Sunday, December 5, 2010

Should I prewash my quilt fabric?

Back 12 years ago when I started to piece and grow a fabric stash, this was the question I asked every quilter I knew. With a short history of sewing my own clothes...6th grade home ec., a bit in high school and college, I figured pre-shrinkage was the way to go. I washed, ironed, and stored every bit of fabric I purchased. It was a lot of work! Now I stack my fabric on the shelf until I'm ready to use it and then decide if I want to prewash or not.

Whether to prewash really depends on the look you want for the quilt and how the quilt will be used. For example, for most of the lap and bed quilts I make, I love the scrunchy texture that results from using unwashed fabric and batting out of the package once the quilt is washed and dried for the first time. However, for wall hangings and applique, I will use prewashed fabric because I desire a flat look to the quilt and may not be washing the quilt at all.

My decision to prewash is really determined by what type of quilt I'm making which also helps me decide which type of batting to put inside the quilt. For example, if I'm making an heirloom quilt and want an antique, scrunchy texture that old quilts have, I will not prewash the fabric. The batting will be 100% cotton and the quilting lines will be close together (1-2"). After quilting and binding, the quilt can be washed and dried to produce the look I'm after.

The worst advice, which I've actually read in some quilting books, is to wash your fabric in the hottest water to shrink and set the color. The rationale being this will be the toughest treatment so you'll have no worries later. Well, that fabric just took a beating it didn't need which is an ignorant way to approach fabric care. Lukewarm water and a phosphate-free detergent that will not strip the color from the fabric is the way to go.

If you logically think about it and educate yourself a bit, you will learn how to care for your fabric, not tear down the fibers before cutting it up for quilt construction. For an educated look at fabric and how it is processed and should be handled, read From Fiber to Fabric by Harriet Hargrave. She and her daughter, Carrie Hargrave, are co-authors of Quilter's Academy, a new 6-volume series by C & T Publishing, which is a skill-building course in quiltmaking. Education=success!

Copyright ©2010, Sharon Baggs