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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Should I Pre-Wash My Fabric?

There are some sewing topics that are sure to spur a never-ending debate, even among friends. (Which is perfect, because we're all friends here, right?)  On today's particular issue, I'm not going to tell you what is right or wrong, but we are going to discuss some why's and how's, to help you as you decide what's best for you. And today's question is...

In our patterns group we have people ask quite often, "Do I have to pre-wash my fabric?"  It's a great question and definitely worth a discussion. 

I would say, the answer all depends on what type of fabric you're working with and who you are sewing for. 

Let's break it down a little. 

Type of Fabric

Not all fabrics are created equally. They have different constructions, makeups, and purposes.  For example you definitely don't want to pre-wash a fabric that says "dry clean only"!  I would say the same about tulle and delicate fabrics that should be handled with care. Costume fabrics that are doused in glitter and are only going to be worn once obviously should not be pre-washed. I think you get the idea: If it shouldn't be washed at all, don't pre-wash it. 

Now let's talk about knit fabric.  There are different types of knit but most of them shrink significantly when washed. For that reason, I *always, always, always* pre-wash knits.  Story: Early on in my sewing I thought I would skip that step and made a hoodie for my son without pre-washing the knit.  The hoodie looked great for its first wearing, but after washing it the different parts all shrank, so it puckered at the seams. It looked terrible and of course it didn't fit him anymore.  If I had washed the fabric before cutting the pieces and sewing, they would have already been pre-shrunk and still perfect after subsequent washings. I learned my lesson!  So you can take my word for it or learn for yourself someday.  I always pre-wash knits. 

Then there are woven fabrics, the non-stretch cottons that most people are familiar with. Sometimes I wash my woven fabric and other times I do not.  (ssshhh.)  Woven fabric does not generally shrink much (cottons today are usually pre-shrunk) but it can have the colors bleed. If a particular fabric is going to bleed, I would much rather know about it *before* I put all those hours into an outfit! Some fabrics are lower risk for bleeding and shrinkage though (you can often tell by the color and quality/price) so that's something to consider.  So ultimately, with woven fabric, it could go either way. Some more to consider: 

Who Is It For?

If you are making an outfit for yourself or your own kids and you don't care too much whether the woven fabric bleeds or shrinks, you're probably fine not to pre-wash. I really do mean that and I often skip the pre-wash.  Make sure your kids aren't sensitive to the chemicals on fabric though.  

If you are making items for gifts or to sell, however, you really should pre-wash your fabric!  There are a lot of people who are sensitive to the chemicals on new fabrics.  Plus, it would be awful to sell an amazing outfit and then find out that the fabric bled or shrunk after the first washing.  

I know we all like the crisp look and feel of new fabric, but it's not always safe or wise to keep it that way.  Quality fabrics are just as nice after several washings, so keep that in mind too while you shop.  

Sooo...  Did that discussion help at all? Do you know where you stand on the issue? It kind of depends, huh! 

Now let's talk about HOW to pre-wash fabric, for the times you decide it is important!  A few pointers: 

* If you sew for babies or customers, it is best to use fragrance free detergent!  It's not hard to find. Look for the white bottle from your favorite brands -- they usually say something like "free" or "clear" or "gentle". It may cost a few cents more per load, but sensitive people like me will thank you!  And you can skip the fabric softener altogether. That's just putting chemicals back on. (I haven't used it for years; trust me, you don't need it for anything.)  

*Wash the fabric in warm or hot water if you want to test for shrinkage and bleeding.  It's okay to do a quick wash; it's the temperature and wetness that counts. Also, if you plan to use a dryer for your outfits, use a dryer when you pre-wash. Or, if you plan to hang-dry, do that. 

*Woven fabric will fray at the edges when washed. I recommend zigzagging or serging the two raw edges (not selvages)  before washing. Or, if you don't want to do that before washing, you can just trim off the loose strings after washing.  

*Knit fabric doesn't fray so you don't need to worry about its edges. 

*Remove the fabric from the washer and/or dryer right when it's done to prevent crazy wrinkles. 

*Iron if necessary, and fold your fabric immediately if you're not going to use it right away. I prefer the comic board method of folding for wovens and the fold-roll method for knits

Well, that's it!  Now you know everything you need to know the next time you find yourself wondering... "Do I really need to pre-wash this fabric?"  Do whichever seems best to you based on this info, and then have a blast sewing! 

Let's Create! ~ Kristen 

1 comment:

  1. That's basically what I have always done. I mostly sewed for my granddaughter so it wasn't always necessary to pre-wash, and I never had a problem with shrinkage. I like the look and feel and new fabric and so did my daughter.
    However, if I'm not sure, I will cut a 5" square, wash and dry it, and then measure it to check.