To Wash or not to Wash ? That is the question..

To Wash or not to Wash ? That is the question..

graphic sewing

“Do I need to pre-wash fabric before I sew with it ?”   This is a good question. There is no ONE answer for this. While no one wants to wash fabric if it’s not needed, there are some things to consider. What is the project you are going to make with the fabric? Will the finished project EVER be washed? Let’s say you’re making a costume for your child. It’s for Halloween and will only be worn once; next year this size won’t fit him. Do you need to pre-wash the fabric? If it’s only for a single-use project, you don’t really need to. But consider this, what if a nephew or neighbor could wear it next year? What if junior eats too much candy and “urps” all over himself? Hmmm.. Maybe it’s a large banner for a church program or decorative flag. If it’s not going to be washed later, it’s okay to not pre-wash the fabric. What if it’s an item like a wallhanging or table topper and will be washed only by hand? Fine, don’t pre-wash. If the article will need an occasional freshening up only, you can wash it by hand. BUT, if this article is red fabric next to white fabric and it’s not pre-washed, you may still end up with a fun tie-dye motif that you weren’t expecting. If the item is a gift, be sure and let the receiver know how to clean it (toss in the washer, hand wash only, spot-clean only, etc.).

“What about pre-washing quilting fabrics?”  The same logic applies. Colors may run. Mixing fabrics in one project and not pre-washing can cause an issue as they don’t all shrink the same amount, the same percentage or in the same direction. Mixing fabric contents (solids, prints, textures, knits) is even more of a risk because the colorfast properties of dyes vary with different types of materials and their different weaves. The age of each fabric will have some bearing on the dye holding, the shrinkage or stretching of a fabric, and whether it will ‘pill’, shed or wrinkle. An example of mixing ages is the popular T-shirt Quilt. The face is made up of blocks of beloved t-shirts pieced together. Some may have lattice work or ‘lanes’ between the t-shirt blocks; this would be new fabric. The backing will be new fabric. Since the front t-shirt blocks are various ages of “vintage”, they have been washed many times. Adding new fabrics and backing that has NOT been pre-washed can be a disaster when the new quilt is washed. Wrinkles and ripples are not a good look for a lovely keepsake.

“Have you ever had a problem with pre-washing?”  Yes, I have. When I have a long length of fabric, pre-washing is a hassle. Three yards of anything in the washer is a tangly mess. Now remove it from the washer and try to put it neatly in the drier. You get a tug-o-war situation. The fabric can come out “permanently pressed” in a wrinkly state. And the numerous threads that get knotted up add to the mess. It helps a lot if you have an idea of how much fabric is needed for your project. If you bought 3 yards but only need 2, cut it down and just wash 2 yards. Before you put it in the washing machine, snip out small triangles in each end-corner. This greatly reduces stray threads and massive unraveling. I also recommend taking the fabric out before it’s completely dry so you can redistribute it in the dryer or take it out at that point and drape it over a couple chairs, smoothing the wrinkles as you drape it. It is infinitely easier to iron slightly damp fabric into submission than to try to browbeat heat-set wrinkles.

“Have you ever had a problem caused by NOT pre-washing?”  (*gulp*) Yes, I have. In high school, I made my prom dress out of a soft jersey-type knit fabric. It had a lovely sheen to it, draped beautifully and was very soft. I chose not to pre-wash it. I sewed the dress. It was a sleeveless A-line style long dress and I made a short, sheer chiffon bolero/shrug to go over the bodice. There was a lot of hand sewing involved; short rolled hems and french felled seams on the chiffon plus hand stitching the invisible hem of the dress. Both pieces came out great. I hung the outfit on a hanger in the sewing room, happy that it was done days ahead of time. Yeah :)  ~About 24 hours later, I wanted to check the hem while trying out a couple of different shoe choices. For some reason, even with shoes on, the dress was too long. Ugh~ I must have not measured accurately ! I decided on the shoes, then to avoid worrying about tripping myself at the dance, I spent the evening trimming off an inch or so from the hem and re-hemming the dress by hand. Finished for the second time, I hung it back up. The DAY OF the prom, I tried on the outfit to model it for my Mom and the hem was again too long ! The length of the knit fabric was heavy enough to put a constant ‘pull’ on the skirt. We all know gravity works. Well, now I was in panic-mode and ended up cutting another couple inches off the hem, then re-hemming it by hand (..blood, sweat and tears). Yep, I hemmed the dress three times by hand. Yes, I wore it to the prom. No, I did not trip on it even though by the end of the evening, the hem was inching down again. **My hubby (and date at the prom) just read through this and commented, “I remember that dress. Your mom made me wait on the porch while you finished hemming it !”

“So do You pre-wash fabrics?”   Yes, I almost always do. I pre-wash fabric and then iron it :)

~ Happy Crafting !

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