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.
Tips for 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.
Always zigzag the cut edges of the fabric before washing so that the yarn does not unravel or entangle during the washing process.
For 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 temperatures.
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 really soft.
Silk, being a delicate fabric, is better to have dry cleaned rather than washing yourself in the machine.
Knitted wool can be washed by hand and laid flat to dry.
Chiffon and georgette, being delicate fabrics, should be hand washed.
Once the washing and drying are 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.
Why do Americans insist that silks be dry cleaned? They aren’t as delicate as the industry wants you to believe. I always delicate wash my silks just like it’s done in India and other places with great success. Silk holds up better than any other fabric of same weight.
For those of us who don’t know how silks are washed in India, could you enlighten us please?
I always wash my fabrics as soon as they enter my house. Fabric warehouses are often very dusty and dirty, and Chemicals from making the fabric can irritate sensitive skin so pre-washing is a must to ensure that the new fabrics don’t soil ones already in my stash and that the new garments can be worn as soon as I complete them.
Duchess satin and chiffon beaded fabric…making grand daughters ball gown …should I wash first.
Do not wash satin and chiffon before being sewn and do not wash the garment after being worn. Dry clean only if absolutely necessary.
Thanks for these very useful tips. I love your blog!
I forgot to mention that when I’m washing fabric yardage of more than 3 yards after I’ve sewn the ends together I put the fold to the sewn edge and pin with brass pins across the edges and the fold/seam side. The fabric doesn’t get twisted at all. If the yardage is more than5 yds I’ll fold it again before pinning.
Great tip! Thanks!
I second Leila’s tip. I often buy bolts of fabrics. Sewing the whole bolt into a loop prevents a ton of wrinkles, otherwise the longer yardages tends to twist up in the dryer.
Leila’s tip was the one I was going to add. It is especially helpful if you are washing a large chunk of fabric–I buy linen and interlining fabrics by the bolt–usually ten yards. Putting them into a loop is imperative. One tip–if you pretest a small sample for bleeding–i.e. soak it in a small amount of water at the usual washing temperature with soap, let stand about 10 minutes. Rinse, then blot between paper towels or scraps of white fabric, check for dye running. If it did, you might want to change to dry cleaning, or alter the washing method. Pink fur on a Santa suit…
what you do for scrapy quilt??? will you wash small scraps too or you avoid some colors like me I avoid black, reds navy blue and lately terquaze
I always my scrap quilts from scraps so they have been washed on the previous project.
There are two schools of thought in the quilting world. You either are a “pre-washerer” or not. I personally prewash and use Best Press ( or home recipe) prior to cutting with my rotary cutter. Also, regarding other fabrics, I sometimes just use my kitchen sink with a squirt of dish soap, which removes the sizing and hang it out to try. This is also helpful in keeping a large piece of fabric intact, without twisting and much fraying !
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?
No there is no need unless the fabric is dirty.
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 🙂
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!
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.
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.
Amen!! I have followed these practices just like my grandma and mother taught us kids. It makes my skin crawl to see my DIL put store bought clothes on our grandkids right from the store!..
I sew garments and make and quilt quilts..everything get washed before being sewn.
As for woolens….I used to soak them in cold water and castile soap. Rinse at least 3x and press in the sink to remove excess water. I then put the fabric fan folded on two thick bath towels and pressed again with my hands.
I lay it out on a sheet on my rec room floor and let it dry overnight. Steam press and I’m all set to sew. I also preshrink all my interfacing and zippers.
Yes, it’s a bit of work but my fabric is clean and I can wash my garment the same way when I’m ready to clean it. No dry cleaning chemicals or costs!
Thank you for sharing! Great tips!
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.
Fantastic tip Leila. Thanks so much for sharing!