Fabric Preparation

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Kathy Hannah discusses the pros and cons of washing fabric before use in quilting. Includes an easy way to test color fastness of fabric, and tips for preparing fabric for the washing machine.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Do Prewash Quilt Fabrics When…

1. The project you’re making will be washed and dried (e.g. bed quilts, bags and purses, or items for around the house). To control overall shrinkage/reduce uneven shrinkage.
2. The color might bleed (e.g. dark, saturated colors and lower-quality fabrics)
3. You are using batiks or flannels.
4. You are making a baby quilt or a quilt for a chemically sensitive person. Washing removes potential irritants.

Don’t Prewash Quilt Fabrics When…

1. You know the quilt you’re making will never be washed (e.g. Art Quilt)
2. You’re going to fuse the fabric. Iron-on fusible web stabilizes fabric and prevents it from shrinking.
3. You’re using a precut fabric kit. Washing could cause distortion.
4. You want an “antique” look.  Washing the finished quilt after you piece and quilt it will shrink the fabrics, and create a slightly puckered.

How to pre-wash fabric

1. Test for color bleeding. Some fabrics bleed dyes when they get wet and can stain the other fabrics in your quilt. Use this simple test for color bleeding:
a. Soak fabric in cool, soapy water.
b. After about 30 minutes, remove the fabric and check for color in the water. Discolored water means the fabric has bled some of its dye.
    c. If the water is still clear, lay the fabric to dry on a white paper towel. If the towel is still clean after the fabric dries, the fabric is safe to use.
2. Wash fabrics in cool water on hand-wash cycle. Unfold the fabrics, keeping lights separate from darks. Don’t use hot water, which can cause fading. Use a smaller amount (25%) of your regular detergent.
3. Tumble Dry. Shake out your fabric before you put it in the dryer. Remove from the dryer as soon as the cycle ends.

Prevent Thread Tangles when Washing and Drying Quilt Fabric

Washing and drying can cause frayed edges and thread nests. Try these tips for preventing fraying:
* If you’re washing cut strips or pieces, put them in a lingerie bag before washing.
* Snip a triangular cut from each corner of the fabric piece.
* Serge or zigzag stitch the cut edges of your fabrics before washing. (This can be very time-consuming.)

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