Update: Prewash or Not?

What's Your Style

My series What’s Your Style explores topics related to sewing and quilting. This is my fourteenth edition. On December 17, 2017, I published a post called Wash or Not?  In the article I shared that I didn’t pre-wash my fabrics for these reasons:

  1. I disliked the fact that the fabrics got all wrinkled and
  2. I wasn’t fond of the threads that unraveled and twisted the fabrics together.

After reading the responses to my question I went on a mission to learn even more. Through that research I found a wealth of opinions and techniques. One lady was frustrated with her struggles to achieve a properly sized finished block. To explore the possible reasons she did a detailed experiment. During the discovery process she learned that the heat from her iron was shrinking her fabrics. I had personal experience with the same situation during my 100 Modern Quilt Block challenge.

Pre-Wash or Not?
Oh the Tangles!

After reading the articles I decided to change my philosophy. I now pre-wash all of my fabrics and have resigned myself to dealing with the labor intensive process. Hopefully this will head off future potential issues with fabric bleeding, block shrinkage, etc.

Now I sort all of my fabrics by color. Anything other than hand-dyed and batiks are washed in warm water and dried in a hot dryer. If I’m concerned about bleeding I toss in a color catcher. Some of the hand dyed fabrics I wash individually with Dawn in a bucket of super hot tap water. The process is repeated until the water comes out clear. Next I rinse them in clean water to remove any remaining soap residue. The fabrics are then gently squeezed and spread on top of cotton towels to absorb excess moisture. Once the fabrics are damp to the touch I either draped them over a hanger or tossed them into a dryer to finish the drying process.

If I remove the fabric from the dryer right away I can avoid excessive wrinkling. After removing them from the dryer I sometimes iron them, fold and stash them away. Then other times I skip the ironing (depends on the condition of the fabric when it comes out of the dryer and/or my mood).

I must admit that I’m much happier now with my pre-washed fabrics because they are softer to the touch and seem to be much easier to work with. They are also less apt to bleed colors and experience excessive shrinkage.

So there’s my update! Any thoughts?


27 thoughts on “Update: Prewash or Not?

  1. I think it is easier to cut and sew the fabric with sizing or some stiffness to it. That is why I don’t pre-wash my fabric. It is easier to handle stiff then when it is limp and floppy. Just my 2 cents.

  2. I can’t recall whether I told you my trick: If I’m washing yardage, i serge the 2 raw edges together first. It wastes no more fabric than the strings would and avoids the mess 🙃

  3. I prewash for a number of reasons, as mentioned before. I’ve found that my new (now 4-years-old) washing machine, without a center agitator, is gentler on the fabrics and I don’t have anywhere near the shredding on the cut edges as I did with the old machine. Without that, I do think the idea of putting smaller pieces in an old pillow case or a big lingerie bag is a good idea, to keep the fabric from being beat up as much.

    1. That’s interesting because I have a similar machine and I don’t really see a difference in the amount of tangles. In my case I think both machines wreak havoc on the raw edges. Lucky me! The laundry bag idea is a great idea. I’ve often wondered what impact it would have. Thanks for your great reply! 😊

  4. I pre-wash except for art quilts that would never be washed (only dry cleaned). I winced when I saw the image with the pile of frayed fibers as that is the part I dislike about pre-washing and drying. I try to carefully take each fabric out of the dryer (sometimes the threaded that fringed on the ends tangle) and clip out the frayed edges immediately and then press them.

    1. Good to know. I just washed a whole bunch of fabric yesterday and the tangle of threads was massive and very stubborn to get rid of. As I stood at the washing machine, with my scissors, carefully removing the mess I kept telling myself that this was all worth it. My flashback to the shrinking block pieces reminded me that this would eliminate that issue. So it’s either dealing with a tangled mess or shrinking blocks. 😊 I’m pleasantly surprised at the lack of tangles when I take the fabrics out of the dryer and of how few wrinkles there are. I carefully smooth them out and lay them in a pile. If I’m ambitious, which is most the time, I iron, fold and put them away. I went to a meeting last night for the Madison Contemporary Fiber Artists. The meeting is at a local modern quilt store. I overheard the employees talking about how they never prewash their fabrics and I found that interesting. There, how’s that for a wordy reply! 🤣

      1. I know this would only be appreciated by a limited audience but they could make a horror film called “Tangle of Threads”! Of course I’m not sure I would watch it sounds terrifying😳

  5. Welcome to the dark (pre-wash) side!
    As for having to pre-wash pre-cut fabrics such as those found in jelly rolls, etc…I’m wondering if you can do the pillow case trick. In a pinch, I put delicates in a pillowcase through the washer and dryer – so maybe that might help with the tangles/ravels but not the excessive wrinkling…just a thought.

    Sound like a good experiment?

  6. To each her own. You must do what seems best to you. I’m still not ever pre-washing. My life expectancy is too short, and I’ve never had a problem. LOL I saw a baby quilt at church Sunday that I had given the mom – unwashed red and white backing. It’s been washed now, and it looks great still.

  7. You make great points, but what can we do when our fabric is already cut up and not prewashed? I suppose if you start from the beginning and prewash, it’s best. For those of us just rethinking this idea, in order to wash the fabrics, then it requires using stash that’s whole, rather than scraps.

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