You may have noticed that we always include the “wash your fabric” step in our patterns. Some of you probably skip this step (you know who you are), but you shouldn’t. Here are some reasons why:
1. To remove the excess dye. To be sure, sometimes there isn’t any. We’ve made many quilts without pre-washing fabric and the world didn’t end. None of the fabric bled, and the quilt came out just fine. However, if you’re using a lot of reds or dark colors (especially in combination with lights and whites), you’re better off safe than sorry. This is especially true with batiks. Batiks have much more excess dye than broad-cloth. Most of the time it depends on the individual fabric. We’ve ruined quilts as a result of neglecting this step, and we do not wish this upon you. It’s the most unpleasant surprise ever. And you can’t take it back. Also, use color catchers. Color catchers are your friend.
2. Pre-shrinking. This is another one that can make a pretty quilt not-so-pretty. Some fabrics will simply shrink more than others. There’s no way to predict it or control it once the quilt is made. When it comes out of the dryer and it looks weird and scrunchy because of uneven shrinking, there’s nothing you can do about it. You can iron it all you want, but it can’t be undone.
Now, some people like the feel of fabric fresh off the bolt. It’s nice and stiff and cooperative. A lot of people don’t like to pre-wash fabric for exactly this reason; it takes away the stiffness. The crispiness of fresh fabric is because of sizing.
Sizing is a chemical that they put onto fabric for exactly that reason. But you can always add your own sizing after you wash and dry your fabric. It’s not that expensive to buy, and it’s even less expensive to make your own. And it’s totally doable. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
So, remember when we said that we always prewash our fabric? Well, we weren’t completely honest with you.
When to NOT pre-wash fabric:
In one instance only: when using a pre-cut pack. Why, you ask? Well, let us tell you!
If you’ve ever washed fabric in your whole life (and we hope you have), you may have noticed that the edges fray somewhat when you pull it out of the dryer.
Pre-cut packs are almost always sized very precisely. So if even a few of those precious centimeters have to be sacrificed then you’re left with a not-so-precise piece of fabric. Unfortunately, there’s no way around this. You’ll just have to break the rules and skip the washing step and cross your fingers. Just be sure to use your color-catcher friends the first couple times you wash the quilt.
3. Despite these other logical reasons, we also like to pre-wash fabric because, well, we like it. Quilting is all about process. Our methods feel almost sacred to us and skipping a step just feels wrong. Whenever we bring fabric home it goes straight to the wash before it enters the sewing room.
Bringing home new fabric for your collection never gets old. It’s one of the greatest things about quilting. Every quilter is familiar with the feeling: you get home with your new fabric, brain overflowing with ideas, and you just can’t wait to get down to it and transform that fabric into a quilt as soon as possible. But many a time have we popped some fabric in the wash intending to use it for a quilt, and then decided that maybe it wasn’t the right one.
Sometimes the most important thing you can do for your quilt and, indeed, for yourself is to give it a little time before you rush into a project.
Take your time with your fabric. Wash it, dry it, press it, look at it, fold it. Take the time to organize your materials and your brain will feel more organized as well.