How to Prewash Fabric for Patchwork Quilting
Before cutting your fabric into pieces, there is an important step you should take that will greatly effect the finished appearance and wear-ability of your quilt.
That step is to prewash your fabric.
Washing your fabric before cutting and piecing is an important step for your quilts because it ensures your fabric will not leak excess dyes and will be easy to work with through every step of the construction process.
Prewashing all the fabric in your quilt prepares it in the following ways:
1. Removes chemicals from the manufacturing process which might make one fabric super stiff, but another fabric very loose. All your fabric needs to have the same universal stiffness.
2. Removes the embedded fold which is hardly ever square to the grain line of fabric. Now you will be able to fold the fabric square and cut strips perfectly on-grain.
3. Removes any excess dyes from the fabric, which could potentially ruin a beautiful quilt by leaking from one color to another.
4. Relaxes and preshrinks the fabric. Without this preshrink, your finished quilt will always shrink and crinkle on the surface, which is pretty for certain styles of bed quilts, but not appropriate for art quilts or wall hangings.
Ultimately, by washing the fabric first, you will have far more control over how your finished quilt will look, and how you will be able to wash and care for it when it is finished.
Watch the following quilting tutorial to learn how to prepare your fabric and cut it into long, straight strips:
Prewashing Fabric Tips:
Machine wash like colors with like colors - Machine wash your fabrics with like colors. Pink will definitely not mix with navy blue! Throw in some detergent if you like, but avoid fabric softeners as they will make the fabric harder to cut and piece accurately.
Don't wait until the last minute - Wash your fabric when you first bring it home, don't wait until you're 5 minutes from cutting out your new quilt. Whenever you purchase new fabric, throw it straight in the wash so it's ready to be pressed and cut anytime.
Untwist and Clip - After washing, lay the fabric out on a counter and clip away all the threads. Snap the fabric once or twice to shake most of the wrinkles out.
Dry, but not too Dry - Dry fabric on a medium setting and set it so that the fabrics will come out slightly damp. If you dry the fabrics all the way, you will dry the wrinkles firmly into the fabric.
Remove from the Dryer Immediately - Take your fabric out of the dryer promptly and iron it immediately. Don't leave it in your dryer for three days while the wrinkles crease into shape.
If you're not planning to use your fabric immediately, fold it and put it away wrinkled. Fabric will crease when folded, so you will have to press it again before you use it, so save yourself the time and store your fabric wrinkled. Whenever you're ready to cut out the pieces of a new quilt, pull out the fabrics you plan to use and starch and press them all before cutting.
Starch and Press - Starch has been used for hundreds of years to add stiffness and stability to fabric. This is a food-based chemical that washes out completely when you wash your quilt, so no matter how much starch you use before piecing, it will all wash out once the quilt is finished.
I use Niagara brand spray starch which adds a beautiful stiffness to the fabric and makes it much easier to square up and cut accurately.
I didn't prewash for the first 3 years I quilted and I definitely paid the price. My first quilt is permanently stained from the leaking dye. Unless you like the look of navy blue stains on white fabric, don't skip this step!
If you've enjoyed this article on prewashing your fabric, definitely check out my book, How to Piece Perfect Quilts, where you'll learn how to piece your quilts perfectly so that all the seams match up each and every time. In this book you'll learn all the steps to fabric preparation and how to build a prewashing habit so this step doesn't feel like a chore.