Sunday, September 3, 2006

Prewashing fabric

I had quite a few comments on my last post about prewashing fabric, so I thought I talk a little about why I do this. This is what works for me, but I'd never presume to tell anyone else that they should do likewise. There are no quilt police - do whatever works for you. If you do fine with fabric straight off the bolt then there is no reason you should prewash.

Fabrics used to be processed with a lot of formaldehyde, which gave off unpleasant fumes before washing. I washed all fabric before I brought it into the house, as I got bad headaches from the fumes. The couple times I worked in a fabric store it took at least a couple months before I learned to ignore the headaches I got while working. I don't know whether they still use formaldehyde in fabric manufacture or not; I know they don't use nearly as much as they used to if it is still used, because the fumes aren't nearly as bad. I do know, however, that much of our quilting fabric is printed overseas because chemicals used are not allowed in this country by OSHA due to their toxicity. Fabrics used in antique quilts are often not available today - sometimes because the process to make them has been lost but sometimes because the chemicals needed to made them are too toxic. I prefer to wash as many chemicals out of my fabrics as possible.

I've had some bad luck with bleeding of fabrics that haven't been washed. I've had to touch up a quilt with a Q-tip dipped in bleach to take pink out of light fabrics that's bled from the reds and purples next to them. I don't want any more bleeding surprises when my quilts are washed. This is also why I sort by color before washing - I've had a couple surprises where one fabric has bled onto another during prewashing.

I've had fabrics shrink at different rates - some not at all and some as much as 4-5%. Since I use dozens of fabrics in a single quilt I don't want them shrinking at different rates because that might cause puckering in parts of the quilt.

I really do enjoy ironing my fabrics after prewashing. I take them from the dryer when they are still damp so the wrinkles come out easily. As I smooth each piece I drink in the colors, the design and the feel. I imprint each piece into my memory and dream of how I might use it. I become acquainted with each piece. The last 2-3 years I've done a lot of buying of "collections", so I don't really know what each piece looks like until I do this. Somehow my mind remembers each of them, so I've very rarely bought the same fabric twice. Books - yes - one even three times - but not fabric. I almost always sort fabrics by color for storage. When I'm doing a new quilt I decide on the colors, and then I pull 20-40 pieces of each color from my stash before beginning the quilt.

Since I bought my front loading washer I have much less trouble with strings on the prewashed pieces. I run them on "handwash" at the "quick" setting, using warm water and Orvus paste. I buy the Orvus at the feed store in a big jar that lasts many years. I think I'm on my third jar in 20 years. It's very economical that way. I trim the worst strings as I press, and I don't worry about the others.

If I have little pieces to wash - like what I get in a kit - I put them in a mesh hosery bag before washing them to protect them and prevent them from getting lost.

Washing does take away that new crispness, but it's easily replaced by using spray starch or fabric sizing as needed. Most of the time I don't need to do that. I like to use quilt shop quality fabrics, and they usually don't have the limpness after washing that cheaper fabrics do. I keep a can of spray starch ready for those that do.

I don't like to wait to wash fabrics until I'm going to use them because (1) I often use only a little bit of each fabric in a quilt, (2) I want to be able to cut all fabrics immediately when I'm creating - I don't want to wait to wash them, and (3) it would be impossible for me to remember which is washed and which isn't.

I hope this answers everyone's questions about why I prewash.


Evelyn aka Starfishy said...

Your like me in that I wash, dry and iron everything as soon as it gets home. I figure the quilt will be washed and dried so the fabric should be pre-washed and dried to elimate uneven shrinkage and bleeding.



EileenKNY said...

I say that I'm going to wash it as it comes in the house, then I'm distracted to something else. Happens all the time, so I just wash before I use, even if it's been washed before, because I just don't remember.
Patti, your applique is awesome. I have several projects but I can't seem to get going on any of them-got any hints or advice?

Sweet P said...

Great explanation on why to pre-wash fabric. I always wash my fabric before I start a project and sometimes a piece of fabric gets washed several times if it is used in several projects. I think I may start using your method of pre-washing. Thanks for sharing.

Pam said...

I agree Patti - I love the process of ironing the fabric and then folding it and putting it in a pile, ever so carefully and taking in the colour and texture. One of my favourite parts of the quilting process.

MARCIE said...

I always learn so much reading your blog. Thanks Patti!

Hedgehog said...

Thanks for the information. I HATE ironing, but somehow when it's fabric for a quilt, I don't mind it so much!

May Britt said...

I always wash my fabric before using it. Mostly by hand not machine. I love ironing the fabric and pet with them. Now I have been too busy to wash for a while and have a huge pile of unwashed fabric. I dare not use them before they are washed, afraid of bleeding.

ForestJane said...

I agree with you 98%... lol

The only part I just can't understand is someone actually 'liking' to iron. :D

Can I ship some wrinkley fabric to you and have you return it all pressed and folded? *daydreams*

Vicky said...

Wrinkles! My friend, Jane, gave me a bottle of Downey's Wrinkle Release and itr's fabulous!

I used to prewash everything, but (I hate to admit this) I was buying faster than I could wash. Sheesh, that sounds bad. Now I wash only what I think might bleed. Dark blues, my favorite, are the worst about bleeding. It doesn't bother me so much any more not to prewash everything.

A tip about knowing what you've wash and what you haven't. Clip a corner off. Then you'll know!


Cynthia said...

When i first began quilting i washed everything before using because that's what i was told at my LQS. After a couple of years i didn't bother washing of the fabrics. Then i went through a stage where i only washed fabric which i thought might bleed. Now in the past year i have gone back to what i originally did and wash everything.

Juliann in WA said...

I used to always pre-wash fabrics but not so much anymore. I do if it feels like it still has a lot of dye in it and sometimes if it is a deep red I will run it under some water to test for bleeding. I also love to iron fabrics - so good to be reading your wonderful posts and I am very inspired by all the work you got done this weekend!

Laurie Ann said...

I also wash and iron right when I get them home. Then I don't have to worry about it later and don't even have to think about shrinkage or bleeding. Why take the chance?

Quilts And Pieces said...

I always prewash too. But you forgot one other reason to do it. It smells so good when your working with the washed fabric!!!! MMMM clean fabric!

Libby said...

In the beginning, I washed everything. Then I became a slacker and a non pre-washer which is where I have mostly stayed. Occasionaly I will come across one (reds, purples) that I fear will bleed on everything else.
To wash or not to wash is really quite the question. I agree with your reasons, but I just have opted to be lazy.

Hanne said...

I am with you 100 % on washing fabrics.
The chemicals bothers my nose, and I can smell it when I am teaching if some has unwashed fabrics.
The floors where the fabrics are kept before they go in the shop can be dirty too. I used to work for a wholesale company for fabrics. I have seen it.

Cascade Lily said...

I pre-wash when I remember to! LOL

Our quilting teacher says she doesn't bother pre-washing quiltshop fabrics as she has used so many and never had problems - but she does 'steam press' all of her new fabrics - the heavy steaming has the same effect as washing in that the steaming forces the 'shrink' if there's going to be any...