How – and why – I prewash fabric

Well, not always, but usually. I started out with garment sewing with my mom, so it is automatic to wash the fabric first to remove the sizing, excess dyes, and take up any shrinkage (because if you don’t, your garment may not fit after the first washing). When fabric is woven, printed, or otherwise manipulated, it passes through rollers and machinery before being finally placed on a bolt, in a semi-continuous process. This stretches the fibres, so prewashing your fabrics will relax the stretch.

I also find that fusible interfacing works better for me when I prewash, it just seems to stick better (and yes, I often prewash my interfacing too). I will tell you a little secret–for solids I rarely prewash.

However, I also like to be gentle with my fabrics. Of course quilting cotton is expensive, so I have developed a method for hand-washing my fabrics. This minimizes the strings, wrinkles, and wonkiness that can result from using an automatic washer.

First, I sort my fabrics by colour. If I am washing several fabrics, I start with the lightest and work up to darker fabrics, using the same water for successive batches. I use a very small amount of a gentle detergent (I use a phosphate-free one) in room temperature water in a white bucket (white so I can see if the dye is running badly). In my second bucket, I use cold water, sometimes I add a couple of tablespoons of homemade liquid starch.

prewash setup in my bathtub

prewash setup in my bathtub

First I swish the fabrics in the wash water, and leave them to soak for 5 minutes. I wring out by hand, and throw into the rinse bucket. Similarly, a few swishes, a bit of soaking, then wring out. I lay the fabrics flat on a bath towel, and roll it up to squeeze out more water, then hang to dry (on an indoor drying rack). Once dry, I iron, and they’re ready to use.

DSC_0179 (2) (1280x854)

This technique works for me and it’s not too labour intensive. So tell me, do you prewash? Have you tried making quilts both ways? Any experience with mixing washed and unwashed fabrics?

Linking up to Sew Cute Tuesday hosted by ChrissieD at Blossom Heart Quilts.


  1. I do prewash and always have. Fabric shrinks about 1″ per 36″ length. Dyes run, and sizing stinks when fabric is pressed. I’m sensitive to smells so that is important to me. I don’t go through the process you do, rarely washing new fabric separately from household laundry, but I do separate colors, especially reds, from others. When I have heavily dyed fabrics I always use a color catcher. I have a front load washer without an agitator and it is gentler than a top load agitator machine, so the strings and frays are less of an issue than they used to be.

    I know a lot of people don’t care and would think it’s foolish to take the time, but I will continue to do it my way. This small amount of time is not much compared to the whole process of making a quilt.

    1. Yes, and yes, I agree. Actually I will often wash large pieces, such as for backings, in a regular load of laundry.

  2. The method you use to remove excess moisture from your wet fabrics is the same I use for my knitted/crocheted work. I have a long list of different rules I’ve made for myself when it comes to prewashing/not prewashing my fabrics, one of these days I should think about writing them all down. Funnily enough, I always wash solids after several bad experiences I now trust them less than prints! Thanks so much for linking up at Sew Cute Tuesday today – Chris (guest host) @madebyChrissieD 😀

    1. I did prewash a Kona red solid once, because I was worried about pairing it with the white fabric in what I was making, and it hardly ran at all. So in the future, I will likely continue to wash dyed fabrics (as opposed to near solids which are printed) only when the item I am making contains lighter fabrics which might pick up the dye. I do use colour catchers in the first wash, and make sure I take the quilt out of the machine right away once the cycle is done.

  3. This is really interesting. I always throw mine in the wash – but this way would reduce the wrinkling and threads, as you have said. Hmmm, good thought, thanks!

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