The Pros and Cons of Pre-Washing

 

washing machine

Quilting would be simpler if there were hard and fast rules, but there’s not. So, now the big question, should you pre-wash your fabric? It’s a choice. When I first started quilting, I prewashed all my fabric. This more often than not resulted in a tangled mess. Then I learned to trim the fabric with pinking shears prior to putting it in the washer.  This only needs to be done on the cut edge, not the selvage. This practice led me to purchase a pinking blade for my rotary cutter; much healthier for my hands.

Then one day, I ventured into a Quilt Shop on Block of the Month day. How fun. I paid a minimal fee to start which got me a short demo (this is a nice way of saying a commercial featuring the newest/greatest/need to sell item) and fabric to make a block. I had to provide the background, but still fun! The bonus? Every month I got the fabric for free if I brought in last month’s finished block.

The fabric pieces were really really small. I was afraid they would join the black hole of socks if I washed them and since I don’t hand sew, hand washing wasn’t even close to an option. So I eagerly attacked the block with unwashed fabric! No one scolded me and the block came out great. Tell that to the Quilt Police!

Giant light bulb moment!

What is the point of prewashing? What are the pros and cons? Will anyone know? Do they really care?

Prewashing:

Pros: May be necessary for those with sensitivity to some chemicals which may be on the fabric.  This goes both for the creator and the recipient of the quilt. Can help with colors that bleed.  If not allowed to completely dry, the fabric can be steam pressed without additional water. Your finished quilt won’t shrink the first time you wash it.

Cons: It takes a long time. If you wash any of the fabric, you need to wash all of your fabric for that project. This includes the backing and binding. Almost impossible to get all the wrinkles out of good cotton fabric without using steam, and even that sometimes doesn’t work.  More likely to fray unless you starch the fabric. I like starch so maybe that’s not a con.

Not prewashing:

Pros: You can start the project right away. Fabric less likely to fray; unless it is loosely woven in which case you may want to starch. Everything will shrink together and give your quilt that over all loved look.  You don’t need to wash the backing and since some backings require piecing….well enough said.

Cons: The colors may bleed the first time the quilt is washed. This could be heartbreaking. I use special sheets in the washer that are made to collect color and that has proven very successful. In fact, I include them with quilts that I give as gifts. The person receiving the quilt may have a sensitivity to any chemicals that may be on the fabric.

Well there you have it. As for me, I no longer prewash. I honestly don’t have the patience for it and trying to keep track of what has been washed would probably send me over the edge.  I often steam press and/or starch prior to cutting. I treat the backing the same way. Depending on the project and how I’m going to quilt it, I may water spray the batting and toss it in the dryer. Then again, maybe not.

Honestly, I don’t think anyone cares. And if anyone can tell, I doubt they’ll say anything.

So, wash or don’t wash…..like everything else, it’s your choice.

 

One thought on “The Pros and Cons of Pre-Washing

  1. Yep. My choice is firmly on the side of pre-washing. I do want pre-shrinking and pre-bleeding, I do want chemicals removed, I never buy anything smaller than a fat quarter, and rarely even those. I wash fabric before it goes in my studio, so I know everything is washed. No confusion that way. I do NOT wash quilts after they are finished. Some people love that or need that and I don’t. I don’t have pets, don’t smoke, and I keep a very clean workspace. So no need to wash something that isn’t dirty. Another thing that is each quilter’s choice.

    Thanks for the summary. For those who haven’t thought about the issue, it would be very helpful to see the pros and cons.

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