Prewash or Not to Prewash–Is that a Question?

Put a group of Quilters in a room and you just might get this question asked – “Do you Prewash your fabric before cutting & piecing?”

And you will find that the answer is —

  • Yes, Always
  • No, Never
  • Sometimes, It depends

I guess you can say I’m in the 3rd Category – Sometimes, but mostly.

If you are using any of the precuts (Jelly Rolls, Charm Packs, etc. – isee the definitions of what a precut is, see Moda Bake Shop), it is hard to prewash these. This is the same for using scraps that you may have gotten from other quilters.

If you are using anything fusible on the fabric, most instructions advise to prewash to remove any sizing or other treatment that might be on the fabric.

In the case of Red or Navy or other dark fabrics, it probably is a good idea to prewash with something like Shout Color Catchers to reduce the risk of colors bleeding.

There is an argument that fabric should be prewashed to reduce the risk of shrinking after piecing the quilt top which might result in distortion.  Fabric like muslin tends to shrink – a lot, while some good quality quilt fabric may not shrink much, at all.

So, for me, I try to wash my fabric, but I don’t get too upset if I don’t.

Sunday we were out and about and I discovered a fairly new Quilt Shop.  Aurora Quilts is a family owned and run business, located in the heart of Historic Old Town Manassas, Virginia, which is in Northern Virginia. They carry a wide range of quilting cottons, patterns, books and notions.

I had a paper-pieced quilt block that I wanted to try making and I picked up some Fat Quarters to use.

2012-10-14 15.37.25

The fabric on the right is what I purchased to test the block.  The ones on the right called out to me.

So my dilemma – how do I wash 10 Fat Quarters, which are not enough to bother filling up the washing machine? Plus add into the mix, because some were dark and some were light, I wouldn’t be able to have them all in one load anyway.

2012-10-14 22.03.13

My alternative to using the washing machine when I have just small amounts of fabric is the Kitchen Sink.  Add warm water to a 2 gallon plastic storage bag, plus a couple drops of laundry detergent, swish and add the fabric.  Let it soak for a while, swish it some more, then rinse under running water.  I flatten the fabric between folded bath-size towels and roll up.  In the morning the fabric is damp-dry and ready to iron.

2012-10-15 16.12.17

I now have 10 Fat Quarters of prewashed fabric, ironed & ready to start cutting.


About Quiltmouse

I am retired. I love to quilt. I make charity quilts as well as quilts for my friends & family.
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2 Responses to Prewash or Not to Prewash–Is that a Question?

  1. Karen says:

    I prewash everything, too, sometimes in the sink (only without a baggie). I love using scraps I pick up off the floor around my friends’ sewing areas at Quilt Camp or other retreats because it’s so much fun to remember everyone else’s projects. Once in awhile I find cool scraps at the thrift shops, as well. Obviously, I always worry about the shrinking and bleeding issues, so I normally just don’t use any that look prone to bleeding, especially reds, navys or blacks, as you mentioned.

    On Monday, I had chance to ask the Queen of Scraps, Bonnie Hunter! She says she also worries about bleeding, but has never had a problem since she doesn’t use steam in her iron. (I’m guessing she washes her quilts, but she didn’t mention that…). She says if she suspicious that a fabric may bleed, she tests it for colorfastness by dabbing it with a damp cloth to check for dye transfer. Regarding shrinkage, she says she mixes pre-washed scraps with non-prewashed “found” or donated scraps, and has never been dissatisfied with the results, since she likes the look of a little puckering.

    Any bleeding I’ve ever seen on the quilts of friends who don’t prewash has been RED!


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