer on warm/hot so any shrinking still to happen, happens ! You just need to do that with HandLoom cottons." Vidya Vartak Joshi

"I prewashed some red flannel I wanted to use as backing, and I was so glad I did. Not only did the color run badly, but also the lint from the flannel was unbelievable. I ended up trashing the fabric, it would never have stopped bleeding and linting, and my quilt would have been ruined." Lynn Whittlesey Wilson

"I occasionally put fat quarters in a mesh bag (like the kind you're supposed to use for delicates) so they don't get jumbled up with the rest of my wash. It keeps them from fraying but you can end up with balls of fat quarters that are more challenging to iron. Like others, I pre-wash but don't give it much thought - I usually just through the fabric in with towels or sheets, though in the dryer set for cottons and iron immediately after washing. I've never had a problem with color bleeding." Natasha Kahn

"I also wash and dry on warm so there are no surprises! And I use a color catcher, especially if I'm mixing a load with my regular laundry. I don't do anything to the edges because I don't mind pulling off the threads, which I do before drying, and I haven't had too many tangled messes. I usually don't iron right away, but sometimes if I am using the fabric soon I'll iron it slightly damp." Sarah Shulman

"I wash with my regular laundry and tumble dry. If I have red fabric I wash it separate. I also use a mesh bag for fat quarters. I pull off loose threads before I dry and if need be after drying. I do not iron, I smooth out and fold. I do iron before I use it for a project." Arlene Henson DeWilde

"I was taught to clip corners of fabric on the diagonal--just enough to get past selvedge. Buy good quality fabric. Wash in HE washer with no agitator if possible. And use a Shout color catcher!!" Sharon Dickman

"I serge the cut ends with scrap thread, then wash on delicate." Scarlett Rose

"I wash like regular laundry and with color catcher. Dry the same. I've tried clipping corners and pinking but there's always tangles. When transferring to dryer, I separate each piece and sort of snap it before tossing it in." Rhonda L Smart

"I just put fabric in the washer and wash it on warm and try it on dewrinkle setting for 10-15 minutes depending on how many yards I have washed. For color fabrics I will use a color catcher if a mix of colors. Never felt a need to sew raw edges and such. For the most part I just smooth out the fabric, fold it up until I'm ready to use it. When it comes time to cut it I do. Very seldom do I have to iron it since there are no wrinkles in it. As far as edges fraying I've not seen much of that. It happens every once in a while and when it does I simply trim it off." Carol Surzinski

"I do no prep. Just toss and wash! The only ones I have trouble bleeding have been hand dyed and I wash those with color specifics. Heard good things about dye catchers though I have not tried them." Mary Ann Howi Harpe

"i use a small bit of laundry detergent and a cup of vinegar [to set colors] to machine wash on gentle cycle, clip what strings there are as i pop them into the dryer, dry on reg high heat , fold out of the dryer to fit my cupboards. i do not press until i'm ready to cut." Rita Goshorn

"I selected the option that I don't wash anything-- but in truth, I do wash flannel if I'm using it for a backing because it shrinks so much. And I will wash fabrics before I make things like clothing, placemats, baby items, etc. Just not for quilts." Krista Fleckenstein

"I used to prewash everything, but then I got tired of ironing it all. So now I just prewash stuff from Spoonflower and fabric I am going to use for garments." Dana Michaels

"I prewash sometimes! Depends on the importance of the project & the colours I'm using" Rachel Letham

"I prewash because of the chemicals in fabric that remain after production (like what's used for sizing, but there can be some really nasty stuff in the dyes as well) and to remove any dust or other residue from the factory or travel. Depending on the fabric supplier, and where it was produced, you can have some really bad stuff in the dye lots." Mandy Leins

Well thats a wealth of information! So I leave you with question, do you pre-wash your fabrics? If yes, do you have any tips to help prevent unwraveling? If no, how do your quilts turn out when you do wash?

To pre-wash or not to pre-wash that is the question!




Creator of Pile O' Fabric