To Wash or Not To Wash?

A common theme that seems to come across many quilt groups I’m part of, in quilt guild conversations, and even in books and magazines, is the question of fabric washing.  The debate rages on, and probably will continue to, however I have felt compelled to discuss my opinions on the subject, for those looking for more reasoning behind why or why not, and a how-to for doing so as well.

The short response for me is that I do wash.  I wash all the fabrics that come into the house. The exception to this is only if I’m getting fabric from someone who I know also washes all their fabrics (or I can smell the Downy/Tide/etc.)

I know, I need to clean the fabric softener place.

I wash for several reasons. The big one is because that was what i was taught to do when learning how to quilt. My aunt pre-washes all fabrics- the fabrics for piecing and the backings- and taught me to do so as well. The washing removes any sizing/starchiness that was in the fabric, allowing it to be more accurately sized, and easier to iron and cut. It also allows the deeper colors to bleed out their extra ink, thus preventing it from happening when you finish the quilt and wash it for the first time, allowing it to bleed into the whites and other light colors that may also be in your quilt. Reds and blues bleed especially rough.

Additionally, and this is just a personal belief, I think that washing it how it will be used actually helps to condition the quilt for its life after you’ve finished it.  It may just be me, but I think it does help to  make the quilt more malleable when cutting, piecing, and quilting.  Also, you have no idea where that fabric has been, so washing it with detergent you’re comfortable with helps also to remove some of the “what if there’s something I’m allergic to in the chemicals in/on the fabric” that sometimes comes about.  This is especially true if someone else has washed it with detergent you aren’t familiar with, and you have sensitivities to perfumes, dyes, or other chemicals.

One other advantage to pre-washing is the ability to pull it from the dryer just a little damp, which helps with ironing dramatically.  Instead of spraying all over the piece and ironing, its already ready to be ironed, and this helps to pull the wrinkles and fold marks out beautifully.

So then the question becomes, how do you wash your fabrics?  The answer is pretty simple- the same way I wash my clothes.  Sometimes I even wash them together! *gasp!*

I use my usual detergent, my usual fabric softener, but I also include Color Catchers. 

Color catchers, made by Shout or Carbona, are designed to grab all the loose dyes that bleed out of those intense colors during washing.  They pull the black, red, blue, purples out of the water, so they don’t bleed into other colors. Finding these has been invaluable to me in saving fabrics- especially since a lot of my quilting includes large white spaces, and white cotton thread.

If I know that a specific fabric, or project is going to be given to someone with detergent/fabric softener sensitivities, I also have a fabulous homemade laundry detergent recipe that I use to wash instead of my typical Tide.  The recipe I use comes from this site.  I use the general cycle on my washer, which takes about 48 minutes.

Once washed, it goes straight into the dryer for about 60-70 minutes depending on the amount of fabric I’m washing. (Black Friday sometimes I have to wait and do 90 minute washes because I buy a lot of fabric. 🙂 ) I try to leave it a little damp when I pull it out , so then I can separate it and iron it, then put it away, or immediately put it to work, if it was bought for a specific project.

Now, I know some of you are probably saying- But it ends up being a knot of ends and craziness! And you’re totally right.  But I love living dangerously…and cutting those ends.  For those of you who aren’t as excited about that adventure, you can zig-zag stitch or serge the edges of your fabric before washing to prevent that fraying.

Another thing I do, especially with fat eighths and these awesome scrap bags that my local quilt shop sells, is to use a Lingerie bag to wash them. That way you’re not dealing with hundreds of tiny scraps you’re digging out of the bottom of your washer, but you’re still washing them. I have about 6 I picked up at the dollar store to use, because I’m addicted to the scrap bags at my local quilt shop.  They’re like trick or treating for awesome fabric!  I’ll discuss these more at a later time.

I have no idea what all is in here, but I can’t wait to find out!!

The one thing that I recommend not washing, are precut fabrics.  Mini charm packs, circles, anything that has already been cut to a certain size for you to use for a project.  The fabric does shrink in the wash, and washing the pre-cuts can affect the accuracy of your project.  However, in my case, I only use pre-cut mini charm packs, so this isn’t typically an issue for me.




So there ya go- my viewpoint on the whole To Wash or Not To Wash debate.  Tl;dr- Wash everything except for tiny precuts cause they shrink too much. Also, clean your washer before blogging about it.

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