Friday, December 10, 2010

to wash or not to wash?

most of the quilting tutorials i read tell me to pre-wash my fabrics. i've also seen a few that don't. those are the ones i listen to.

the bottom line for me is this: it is a logistical nightmare to wash my own dirty laundry, much less the 10 yards of new fabric i've accumulated.

i live in a small NYC apartment and don't have a washing machine. here's my once-every-few-weeks routine: hauling a usually 30 lb. bag of to-be-cleaned up and down four, that's right, four flights of stairs, carrying it santa-style a block and a half to the washateria, in the freezing cold, fighting for machines, spending what always seems like an eternity in laundry-limbo, folding, and repeat.

so, my question to you is: how necessary is it to pre-wash quilting pieces? are certain fabrics more susceptible to shrinkage and bleeding than others? what are your experiences with washing/not washing?

any advice on this matter would be much appreciated. i'm just trying to help myself avoid having to learn the hard way, which is my usual method of transportation.


  1. The general rule of thumb that I've always read is this:

    Either wash it all or wash none of it (as it pertains to a project).

    The idea behind that being that if you mix unwashed with washed the shrinkage rates will be different and cause distortion/puckering. I, personally, only prewash fabric that I am using for a garment. In my own experience I have not experienced any unwanted after effects from not prewashing my quilting fabric. A few people I know use dye-catchers when they wash the final piece as a safety measure since they don't prewash.

  2. I never pre-wash any of it. I never have a plan and I always learn the hard way. Jump in and get started is my motto! hahaha. I haven't had a problem with any of my quilts so far. When they need it, I machine wash and dry them. They get better with age! I wouldn't add to your year round Santa like behavior!

  3. I responded on SMS but I agree that you either need to wash all of it or none of it. It will shrink differently. Also try to keep things with the grain and they will shrink in a similar style. I wash everything because I can't keep track of what's washed or not once it all put away. Also, there is no reason to waste quarters to pre-wash fabric - it's not exactly dirty. Just use warm water and a tiny bit of detergent in the sink or tub, rinse well and hang them over the shower rod to dry. Press with a good steam iron when it's damp to get the wrinkles out.

    Shout color catchers are great. I'd never heard of such a thing until someone on a sewing forum recommended them. Now I use them whenever I wash anything new - fabric, jeans, whatever. I've had too many ruined loads of laundry because a new shirt or something had way more dye than I expected. Totally worth the $4 box of color catchers.

    Are you mixing fabrics? I mean quilting cotton is gonna shrink similarly unless you are using drastically different quality fabrics. Linen, flannel and cotton will shrink very differently. Anything poly (minky, fleece) won't shrink. No matter what, if you skip pre-washing your quilt batting (almost no one pre-washes it, i'm weird like that) your quilt WILL shrink. That's the whole point for most people. So that will cover up any minor differences anyway.

    I have sympathy for you. We used to live on the 3rd floor and laundry was in the basement and it was an open-stair style walk-up. I vowed NEVER to do that again. I realize NYC doesn't give you much choice. In college laundry was 7 floors down but I had an elevator - and it was college. I actually loved doing 6 loads at once, once a week at 3am (i washed my whole bed weekly, cause i'm a *neat freak*), but it was in my building so i could do it in my pj's. Going outside to a laundromat sucks. So, sorry there. Countertop washing machine, maybe?

  4. Hi Erin, Lisa and Woodbines,

    Thanks for your invaluable suggestions. I'm going to have to check into color catchers for when I do have to end up washing a project. They sound great! That takes a little worry away, since I imagined finishing a giant quilt, washing it for the first time, and it comes out tie-dyed.

    I'm trying to stick with using the same fabrics (cotton), but the placemats are a combo of linen and cotton. I appreciate the breakdown of which fabrics shrink which way. This is the stuff I am oblivious to.

    I've actually thought about a countertop washing machine, but I honestly don't have a free countertop. There isn't a viable spot for it in the kitchen or bathroom, and we'd have to get such a tiny one anyway. I imagine it being able to hold like 2 t-shirts at a time.

    I think I'll try the sink/tub/wash-at-home method and see how that works.

    It's also nice to hear that nobody has actually ruined a quilt by washing it after it's complete.

    Triangle Shirt