To pre-wash or not to pre-wash (fabric that is!)

A common question asked on many sewing forums is whether or not to pre-wash your fabric.
I was chatting to my mother in law today (she is an amazing quilter) about her preference. Barb said that although all teachers recommend that you should, she nor any of her quilting friends actually do. They argue that if you use a high quality 100% cotton fabric with 100% cotton thread (top and bottom) all shrinkage of quilt will be equal. When the quilting stage is being completed the backing is stretched on rods to prevent puckering. It is also very common amongst quilters to like the softness look of a washed quilt with a small amount of shrinkage and puckering.
Cintia from My Poppet who also has her own label almost always washes. Cintia has a number of reasons why she does and some of them include:
  1. I usually buy/find vintage fabrics that have been in an op-shop, garage or some other not very clean place that smells like damp so it is necessary to wash just for hygiene sake.
  2. Shrinkage. Most cottons shrink about 4%, sometimes more depending on the quality. It would be a shame to spend a ton of time making a garment that doesn't fit after 1 wash. Shrinkage is also important if you are making bias binding from the fabric, nothing looks yuckier than a puckered binding edge.
  3. Excess dye. Depending on the fabric quality, you may get dye run during washing. Usually worse with dark colours and reds. A quick rinse cycle may get rid of excess dye that can run into other fabrics in your project. HINT:about a 1/4 cup of white vinegar in the fabric softener compartment will help prevent excess dye run.
  4. Chemical residue. It is an unfortunate reality that chemicals are used to make fabrics easier to print on and wrinkle less. Handling and storing lots of unwashed fabric with these chemicals on, can't be a good thing.
I never pre-wash fabric. With my children's accessories label I definitely prefer the stiffness of the fabric being unwashed. It is less likely to fray while appliqueing and it has the 'newness' feel I require for retail. As my items are not generally machine washed, or only on occasions, shrinkage is not really an issue either. Many sewers also believe you should pre-wash to test if the fabric is colour fast. With the new good quality fabrics today, dyes the manufacturers use shouldn't really cause too much of a problem. If you are interested in reading more from Cintia of My Poppet, great tips and learning more about whether or not you should pre-wash, head over to The Haby Goddess facebook page for the full article.
So do you pre-wash?


CurlyPops said...

I never pre-wash new fabric (far too lazy for that), but I do wash most fabrics that I find secondhand or at the oppy. Usually just to make sure that they smell nice and fresh and clean!

Jodie said...

Yes, I must admit that I also wash second hand if I am using for personal use - even if it is smelling nice & clean - you just can't be too sure!

Cam, thanks for reminding me that I was supposed to ask everyone what they actually did!!!

Off to edit post now :)

Thea said...

No. We aren't making clothes now but we were printing, cutting and sewing and had no problem with shrinkage. It's so minimal really.
Funnily enough, I find that with our water-based inks, they work best on natural fabrics without any chemical finish. You should probably wash conventional cotton used for kids garments simply to get rid of pesticides, etc.

clare's craftroom said...

No I don't prewash but I wash stuff I pick up from Vinnies not because it's dirty but just so I can see my scores in all their glory on the line !

ohjoh said...

I pre-wash my denim (3 times) just to remove excess dye because I use cotton feature panels and having the dye run throught the cotton is heartbreaking. If I use black I'll also prewash but other than that I cross my fingers and hope!

Beach Vintage said...

If it is new fabric I dont tend to but because I mostly work with vintage fabrics I am forever pre washing. Thanks for your sweet comment today.

Vintage Sew and So said...

Never pre wash for quilting but will pre wash vintage for all of the above reasons.

Luisa @ Dance in my garden said...

interesting post...
I always wash when it's personal use, vintage, thrifted.
I don't pre-wash for my business same reasons as you, although I may pre-wash some woollen cotton backed baby blankets I will be making for winter, as the fabrics will shrink at different rates, and will cause some puckering.
I do like Clare's Craftroom's comment about seeing the spoils of a thrift hunt drying on the line - I love doing that!

Louise said...

Most definately for garments, I work in a fabric shop and always recommend it. I've seen too many disasters.

MooBeeTees said...

I always pre-wash my fabrics. If there is going to be shrinkage or dye running - I want it to happen to me and not to my customers! It takes a bit of time, but I think well worth it in the end :)