Quite often, I hear quilt makers discussing the issue of whether or not to pre-wash their fabrics. Actually,occasionally I hear discussions. Often, I hear fiercely impassioned debates on this issue! 🙂 Far be it from me to judge another quilter’s decision on this touchy subject. I think every quilt maker must do her / his due diligence on the matter, and arrive at their own conclusions. However, I will share with you my journey and the approach that I have adopted.
Once upon a time (no need to divulge just how long ago it was!), I was a student in a junior high “home ec” class learning garment construction. I was taught that IF a fabric would be washed in its final form, it MUST be pre-washed prior to cutting and constructing the garment to avoid post-construction shrinkage and to make sure the fabric dye wouldn’t bleed. Fast forward a few decades to when I began my quilt making adventures. I was working with cotton, right? So, since cotton shrinks, logic told me that I MUST pre-wash my fabrics before piecing them into a quilt. So, I diligently pre-washed, dried, and pressed every piece of fabric I brought into the house. Having been born with that “collector gene”that compelled me to bring home lots of luscious pieces of fabric, I was spending a significant amount of time “prepping” and not nearly enough time piecing! So, before long, I began to skip the “pre-wash” step in an effort to “get to the good stuff”! Unfortunately, in spite of improvements in greig goods and the commercial dyeing process, I sometimes paid the price for my short-cut.
Concurrently, I was beginning to piece quilt blocks comprised of more pieces cut on the bias. As a result, I was re-pressing a lot of my fabric using starch and the cotton setting on my iron to add more stability to the fabric prior to cutting my pieces. By using spray starch, I was able to get the fabric stability that I desired. What I wasn’t crazy about was the flaking that sometimes occurred. Then I discovered a wonderful product: Mary Ellen’s Best Press Non-Starch Alternative (which I’ll abbreviate MEBP). I LOVE this stuff! (No, I do not own stock in Mary Ellen’s Best Press, nor do I work for them!) MEBP is liquid joy in a spray bottle, as far as I’m concerned – easy to use, a variety of fragrances (or no fragrance at all, if you prefer). Spritz your fabric, press with the cotton setting, and VOILA! Stable fabric and no flaking!
What I also noticed as I sprayed some of my non-pre-shrunk cottons, was that I could literally observe the fabric “shrink” in front of my eyes. WOW! So, I would proceed ironing the fabric until dry (or nearly so), realizing that I had just “pre-shrunk” my fabric without ever filling a washing machine! Cool! One of the two issues resolved!
But, what about dye bleeding? Well, what I’ve resorted to doing is covering my ironing board with a CHEAP muslin before I begin spraying and pressing. Once sprayed with MEBP, the fabric is damp. As I press, I can observe whether or not the dye in the fabric is stable. If I find a fabric that bleeds, I can either wash it with vinegar, a dye fixative, or whatever steps I would normally take to remedy the problem. Honestly, it is so rare for me to find a fabric that bleeds anymore that, if I do, I generally just opt to pull that fabric from the contenders and move on.
The process of no pre-washing, only “pre-shrinking” has worked very well for me! It saves a lot of water, and, most importantly, I “get to the good stuff” much faster! 🙂