Wash or Not?

What's Your Style

We all have opinions and we all have our own preferred way of doing things. A while ago I thought it would be fun to poll my readers and ask them their opinions on various quilting or sewing topics. The number of readers responding to my questions seems to be growing. I have enjoyed reading the answers I have received thus far and have even learned a thing or two. This post is the seventh question in my series.

After purchasing fabric and taking it home a quilter must decide if she will wash her fabrics before using them. Some quilters always pre-wash their fabrics while others do not. Today’s question has three parts:

  1. Do you pre-wash your fabrics?
  2. If yes, why?
  3. If not, why?

I have to admit that I do not prewash my fabrics for several reasons. First of all I am lazy. Fabric, when washed, becomes tangled, releases all sorts of threads, becomes wrinkled and looses its crispness. When I remove it from the washing machine I have to first remove the threads that have wrapped all around the bundle. Then I have to untangle the mess. Next comes drying. Drying it in the dryer does not remove the wrinkles. This means I have a serious amount of time involved in pressing out those wrinkles. All this labor takes the fun out of quilting.

I know what you are about to say. You are going to tell me that one day I’m going to regret my decision. Someday I’m going to be surprised when I take my beautifully made quilt out of the washing machine and discover that my previously unwashed fabric has bled onto the other fabrics in my quilt. To that I will reply, “I’ll take my chances.”

But, I think my philosophy may be on the verge of evolving. Not to long ago I read a very informative post written by Melanie McNeil on her blog called Carbird Quilt Studio. The post was titled Fabrics That Bleed. In her post she shared her insight and experience with fabrics that have bled. She also provided a link to an extremely educational post written by Vicki Welsh. Her post was named Save My Bleeding Quilt! I would highly recommend that you visit both Melanie’s as well as Vicki’s posts to learn valuable laundering techniques for both your fabrics as well your quilts.

Now that I have shared my thoughts let’s hear yours. Time to start typing.


30 thoughts on “Wash or Not?

  1. Yes, I do prewash…but not right after I bring home the fabric. I store it unwashed; just habit I guess. But my main reason for prewashing (besides lessons learned with fabric AND thread bleeding long ago) is to get rid of the added sizing that is often on the fabric. Yes, it feels nice, but sizing composition and amounts differ from bolt to bolt as well as from manufacturer/creator.

    For the record, I usually don’t prewash if I know it’ll be an ‘art’ quilt or wall hanging…but if I’m using scraps from alot of prewashed fabrics in such a piece, I’ll go on and prewash all of the fabric…

    I did try as an experiment using non-prewashed fabric in a throw that I also machine quilted, just to see if it got all crinkly and soft like ‘they’ say from washing it after it was finished…it didn’t really work out that way for me – but like I said, it was an experiment and it’s getting plenty of use!

    Now, I have a large growing luscious stash of African fabrics my daughter has gotten for me over her years back and forth to various countries there and I’m not sure what I’ll do with those since I suspect some of the fiber content could disintegrate when washed….so once I get inspired on a project to use those lovely specimens I’ll probably sew a mini quilt using the selected fabrics and see how they respond to washing/not washing…I do enjoy experimenting!

    Whew, too long of a response I know, but maybe it made up for all the times I’m silent!

    1. You sound like a very experienced quilter that knows exactly what works for you. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I enjoyed reading your response even if you thought it was too long. 🙂

  2. I do not prewash! In the past I prewashed all the fabric for a kit I had bought- it shrunk down so much as to be unusable and I had to spend a year trying to find a replacement Fabric I liked:(

  3. I prewash, and honestly, I do it because my mom did, so now it’s a habit. We usually don’t iron before cutting because it will generally sit for a while before we get to that point and by then the wrinkles aren’t bad. However, I recently had a less expensive cotton that stretched a ton while I was working with it, so I might start starching my fabric before I cut. The print was too perfect not to use for this quilt, but boy it caused some issues in my blocks.

    1. Katie, how sad! It is interesting how some of are habits have formed just because. There are many traits that my mom had that I now too possess. Interesting that you don’t iron before cutting. Does that make cutting out your blocks more challenging? I’m so glad you took the time to stop by, read my post and then type your comment. I just love it when my readers do. It is so fun to interact and learn from one another. Have a great weekend! Please stop by again. 🙂

      1. Well, my blocks weren’t perfect when I cut them out, but it’s also my first quilt, so it’s hard to say if it was me or the fabric. I’m going to try ironing before cutting with my next project. I just have to add two borders and this full-sized quilt will be done, and then it will be off to the next one!

      2. Katie, way to go on almost finishing your first quilt. Please let me know when you have it finished. I would love to see it. I have a hunch you may notice a difference if you press your fabric first. Let me know. Keep sewing!! 🙂

  4. After a bleed on an heirloom quilt I was making, I prewash every time. I think it’s also better to see how the fabric will act and feel after laundering. But mainly, I prewash to avoid another heartbreaking disaster. Confession: I’ve never tried color catchers. After my experience, I think I’d still be wary, though. Prewashing is so fast and easy; and the ironing after washing is also a chance to learn more about the fabric.

    Re the tangle of threads, that can be mostly avoided by snipping about 1/2 inch off the corners of the fabric.

    1. I’m so glad you shared your experiences. I’ve never thought of it in the way that you have described. How sad that you had the disaster occur. Thank you for the tip on clipping the corner. I will have to try that next time. Sigh! I guess I better try pre-washing my fabrics next time. Thank you for visiting and for adding your comment! 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend!

  5. Thanks for the link! You already know I pre-wash, and the reasons why. For me, it is just part of the process and isn’t any worse than having to unstitch or re-do things — none of that is fun but is just more steps on the way. Thanks again.

    1. Melanie, you are very welcome! I learn a lot from reading your blog. The post you shared on washing fabrics has definitely made me rethink my practices. I liked the post so much I just had to share it here. We all do have our own way of doing things. Sometimes even very stubborn people like myself can learn a trick or two. That’s why I ask these questions. It’s a great way to start conversations and to learn from one another. Keep doing what you are doing with your blog. It’s one of my many favorites. Please also stay in touch mine. I value your feedback! Have a wonderful weekend! 🙂

  6. I do not pre-wash my quilts for the same reasons you listed above. I have only been disappointed once, with a very small bleed on a polka-dot fabric. I think it bled because the small area got too wet when I sprayed with Best Press.
    I usually wash all my quilts, and I use the color catcher sheets. There have been three quilts that I have not washed.
    I do iron my fabric before I start anything.

    1. Chela, Thank you for participating in today’s question! I enjoy reading my readers responses. I’ve learned so much from what you have shared. I’m so glad that you have a mostly positive experience. It’s always sad to hear when tragedy strikes with bleeding colors. We put so much time, money and effort into the projects we create. While I am a big fan of Best Press I have had an issue with it sometimes staining my fabrics. Especially solid colors. I’ve always hoped that the staining would disappear when the item is washed although I have never checked back to find out. LOL! I press my fabrics before sewing too. I like them to be nice and crisp. Sometimes I do go a bit overboard though. Have a great weekend! 🙂

  7. Hi Cindy,
    I normally do not prewash my fabrics, mainly for all the reasons you list. Ugg, that tangle of threads . . . and then the ironing. I want to get to cutting and sewing! Also, that is what color catchers are for – their whole job in life. I would hate to deny them their fun. I have not had an issue yet, knock on wood. Should that change, obviously that may influence my future decisions. Happy Friday! ~smile~ Roseanne

    1. Roseanne, first of all, thank you for taking the time to share your philosophy on today’s question. You are one of my most faithful commenters. I always look forward to your input and your added humor. Now to respond to your answer, I’m with you. I hate ironing wrinkles out of fabric. Especially when I spend all kinds of time tackling the stubborn ones only to discover that they are still there! Argh! I agree with you on the color catchers. LOL! Sometimes I think I give them too much credit though. I guess I will keep knocking on wood too. 🙂 Happy Friday and weekend to you!

  8. I normally do not prewash fabric. The only time I do is if I buy ‘questionable’ fabric from a resale shop or yard sale and fabrics that I purchased that I am not sure of the content or the strength. I serge the raw edges to avoid unraveling and to show at a glance that the fabric has been pre-washed. If it survives, OK. If not it goes in the garbage. So far I have been lucky and not had any surprises and I buy fabric from everywhere including Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Jo Ann’s and LQS. I also wash my quilts before giving them.

    1. Serging the edges is a great idea. I’m glad to hear you have been successful. You certainly have a well thought out system. 🙂 I’ve been guilty of laziness when it comes to prewashing. So far I’ve been very lucky. Knock on wood. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really enjoyed reading your answer.

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