Sewing Series Part #1: The Importance of Prewashing Fabric
To prewash or not to prewash - that is the question on many a quilting and sewing site!
Through our many years of sewing, prewashing and drying of fabric has become the standard in our sewing room. Unwashed fabric has caused many a shortened skirt, too-tight bodice, or strange lay of garment. Because fabric changes in four distinct ways when it is washed.
This is the one everyone thinks of first, and it can be a very dramatic change, depending on the fabric. It can shrink 2"-3" right away, hardly shrink at all, or gradually inch up over time until you wonder if you’ve had a strange adult growth spurt! Simply giving your fabric that first wash and dry before you sew your dream dress or make your grandchild an heirloom quality quilt can make all the difference.
Not as publicized as the length, but very likely and destructive! Your fabric WILL shrink in width. You might not notice as quickly as the length, but you’ll soon be blaming the chocolate ice cream for what the washer and/or dryer did to your jumper or dress (and who wants to blame chocolate ice cream?)! A fabric such as muslin can lose over an inch in width after washing and drying, and that is a lot to lose once your garment or craft project has already been made.
As all who sew know, grainline is one of the most important parts of the fabric; who hasn’t measured your pattern piece over and over to make sure it is on grainline? But what if that grainline is off? Fabric is blocked after production, which can make that straight edge they cut off at the fabric store a complete joke. How does this affect measuring from the selvage? Well, how do you think your lovely skirt is going to hang if you had cut and sewn this fabric and then washed the garment afterwards?
This is the perfect example of how a fabric changes after a trip through the washer and dryer. These edges matched not too long ago. Now they don’t. We have washed a purchased cotton quilt, and had each little square take on a life of its own as the grain and bias changed. The pressure was so intense on them, the pieces of the quilt literally tore out of the stitching.
This is not as critical as the first three, but definitely still a consideration if you are making clothing or something that makes feel important. We have sewn with a cotton solid that is smooth, silky, and draping before washing and drying and firm, stiff, and thick after. If you are intending to use that elegant princess seam dress pattern, this fabric would be an utter disappointment! After the first time you wore it, it would completely change, and your soft and silky dress would be a stiff and sturdy dress.
In our store at Gathering of Goods, we wash and dry every fabric before creating a garment - be it a bonnet, skirt, dress or underslip. It’s that important. Shrinking can still occur; in fact, we encourage our customers to wash as cool as possible and hang dry to minimize this risk. But you shouldn’t have that moment of shock when your garment comes out of the wash fitting your youngest daughter instead of you!
We also prewash and dry all the fabric we sell, because you are literally getting the same fabric we use every day. Each length has been machine washed with a hypoallergenic detergent, machine dried, folded inside-out to reduce the chance of fading, and rerolled on bolts. And the length you order is cut AFTER washing, so you are getting just what you ordered.
There are very few places online where you can get prewashed cotton fabric for quilting or garment sewing, so we are excited about being able to offer our own prewashed fabric for seamstresses! Our goal is to provide the affordable, workable, 100% cotton fabric we love, in a form you can use right from the box.