Quilting Day by Day

Prewashing Fabrics: worth the effort

I’m putting a lot on the table here because, for the sake of keeping my process as time efficient as possible, I’ve been following the pack of quilters who never pre-wash their fabric, and not taking the pre-washers too seriously.  But I’ve changed my mind and have no problem admitting it!

**This information applies to quilts that will be loved and laundered regularly, rather than art quilts that will hang on walls and never be laundered 🙂

I liked the idea of not pre-washing, drying, and pressing all my fabrics before I even got to that time-consuming-not-so-favorite piecing process and was happy to learn that there are MANY experienced quilters who don’t pre-wash.  After over one hundred completed quilts I’ve not had a problem with a quilt coming out of the wash ruined by bleeding colors, but I believe that means I’ve been lucky rather than “right” in my decision to dive right in and cut as soon as I get home from the store.  Just because something hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it will never happen!

I recently purchased a selection of solids for a quilt I want to make for my home, and for some reason, as I looked at the array of colors from very light stone to vibrant boysenberry, I started calling to mind the voices I’ve heard recently (outside my head, just to be clear!) explaining again the good reasons for pre-washing.


I decided that for my own reference, I would pre-wash on all the pieces and see what happened.  I really didn’t expect anything unusual but I separated them into two groups I thought were sensible and threw a Shout color catcher in with each load, thinking I would be able to put this matter to rest, at least for myself.

I’m here to say that I’m now a believer!

Not only did the color catcher in the purple/fuschia/orange load come out pink, but there were dark blotches on the lightest orange piece.  Don’t cry for me, Argentina, (sorry, couldn’t resist) because the pattern I’m using has very flexible block designs and I’ll still get what I need from that piece.  I consider this a cheap lesson because I plan to quilt the heck out of this thing, meaning hours of work at my quilting machine alone, and had I not pre-washed the fabrics, I can imagine that the dark spots would have bled into several places and ruined my finished quilt.  Especially since that gorgeous boysenberry is also the binding.


As well, I noticed in my pre-washed fabric the exaggeration of something I’ve always known to be true – fabric off the bolt is often not straight on the grain even if it looks straight based on the almost permanent crease put into it opposite an often well lined up selvage edge. I really notice it on pre-printed panels and generally use a stretching technique to get those straight, although I prefer to avoid using them whenever possible.  When you lay out other new fabrics to start cutting, this off grain thing isn’t always noticeable.  But when you wash it and that factory crease is gone, allowing the fabric to move into a natural position, you can really see how much it needs to be adjusted!

I’ve also known that fabric shrinks differently along the straight grain than it does along the cross grain, so when we’re cutting blocks and placing them in various configurations around the quilt top, they aren’t all going in the same direction and therefore have the potential to shrink in different ways causing possible issues.  Since the variations can be minimal, I didn’t worry too much about it, but I’m now wondering if an imperfection I noticed along an edge of one of my baby quilts and a block distortion in another one might have been due to this and I’m thinking the end results could have been different had I been working with pre-washed fabrics.

Thankfully I am not a big fabric stasher because yesterday I started washing, drying, and neatly folding the fabrics I do have on hand and will finish this up today so that all my pieces are ready to go.  I can still look forward to the desired crinkly look of a freshly washed quilt because my batting will have its own shrinkage 🙂  After thinking it was so much more work to pre-wash, I’ve discovered that I really don’t mind. I’m even enjoying the pressing and it gives me a chance to really look over the fabric for any flaws or imperfections.

This has now inspired me to do a scrap purge so that I’m only keeping what I really want and making sure what’s left is all washed up – when I go in I go ALL IN! I’m not a big scrap saver, as you know, but I do hang onto certain things until I have enough for a crazy strip baby quilt – they’re very popular in my Etsy shop! – and sometimes I have bigger leftovers than I expected. I will pass on all of the smaller pieces and pre-wash those larger ones.

Here is picture proof.  Yes, this is my actual scrap inventory and nothing has been edited out.  I have nothing to hide here, people …

For your viewing pleasure, I even arranged the smaller scraps into something of a block with a black centre and a nice black border for effect.  You’re welcome.


2 thoughts on “Prewashing Fabrics: worth the effort”

    1. Isn’t it funny how we have to learn some of these things for ourselves before we actually do them? There are so many differing opinions out there that it really does come down to trying and figuring out what works best for us, and sometimes that means a mistake here and there 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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