Which leads me to the never ending question in the quilt world…
To prewash or not to prewash your fabric?
I unfortunately will not be the person who has a definitive answer for you.
But! I can give you reasons for why it sometimes IS a good thing to do, and why I personally often choose NOT to.
Reasons To Prewash
There are some great arguments to prewash!
For one, prewashing means less shrinking and crinkles. As you probably know, fabric shrinks when it’s been washed and dried. If you wash your quilt AFTER you’ve sewn it together, the fabrics will most likely shrink and have an unwanted crinkle effect that you weren’t expecting. If you prewash before sewing, you can avoid this.
Prewashing means less risk of any colour bleeds. Is there anything worse than a colour bleed?! Darker blues, purples and reds are often the colours known for the dreaded bleeding. Prewashing helps prevent these types of dyes from spreading onto your other fabrics later on!
This is the aftermath of Shibori dye, but you get the picture!
Did you know that prewashing also removes chemicals? If you or someone in your family has sensitive skin, prewashing might be a good idea as it will help remove any manufacturing chemicals from the fabric that could be irritating.
The only time I have prewashed my fabric is when I’ve mixed cotton and flannel. I have been warned by many quilt shops that flannel shrinks substantially more than cotton and can cause issues down the road if you don’t prewash!
Why I Don’t Prewash
Here are my reasons for pretty much never prewashing!
For me, it takes too much time and effort. I always want to start working on my quilt right away! Not only is there time spent in the washer and dryer, but the fabric always comes out so wrinkly and requires extra ironing!
I actually enjoy working with unwashed fabric better because I like when it feels “stiffer”. The stiffness often makes the fabric easier to cut and sew!
I like the additional shrinkage/texture/crinkle that comes from washing AFTER the quilt is completed. I think it makes the quilt extra cozy!
Some fabric ends up fraying in the wash (linen for example), so I like avoiding that altogether.
How To Prewash
If you decide to prewash, always remember to do it before you start doing any cutting!
Wash your fabrics in cool water with your favourite mild detergent/soap.
It’s always a good idea to have Shout Color Catchers on hand (Canadians click here). Throw these in when you are prewashing, especially if you are using darker or more saturated fabrics. You might be surprised at how much these “catch” when your prewash is done!
Make sure your fabrics never spend time on a soak cycle in the washing machine! This is a tip that is especially important when washing completed quilts, but it’s a good practice for prewashing fabrics as well. A soak cycle allows loose dye to settle where it doesn’t belong. The good news is (based on my research), colour bleeding on fabric seems to be less and less of an issue with the new process in which fabric is dyed!
To keep wrinkles to a minimum, dry your fabrics using the low heat setting.
What Not To Prewash
It’s recommended to avoid prewashing any fabric that is Fat Quarter size or smaller. Because they are smaller pieces of fabric, there’s a greater chance for their edges to unravel in the wash! Also, because the fabric could shrink, you may end up with not enough fabric if you are using a pattern that calls for Fat Quarters!