8 Tips for Pre-Washing Fabric

pre-washing fabrics

I believe that the success of a sewing project lies not just in purchasing the right fabric and accessories.  The way the fabric is cared for before the start of the project also has a profound influence on the result of the sewing project.  This includes pre-washing fabric and usually ironing the fabric before beginning the project.

Why should the fabric be prewashed?

There are various reasons why fabrics should be pre-washed

  • Some fabrics tend to shrink once they are washed, so if you stitch the fabric first and then wash it, the final product may be two sizes smaller than what you had planned.
  • If you combine a quality fabric with a less expensive fabric, the fabrics tend to shrink at different levels, creating an uneven finish to the final product.
  • Some fabric fades or bleeds once washed and so, in my opinion, it’s always advisable to pre-wash the fabric instead of going through the entire sewing process only to be disappointed when you find that the finished product fades after a wash or the color runs from one part of the garment to the other.
  • Fabric like cotton may be pretreated with starch to make it stiff and shiny. Pre-washing fabric helps to remove starch showing the real texture of the fabric and making it easier to handle.

pre-washing fabric

Tips for Pre-washing Fabric

pre-washing fabric

You should always pre-wash fabric the same way you would treat the final product. For example, if you plan to dry clean your silk blouse, then the silk fabric should also be dry cleaned before sewing. The washing instruction given with the fabric should also be taken into consideration.

pre-washing fabric

Always zigzag the cut edges of the fabric before washing so that the yarn does not unravel or entangle during the washing process.

pre-washing fabricsFor fabric like voile, hand wash or machine wash in hand wash mode is enough. This is because voile is a very delicate fabric and tends to tear off if washed in a machine with high temperature.

pre-washing fabric

Cotton fabric can be washed in the washing machine at the right temperature or slightly higher temperature to prevent shrinkage in the future, or you can wash it multiple times to make it real soft.

pre-washing fabrics

 Silk, being a delicate fabric, is better to have dry cleaned rather than washing yourself in the machine.

pre-washing fabric

Knitted wool can be washed by hand and laid flat to dry.

pre-washing fabric

Chiffon and georgette, being delicate fabrics, should be hand washed.

pre-washing fabric

Once the washing and drying is done, remember to iron the fabric before the actual project begins. This makes marking and cutting the fabric easier.

If, by any chance, you are in a hurry and don’t have time for pre-washing fabric, it is often wise to stitch the final product at least 2 sizes larger than the normal size. This way you leave provision for shrinkage when it is washed.

For some other thoughts on mistakes to avoid when cutting fabric, please refer back to this article.

Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Cutting Fabric

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8 Responses to 8 Tips for Pre-Washing Fabric

  1. Claudine says:

    Assume all these washing tips do not apply to wool fabricants, i would hate to ruin as they are expensive. Would you actually dry clean before cutting?

  2. francescapia says:

    Agree about pre-washing being a necessity for many reasons not least the yuck factor – I used to pre-wash bought clothes, when I still bought them. And this is a great article – thank you. But the tip on pre-washing more than once to make sure fabric is totally shrunk – well, I’ve seen that quite a few times and find it both unecological and harsh – all that washing! I learnt from my aunt who was an adult during WWII to soak cotton and linen at least overnight – I put them into very hot water and then don’t change it again, and then give them a good wash. Guaranteed no further shrinkage 🙂

  3. kimberly3014 says:

    The lady at my fabric store told me that we knew the conditions that the fabric travels to us, we would not give it a second thought regarding pre-washing. She did not go into a lot of detail but said it is common for rodents to be on ships and other forms of transport. That was enough for me, I take my fabric right to the washing machine as soon as I get home!

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      That’s really a good point that I didn’t mention in the article. Thanks for sharing it. You’re right. Fabric is often pretty poorly handled both in the factory and while being shipped.

    • Sarah Young says:

      Without a doubt a most factual statement. I once toured a fabric factory overseas and it is not just the conditions in the factory it’s self but what is put into the fabric. If you ever washed and dried a lovely piece of fabric, or clothing, only to wonder how it lost the texture or sheen, its all about what goes into the cloth to prepare it for either manufacturing or bolting. I learned a long time ago never wear a garment, or use sheets, that have not been washed.

  4. Leila says:

    Here’s my favorite pre-washing tip: Instead of serging or zig-zagging over the cut edges separately, place the two cut ends together and stitch or serge them together. Sewing the ends together makes the fabric into a tube, which prevents it from twisting up as much in the washing machine and dryer. It also keeps permanent wrinkles from forming around the edges, which is especially important in fabrics like denim that tend to get fade lines and permanent creases near the cut ends when they are first washed.

What do you think?