Thursday, October 24, 2013

Penny Patch: Prewash

This post is part of a series {Penny Patch} a Beginner’s Quilt-Along.  You can join in anytime, even if you’re not a beginner!  Please see this page for links to all posts, and join us on Flickr to share your questions and work-in-progress!

To prewash or not to prewash?  There are pros and cons, with the pros mostly involving a sense of security and the cons mostly involving wasting time and losing that crisp, new-fabric feel.  For the beginner who wants to "do it by the book" I think prewashing is the way to go.  If you prefer to skip this step, that's ok too!

Prewashing refers to washing and drying your fabric prior to sewing with it.  Generally we do this with yardage or fat quarters, not smaller precuts like charm squares or jelly rolls (if you don't know what those are, just move on!).

Penny patch fabrics

Why prewash? 

Machine washing and drying causes natural fabrics like quilting cottons to shrink.  Shrinkage is triggered by the combination of heat, moisture and agitation, which is why you really should machine dry if pre-shrinking is your goal.  Preshrinking is mandatory for apparel sewing and optional when sewing quilts.  Many folks like the look of crinkly plushness created when a quilt is not washed until after its completed. 

That said, if your quilt will combine different types of fabrics (flannel, quilting cotton, voile, linen, etc.), prewashing is highly recommended.  Different substrates of fabrics shrink at different rates, which will put stress on your finished work.  (FYI, for practical reasons I am not a fan of mixing fabric types in a quilt.  I believe your work will be more long-lasting if you don't mix types.)

Prewashing also gives fabrics a chance to bleed.  Most designer quilting cottons are very colorfast, but you never know when excess color might come off in the wash.  Bleeding fabrics often stain other fabrics.  Better for this to happen in the early stages!  Reds, purples and dark oranges are likely bleeding culprits.  Wash in cold water and inspect fabrics before machine drying.  If you notice any bleed stains, try to remove them before machine drying, since that can set stains.  Those that don't prewash often use Shout color catchers or other products to block bleed stains when first washing finished quilts.

Penny patch low volumes

Lastly, prewashing removes fabric finishes.  Fabrics are treated with chemicals that help them maintain a crisp, smooth appearance on the bolt.  When you prewash, use a bit of laundry soap to wash the bulk of these chemicals away.  The up-side is your health.  The down-side is that fabrics can be easier to cut and sew with chemical stabilizer finishes intact.  If you don't prewash, maybe don't eat while you sew!

How to Prewash

Unfold & Sort.  If washing lots of fabrics, consider doing more than one wash, keeping the potential bleeders away from your low-volumes.

Protect.  Fabrics will unravel at the raw edge, which can create pandemonium in the machines.  To greatly reduce unraveling, prewash in separate delicate bags. The bags prevent the fabrics from tangling with each other when the edges start to unravel in the wash. If you just throw 5 cuts of fabric in the machine together with no prep, you'll spend quite a while cutting all the threads and then longer mourning the loss of so much fabric edge. Sometimes I have to double up, placing 2 cuts in 1 delicate bag. Doubling up is OK, but any more than that causes madness.

Prewash

Another alternative is to pink the edges of your fabrics before washing.  Sounds time-consuming!

Wash.  A little detergent and a "light" wash in the washing machine. 

Dry.  Machine dry, but don't dry all the way.   This is important - if you dry all the way the wrinkles will be heat set and very hard to remove.   Stop the drier when fabrics are still slightly damp, then iron right away.  If you're using delicate bags and you're super on top of things, you can also remove fabrics from the bags for the last 15 minutes or so in the drier.  This will help them shake out some wrinkles with minimal tangling.  But, that's totally extra credit, and you'll still want to remove damp and press.

Fold.  Fold, arrange, admire.  Now you're ready to start!

21 comments:

  1. Don't eat while you sew?!? But what do you do with all of that chocolate that you bought to go with the fabric? I think I better stick to prewashing.

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  2. Thank you for this blog. The fabrics machine dry for a certain time, what a good idea! I'm still learning something!
    lol - I sew before, during and after eating, which one should I stop? - lol

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  3. Garment bags sound like a lot of work too! I pre-wash fabrics mixed in with loads of regular laundry, especially jeans. Keep out the clingy fabrics, like sweaters, for example. Quilting fabrics prefer to tangle with each other so the clothes keep them separate.

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    1. Great tip! I haven't tried mixing them in. Totally makes sense!

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  4. thanks for your post. i never have pre-washed. however, mostly because i like the crisp of the fabric of the bolt and i'm lazy.... thanks again for the info, it is very helpful! fyi, my fabrics arrived yesterday!!!!

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    1. Oooh, new fabric! Great, I was thinking fabrics would be arriving for most folks about now. I'm still waiting on some... By the way, you area "no reply blogger", so I can only reply to you here =)

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  5. I love how thorough your posts are, Rachel. What a comfort for beginners! Can't wait to see everyone's quilts as this QAL progresses.

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  6. Pinking before pre-washing is easy peasy if you have a pinking blade for your rotary cutter, and then u are not limited by the number of delicate bags u own and it doesn't get all thready at all :)

    Of course, I don't usually prewash at all unless a fabric's origin is questionable.

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  7. I pre-wash all my quilting fabrics, which is not the norm but I do it to get rid of the chemicals and to get to know them better when I press them. I do sort them by colours and unfold them but I never bother with bags or pinking. Almost never are then tangles. Even If they dry all the way, any wrinkles are gone by the time my blocks are finally pressed. And my quilts still get nice and crinkly when I wash them the first time because the batting and thread shrinks. It is too bad that pre-washing seems to be such a chore to most folks.

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  8. I am a committed prewasher for several reasons. Always use Color Catchers and am amazed how much color bleeds from some "hiqh quality" quilting cottons. Due to allergies it is important for me to get the chemicals out of the fabrics. I had a huge tangled mess the first time I washed a bunch of fabrics. Then I read a tip about using basting pins and pinning along the selvedge edges of the folded yardage. It takes a bit of time but totally worth it for me!

    I have tried pinking the edges before but that didn't seem to affect the fraying on t he ends...

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    1. Thanks to Liz and everyone else for sharing your tips!

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  9. If you're lucky enough to own a serger, serging the edges eliminates the fraying. And it helps you to know what you prewashed and what you didn't if you're like me and collect fabric faster than you use it. :)

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  10. I prewash and although it is a step I don't like, it does mean I don't worry about bleeding and shrinking. Also, if you're using flannel fabric for the backing, prewashing is really important because it shrinks more than quilting cottons. often washing and drying really fluffs up the flannel too.

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  11. i don't prewash quilting fabrics but i do prewash for clothing. i use my serger to finish the raw edges before washing but you can also zigzag or do an overcast stitch on your regular machine (i've been known to do this when i'm too lazy to dig out my serger). it doesn't take that much time and keeps the fraying tanglies at bay.

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  12. that was really helpful! i prewash but i never thought much about why, other than pre-shrinking.

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  13. Oh, snap, gotta send a high five to Heather @ Lark Cottons for pinking her fat quarters for me! (Low volumes are heeeeeere!)

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  14. I can't remember where I picked up this tip, but when I pre-wash, I pink just the 4 corners. I make a small angled cut at each corner, ending up with four 1-1.5" triangles. It doesn't completely eliminate fraying but does help cut down the amount of fraying quite a bit, and I don't end up with a tangled mess :)

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