To Prewash Fabric

How and Why

Many sewers like prewash their fabrics as soon as they are brought home. This prevents later confusion about whether it has been washed or not, and ensures that no harmful chemicals or pests are put into storage with the rest of your supplies.

I prewash in hot water, and sometimes use use a mild soap. (I use a squirt of hand soap) I prefer to do this in the bathroom sink, in small batches of like colors. This way I can see right off if something is bleeding, and pull it out for later treatment.

Sometimes the water will turn whatever color of fabric I'm washing, so I'll run it through a second soak to see if it continues. Usually this is just excess dye being released from the fabric, it's *not* bleeding. If the fabric is bleeding the color runs and runs and runs. Excess dye will stop being released after 1-3 rinses.

I keep a wooden drying rack to lay pieces of fabric on and drip dry over the tub. I confess this works best for quarter to 1 yard pieces. Larger yardages I will do in the washer on "soak" cycle, then spin them, and tumble on very low heat. You can do the small cuts in the washer, but you'll want to use a lingerie bag so they don't completely disintegrate from the agitation. When almost dry, and still somewhat damp I pull the fabric from the dryer. Otherwise wrinkles tend to set permanently. Line dried fabric seems to iron out very well. I use a dry iron on the damp fabric and finish drying it as I iron.

If you find you have bleeding fabric --that is, fabric that continues to loose color wash after wash-- treat it with a commercial product called Retayne. Some quilting stores carry this, most of the mail order places do as well. It's about $6 a bottle, but you use a teaspoon per yard of fabric, so a bottle will go a long way. You can also use it to "fix" a completed quilt that is now bleeding. The instructions say to use it in HOT water, and you have to have faith in this the first time. It really does work, but it's more than a little scary to put that fabric in a tub full of steaming water.

Washed fabric should be stored someplace clean, and not mixed with unwashed fabrics. You may want to tag each folded piece with a note reminding you how long the piece is, and what you planned to use it for. If you work with synthetics, mark the fiber content for later reference.

Preventing ravels and tangled fabric:

Some suggest snipping the corners off the selvedges before washing, but quilters report mixed results with this method. Another trick to try is to safety pin the length while it is still folded, and then put it through the wash and dry cycle. You can also serge over the cut ends of the fabric, or wash the fabric in a lingerie bag. Finally, line drying will prevent ravelling that usually occurs in the dryer. If I use the dryer for longer lengths (like backings) I stop the cycle and check to make sure it isn't tying itself into a knot --which also ensures even drying.

Send me e-mail

Last modified on


Help Support this Website