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!  🙂

Happy piecing!

One response to “To Pre-Wash or Not Pre-Wash, That is the Question!”

  1. Kelly, thank you for this answer, I make ‘best press’at home, with one part Vodka and eight parts water and was hoping that I could spray the fabric instead of washing it ahead of time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *