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Sewing Tips: Pre-Washing

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The holidays seem to have treated many of you very well. I have heard many of you say that you received new sewing machines, silhouette’s, sergers, and/or sewing tools of some sort for Christmas.  Or for Hannakuh or Three Kings Day, etc.  Whatever the occasion………..Hooray!  And with that has come many questions in my inbox.  Most of them are sewing questions.
I have a sewing tips category under the tutorials tab up at the top of the blog, found here.  But there are always more questions.  And now seems like a great time to add to that category.  Because there are lots and lots and lots of questions right now.  Which I love.  Because that means many of you are cracking those new machines out of the boxes and gearing up for new projects.
Now the disclaimer.
Whenever I receive questions……………well, I chuckle to myself.  Because who am I to answer your questions?  I’m no pro.  Honest.  So keep in mind, that whatever I share on here, whatever advice I bubble out with……..it’s only from this gal’s experience.  Nothing more.  Whew.  But if it helps you out……perfect.  And if you know more about it, please share in the comment section.  Deal?
Onto the tips……
I get asked a lot about pre-washing.  It seems to really puzzle some of you whether it’s necessary or not.  So it must be shared as one great big post.  How I feel about it, anyway.
If you’re anything like me, you head to the fabric store (or online store) looking for one yard of a certain texture and color of fabric……
And you come home with this………..
 
Yummy fabric, yummy colors, yummy sales.  It really makes a seamstress happy.
So my advice is yes, wash all of your fabrics, before cutting them up to sew with.   Machine wash, hand wash, machine dry, hang dry………whatever the washing instructions are for that particular fabric.
Right when you bring them home.
Don’t wait until it’s time to begin making your project…….or you may forget.  Or even run out of time.
The pile of fabrics shown above is all 100% cotton, and cotton is notorious for shrinking.
So for sure throw those cottons (or cotton blends) in the washing machine………
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Then in the dryer………….
And then you’ll see, yep, it has all shrunk up and shriveled a bit.  (Not a ton.  Don’t worry about it shrinking several inches all around.  I’d say maybe a 1/4-1/2 inch on a full yard of fabric.  Depends on the quality of the fabric.)
And don’t worry, frayed edges are normal.  And inevitable.  Just trim off any long strings that get all tangled together…..but don’t worry about those little frayed edges until you start cutting out pieces for your project.

And then iron/steam your fabric flat.

This step helps a ton if you really want to be precise before cutting out your pattern pieces or begin working on your next project.  It flattens the fabric back out and gives it a crisp look again.  Such an important step.

(I admit, I don’t do this every time.  It just depends on what I’m making.  But it sure makes a big difference if you’re putting pattern pieces together.  Or measuring in any way.)

And then iron throughout your project.  Iron seams flat, iron flaps shut, iron curves flat, etc.
Ironing increases the loveliness of your project, guaranteed.

So just be sure to check out the washing instructions (located on the bolt of fabric) before buying your fabric.  And then pre-wash that fabric.
Now for a “tell-the-truth” moment.
I don’t always pre-wash before a project.  Even my cottons.  If I am in a hurry or just antsy to get started…….I just make the item a tad bigger and expect it to shrink a bit in the washer/dryer.  For example:  If I am making a gathered skirt for my little girl in 100% cotton, I don’t worry about adding extra fabric to the width because I am gathering it in and it won’t make a difference, but I add an extra 1/2 inch (or even an inch) to the length, just to be sure it doesn’t shrink up too short….decreasing the life of the skirt in her wardrobe.
That’s the truth.  But is more risky.
But my real, non-discouraging, advice?
Always pre-wash.
And if you do it right when you bring your lovely stack of fabrics home……they’ll be all ready to sew with once you begin your project a few days/weeks/months later.  A good habit to get into.
Any other basic sewing questions you have?
I have a list of things I’ll be sharing throughout the next several months……..but if you are itching to ask something, leave a comment.  And I’ll try to answer it in one of the upcoming sewing tips posts.
But no promises of when I’ll get it answered……remember I have this little baby plumping up inside of this tummy of mine. She’s almost done cooking.
 
Thanks for checking out my Sewing Tips: Pre-Washing post. Check out my full collection of DIY Sewing articles. Find even more sewing projects, patterns, and tips for beginners and advanced sewists by Liz Call, Mariah Leeson, Randi Dukes and Tauni Everett.
 

Comments

  1. Suzie Bee says:

    I've never pre-washed anything, and I've never had any problems, but then I am rather gung ho about these things and know I ought to be more methodical.

  2. NunuBelle says:

    I agree with Tasha about doing a post on cutting straight lines! I have such a problem with that. It takes me forever and i have to measure and draw the lines several times before i cut, and even then they come out slightly crooked! Cutting squares and rectangles are my nightmare.
    Also, as for ironing.. why does it take me FOREVER to iron something, and then even still i can't the wrinkles out?! Is it my iron? Ironing board? Or am i doing something wrong? I just dont get it! Any help with the above topics would be awesome and very much appreciated!

  3. Tamiya says:

    I have SERIOUS fabric envy!!!

  4. Tasha says:

    If you could do a post on how to cut your fabric straight that would be so great! I know that sounds dumb, but seriously, every project I do that's what I spend the most time on. No matter how I do it I always end up needing to go back and straighten it out again. Makes me crazy! Btw you're so great for sharing all your sewing knowledge! Your blog is one of the reasons I started sewing!

  5. Lizzy's Nina says:

    I got a sewing machine for Christmas and I am thrilled. I have not sewn since I was a teenager and that was about was over 25 years ago. You inspired me!! I remember more than I thought I would and have been making pillows for my handicapped Grand-daughter like crazy.
    I am interested very much into recycling clothes.I love your blog. I have been following your blog for a long time . You advice for Lizzy's braces worked great.I had to take the fabric off because it was was falling off in places but it worked!! Thank you and Happy Healthy New Year!!

  6. kodie says:

    i am a shortcut queen and usually don't prewash. but when i have a bold colored fabric (especially anything with red!), i force myself to take the time to wash it. and i don't think you need to run them through the washer – just a quick soak will do the trick. my mom would always just let the fabric soak for a few minutes in a tub of water, then air dry and that worked for her. i usually pink my edges first, then soak them in the sink, then throw them in the dryer. with the pinking, you won't lose anything to unraveling that way.

  7. Millie says:

    Where did you get that orange and white fabric at?? It looks like a damask print or something, but I have been looking EVERYWHERE for fabric like that to use for my wedding. Please let me know!!
    Millie.k.franklin@gmail.com

  8. Anonymous says:

    Do you have suggestion to how to pre-wash flannel fabric? My always came out look like it had been used.
    Thanks for all the great tips.

  9. Kristen says:

    I've gotten into the habit of prewashing. Decided to jump in on a project at Christmas. Bought fabric and came home and made a dress. The ONE time I haven't prewashed lately. And the stupid colors ran. All that hardwork for nothin'. If I had prewashed I could have saved that time. :P Stupid fabric.

  10. Erin says:

    That's so funny, I actually was just thinking about this the other day…my mom pre-washes, and I was wondering if you did too, and thought maybe someday I'd get around to leaving a comment/question…thanks for reading my mind!

  11. Kim @ NewlyWoodwards says:

    I've always heard that you can skip prewashing if you buy precuts (charm packs, etc.). Any truth to that? It never really made sense to me, but I like thinking that I can skip it. ;)

    1. Dee says:

      I have a steam cycle on my dryer. Using the tray that was included for drying sneakers my precuts get unfolded and run thru a seam cycle. This may not take out the sizing but does shrink the fabric without fraying.

  12. Alissa says:

    I always prewash yardage. But, not pre-cuts. I did once and it was a huge mess!

  13. Summer Lewis says:

    Another way to prevent fraying and nasty thread tangles on the end is the serge (or just zig-zag) the ends of the fabric together, so you have a loop of fabric. That's what we always did the costume shop I worked in. Granted, we were washing huge amounts of fabric and all of those loose threads could cause major frustration. After the washing you can either unpick the ends, or the faster route is to just cut it off.

  14. Miss Amy says:

    Good Tip… I always say

    "allow 10% for fabric shrinkage" especially when you are sewing with cotton.

    "wash like colors together" oh dear I have had some mishaps when I haven't… Gorgeous fabric gone pink is the usual problem!

    "double hot wash and then machine dry with natural fibers" this will make sure it shrinks on that pre-wash, then you wont have to worry about your garments shrinking after you have finished making them perfectly tailored to you!

  15. Melissa in Memphis says:

    I agree with prewashing EXCEPT if you are reupholstering something. Lets say you are recovering your kitchen chairs. Put the new fabric on the chair anyway you like. Then spritz them with water. The fabric shrinks and the chair covers are super tight.

  16. Veronica says:

    I would second the "Color Catcher" (found by your laundry materials in the store) as a fast, easy method for bleeding colors.

  17. Mama Bear says:

    I've finally got into the habit of washing fabric within a few days of buying it. Just like you said it's nice and fresh and ready to go when I am ready to sew.

    P.S. We have the same iron!

  18. Cassie says:

    My sewing machine is looping majorly on the back. I know this is a problem due to tension, but I've tried messing with the tension and it hasn't helped. I know I could take it into a pro, but I only paid $7 for the machine at a thrift store. So it seems silly to pay a pro $50 or more to fix something on my cheapy machine. Any tips?

    1. Bonnie says:

      It could very well be the thread that you are using!! I started having what appeared to be “tension” problems with a wonderful sewing machine that I had for years…I even took it to a repairman that couldn’t figure out the problem, so I got rid of it. I then purchased a rather high end machine and became quite frustrated when I experienced the exact same problem. I went back to the dealer and was told their experience showed it was the thread I was using. I purchased a better quality thread and wha-la…NO MORE ISSUES WITH THE THREAD NOT LOOPING PROPERLY UNDERNEATH!!! I hope this helps you. Unfortunately, I think if I had known this, my oldie but goodie machine would still be going strong!!

    2. Anonymous says:

      Check for dust/stray threads. Dust will get the thread all tangled up. Cłean out the bottom bobbin casing with a paint brush or the air thingy.

    3. Jeannine says:

      It may be the way that you put the bobbin in. Sometimes you have to put the bobbin in so that the thread that comes off is facing a certain way.

  19. These Are The Days says:

    I don't sew, but I have a tiny bit and never thought to prewash. Thanks for the tip before I get started on some projects. You just may have saved me some future mishaps! :)

    Check out my KITCHEN/LAUNDRY remodel today!!

    http://www.these-are-the-days.com

    Have a fabulous week!

  20. Brett says:

    I always wash my fabric right when I bring it home. (otherwise I do get too anxious and just skip it!)
    I also trim the corners on a diagonal before washing & drying and it helps the fraying & strings so much!
    I usually separate colours when washing as well, but throw them all in the dryer together.

  21. Lil Mama Stuart says:

    what exactly does top stitching mean?

  22. Deborah in Atlanta says:

    I've always heard you should "press" your fabric and not "iron" it and that you should never use steam. I was told using stem and "ironing" caused the fabrics to stretch. And yes, I prewash my fabrics and always use a "Color Catcher" to catch any of those colors from fabrics that will fade or bleed.

  23. 'T' says:

    will you post a simple pajama pant pattern… ?

    1. Jeannine says:

      This is a simple method. I have not tried it but have seen it on various blogs.
      https://www.mycottoncreations.blogspot.com/2010/07/christmas-eve-pajama-pants-tutorial.html

  24. Erin says:

    Thanks for the tips! Even knowing it's the right thing to do I still hate to do it :) But I know its necessary. I just wish those pesky strings which make knots weren't such a problem. Oh, and I think I am allergic to ironing. Just sayin…

  25. Denise says:

    I just wish fabric would come pre-shrunk. :)

  26. khead44 says:

    I would love some help with invisible zippers. I can get them sewn in, but I can't seem to close the gap between the zipper and the seam I sewed normally (if that makes sense). Do I need to hand sew that? Do I need to use a different presser foot? It is kinda frustrating. Any help would be awesome. Love your blog.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Some they say to open and press the zipper before u sew it. But be careful pressing as it can burn the teeth of the zipper. But what I do is as I see I held the coil open so I get to the edge. And it’s ok.

  27. brittney says:

    To the question above about soaking in vinegar; I was talking to a lady who works at the quilt shop saying I was frustrated about my reds fading so much, she told me to soak it in vinegar before washing it. Also it helps to prevent the color from bleeding

  28. Mandy @ Sugar Bee Craft Edition says:

    I almost always prewash – – one time I didn't, and the nightgown for my daughter shrunk WAYYY up – see if I ever try to cut corners again!

  29. Karissa Jade Ferguson says:

    What about colors bleeding on each other? I always wash mine separately but it looks like you don't. Am I just wasting time and water?

    1. Anonymous says:

      If you have bold colors like red, orange, navy, etc it would be a god idea to soak them each by themselves in cold water with vinegar. I do mine overnight , that’s what my mom did. This sets the colors so they don’t Then rinse them out until the water is clear and then go ahead and wash in cold water with like colors and all should be good.

  30. Allie says:

    Thanks for the sewing tips I love them! I need help with cutting fabric. I always struggle with cutting fabric the exact measurement I need it. Like if I'm making a large square blanket how do you cut it so the front and back pieces are the exact same size. I'm probably making it harder then I need to but just curious if theres some good tips to cutting your fabric. Thanks!!

    1. Anonymous says:

      Y not cutting them same time??? Wouldn’t it be the same?? And if u a joining pc seperately once u finish one side put the other one on the top and trim it to fit the other

  31. tinajo says:

    My mother always said that I had to zig-zag before prewashing, so I actually do that even though it feels terrible boring. Less fraying though, but OH so boring…

    1. Dana says:

      I wondered about that. That’s what my mom always had me do too and I really really really hate doing it. It does help with the fraying but I wonder if it is really necessary?

  32. Teesha says:

    Totally unrelated to the topic of your post but do you follow any photography blogs? I love the quality of the pictures that you take and I have a camera very similar to the one that you use but my pictures come out more like those from a point and shoot. Any tips or recommendations? I can't wait to see what you are doing with your snow days! We are covered here in SC!

  33. Emily says:

    Any advice on prewashing dry clean only material? I've been avoiding it (mostly b/c I hate spending money on dry cleaning). You can also you pinking shears or serge the edges of your fabric before washing it if you don't want the strings. On projects I care about I definitely prewash. On experimental things or stuff that doesn't really matter, I don't prewash. I also don't prewash fleece b/c I don't like how pilly it gets and it doesn't shrink.

    1. ERIN says:

      I need this question answered too!

    2. Rose says:

      Twenty-some years ago I bought dry-clean only fabric from Joann’s to make several sets of floor-length curtains. I loved the fabric (I still do!!) but I really did not want to be bothered with having to haul all those curtains to the cleaners. After I brought home the fabric (it was yards and yards and yards of a gorgeous print), I washed it on a normal wash cycle and threw it in the dryer at a normal heat setting (to simulate a “future” washing), then ironed it flat again. It was a huge ordeal, but I am so glad I went through the trouble. Yes, the material did shrink. However, I was able to make my curtains with no worries that they would shrink after I sewed them. So yes, you CAN machine wash dry-clean only material; just be mindful that it will shrink. Buy additional yardage to offset the shrinkage. Happy sewing!!

    3. Pam says:

      Rose – Did you cut the fabric before washing or just wash one large piece? I have 15 yards I want to wash, but wonder how it will do to leave it one piece. Thank you.

    4. denise says:

      Same question! I also have 15 yards to be made into 4 curtain panels and I was going to skip prewashing since they will always be dry cleaned. Curious on how 15 continuous yards would handle the washing machine!

    5. Debra says:

      I’m sitting on 10 yards of faberic wondering the same thing. How am I gonna to wash, dry, and Iron that much continuous faberic?

    6. Elizabeth says:

      I recently made drapes for two windows, floor-to-ceiling length with 9.5 foot ceilings. In total, I purchased about 15 yards so that I’d have lots of extra fabric, and I put the whole length of fabric through the washing machine and dryer. I was pleasantly surprised that it did not tangle or get unreasonably twisted in either cycle. I did open the dryer once mid-cycle to make sure it hadn’t twisted itself into a ball, but that was the only extra precaution I took. This fabric was a machine washable velvet, which did not need to be ironed, but when ironing an extra-long piece of fabric in the past, I “fan fold” the fabric on either side of my ironing board, which has worked fairly well.

  34. mtnhomequilter says:

    I am no expert on this subject, but I will let y'all know what I've done in the past. I worked at a fabric store for 3 years and worked with ALL types of fabrics. When I buy fabrics, I sort them by color or type, then typically throw them in with the regular laundry. I LOVE to dry them outside on a nice hot day on the clothesline. Darks in the shade, lights in the sun. They ravel much less, wrinkle much less, and just smell so dang good when they come off the line. Plus they look so pretty hanging there. Knits love to hang dry too. If you don't have a clothesline you can take the wet fabric out of the washer and iron it dry too. I would only recommend that with quilting cottons, heavier fabrics don't do as well. Now if you have denim fabrics, do them SEPARATELY! They have a ridiculous amount of dye in them and it will run in to other fabrics or clothing. I know this from experience when my old jeans turned a strange new shade of blue one day. Lesson learned. And no the vinegar doesn't work that well with denims. As far as the sizing in fabrics, yes it needs washed out first, plus I always liked to wash out what I called "road dirt" from the fabric stores. How many times had that fabric been handled before me? You'd be surprised. I just like a clean crisp piece of fabric when I start a new project. And for Marlie, a pillowcase is a good first project. Happy washing!

  35. Beverly Tank says:

    I always prewash. One time I had purchased 3 different fabrics, all from the same line, of quilting fabric for some nursing covers. After I dried it, I noticed one of the pieces had shrunk a good 4 to 6 inches, and it was unusable for my project. When I took it back to Joanns, the manager claimed that was normal and did not want to replace the piece for me since it had been washed, but I was finally able to work it out with her. I have never had anything shrink that much, and the other 2 pieces did not shrink like that either, but just beware that it is possible.

  36. Nichole says:

    thanks for the tips! I am a beginner and I got too excited and cut my fabric for a slipcover before I washed it! But I caught myslef and I think it will still turn out fine.

    how far along are you? I am expecting too and our baby girl is due Feb. 15 so I've been trying to work on my sewing skills with projects for her room :) I decorated a clock with the cloth rosettes I saw on your site and everyone has loved it!

  37. Emily @ Merrypad says:

    Good tip! Thank you for sharing (as I embark on a series of sewing projects)…

  38. Lara says:

    Great tip! Thanks. I was wondering how do you get the sides of the fabric straight when your getting ready to cut things out for a quilt?

  39. latoya Irby says:

    I wash most of my fabrics like you mentioned, but occasionally I skip it if I know the fabric is going in a project that will never be washed, e.g. a wall hanging. And because I need to save energy and water around here, I wash fabrics with a similar load of laundry.

  40. Char @ Crap I've Made says:

    What is the name/make/whatever of that orange fabric? Pretty sure I NEED some!

  41. Marlie @ Crafting, Cooking, and Cats says:

    Thanks! I think I'm finally getting ready to make my first project and totally wouldn't have thought to do this. Do you have a suggestion for a good first sewing project?

  42. Brandy says:

    Sometimes I put vinegar in the water because I've heard it holds the color in. Has anyone else heard that?

    1. Anonymous says:

      Yes it’s true. I heard it too

  43. Lee Ann says:

    Thankyou so much! This always always confuses me and I never know where to start. I am waiting on some yummt fabric coming through my door any day so I will be sure to wash it as soon as it gets here! x

  44. Kristi says:

    I'm kind of like you – I know I should prewash – but I don't always. Couple of other things I've learned over the years about prewashing.
    1. Another reason to prewash besides shrinkage is to remove the "sizing" (I think that is what it is called) that they put on fabric to make it look all nice and crisp in the stores. If you don't and you are trying to iron anything onto the fabric (interfacing, appliques, etc) they won't adhere correctly. I always prewash if interfacing or other iron-ons are involved in my project.
    2. You don't need to send the fabric through an entire wash cycle. It really just needs to get wet and then dried. Also, you don't need to use detergent or fabric softener (in fact the fabric softner can cause the same adhering problems that the sizing does). I usually just sent my fabric through a rapid wash,or whatever my shortest wash cycle is, or even just the rinse portion of a wash cylce – and then throw it in the dryer. If it isn't a lot of material, I will even just run it under a faucet or dunk it in a sink full of water until it is completely wet, wring it out and then throw it in the dryer. I'm always so impatient to get started, and anything to speed up the process is a bonus.

    1. sunshinequeen says:

      Thanks these tips are super helpful- especially about the applique stuff. I don’t really sew, but I love to use fabric to dress things up!

    2. Terri B says:

      Just to correct something that I think is a myth – I NEVER wash my fabrics first and I have been quilting 15+ years – I love batiks and hand dyes and I never have a problem with fusibles adhering to my fabrics EVER and I do alot of raw edge appliqué – perhaps you are using steam when you shouldn’t and a not reading the directions for the type of product you are using.

      I personally love when my quilts look all wrinkly and loved. My art quilts never get washed so why bother with washing when it won’t ever get washed…extra work where I’d rather be quilting rather than washing and ironing..plenty of ironing going on as I’m quilting :)

  45. Rach says:

    When I took a quilting class I was told never to pre-wash and if I did to not use softener. Then I made a quilt and I had problems with fading, and some pieces shrinking different amounts. Now I always prewash the way I intend to use the fabric.

  46. Rhadonda says:

    I prewash my fabrics for garments and a trick i learned elsewhere to avoid all the raveling is to snip of a little piece at the corner of each selvage, a diagonal clip about 1/4". Hope that makes sense. That keeps it from raveling all the way across. Works for me! Thanks.

    1. Alice says:

      At 80 plus years I’ve pre-washed many yards of fabric. I serge the cut end of the fabric to provide a clean edge for laying out pattern pieces. No frayed edges to contend with.

    2. Anonymous says:

      I tried clipping vs not clipping the edges today!! I am amazed!! No knots with the clipped corners! Thank you so much!!

  47. ShirleyC says:

    I don't prewash everything I sew, and I haven't had any major shrinkage problems yet. My DD likes the look of the new unwashed fabric in a new outfit. She handwashed all of my handmade items anyway.
    Another way to check is to cut a 3×3" square, wash and dry it, and then measure to see if has shrunk.
    I strongly recommend to iron, iron, iron when sewing. You won't get a proper size if that material isn't wrinkle free, but I'm old and picky about things like that. LOL

  48. marilise says:

    thanks , and have a happy new year hugs from Greece

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