Pre-wash Camp

Amongst those in the quilting world, there are those that choose to pre-wash all fabrics, and those that choose not to.  I don’t know the latter reasoning, but I do know why I fell into the pre-wash camp.  Here are my reasons – always looking for more information, so you if you fall into one camp or the other, feel free to enlighten me with your comments.

Reason #1 – Bleeding into lighter fabrics is less likely.

Until recently, this had not been a problem for me – until I decided to piece the quilt cutting and sewing before pre-washing.  After the quilt top was done, before quilting, I did wash it, several times, in my kitchen sink.  Even so, after quilting, I did just a rinse in the machine, and found out that some of the blue still bled to the white backing.  Seven washes/rinses in the sink wasn’t enough.  I feel sheepish – and vow never to let this happen again. I know this won’t technically “ruin” the quilt, since most people rarely see the back, but still – what if it hadn’t been the back…



Also, pre-washing before sewing means you are washing smaller pieces which are easier to handle.

Reason #2 – You get to know the fabrics you are working with. 

As you wash in the kitchen sink, as I do, you learn your fabric, the colors, the weave, the stretch, the feel.  Yes, you spend a lot of time ironing, but this is also another opportunity to learn more of your fabric.  Yes, the feel, the pattern, the weave, but also any little imperfection you may want to cut around.  I’ve found tiny snags, small holes, and even a small red 1 1/2″ line in white muslin.

Reason #3 – You get to bask in the scent of starch as you quilt.

Maybe it’s just me, but I love the smell of starch, some brands more than others.  Ironing kind of sucks, but necessary after pre-washing so the fabrics are wrinkle free, and especially for free-motion quilting – the starch helps in the handling under the machine needle.  Plus, some starches are scented now, and anyway you look at it, anything smells better than that new store bought chemical smell.

Reason #4 – You get to choose the softness or stiffness of your fabric.

No starch, light starch, heavy starch, you pick.

Reason #5 – Not only do you not have the chemical smell, but those chemicals also won’t be bothering your skin or sinuses.

Reason #6 – Fabric is pre-shrunk.

Did you know different fabrics shrink at different rates?  Yet, even after hand-washing and machine drying, you can expect a bit more shrinkage, but it will be less than non-pre-washed and should be more uniform.  Plus your finished size should more closely resemble  your original calculations, unless you actually allowed for shrinkage, something I always seem to forget to do.

Reason #7 – Old fabrics, old quilt tops – find out before quilting which stains will come out.

I have done some quilt tops of various ages, stored away, mostly stain free, but not always. I’d rather know before quilting if those stains are coming out.  Maybe I can replace that piece, or quilt over it, but at least I know before I start – or unfortunately, in some cases, if it’s even worth starting in the case of really bad allover stains.

Reason #8 –  Again, in the case of old fabrics, old quilt tops – you find out if it is even worth quilting – is the fabric already threadbare, will there be a hole where there was once a stain?  

I actually had this happen with a really nice vintage piece, probably fabrics from the 40’s, but I discovered it was very badly stained and smelled of petrochemicals.  When I washed it with dish soap – Dawn – the water turned black, and after several washes when the water was finally clear, I noticed there were tiny holes all over – whatever that was on the fabric ate through it.  A shame, but I didn’t waste time quilting it first.  That would have been a disaster for my machine!

Q-Tip #13 – Pre-wash everything  – advantages are numerous.


2 thoughts on “Pre-wash Camp”

  1. I’m a pre-washer, too, though I wash everything by machine. (I don’t buy jelly rolls or other pre-cuts.) I want any bleeding and shrinking to take place before I cut. And I want the chemicals washed out as I have sensitive skin. I’m not a fan of scented anything, so I use fragrance-free laundry soap, no dryer sheets or softener. I do have a scented starch, which I bought by mistake and rarely use. But now and then starch is important, and I’ll use the starch until it’s used up.

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