Prewashing Quilt Fabric

That age old question .. To wash or not to wash?

I’m all about honesty, so I’ll be the first to admit that I had never pre-washed fabric up until now. I thought it was waaay too time consuming, was tricky, I’d have difficulty with fraying, and mostly because I just wanted to get started on my new project straight away!

I recently posted about volunteering to make NICU premature baby outfits for our local hospital. One of the requirements is that fabric for outfits is prewashed. After reading this, my heart dropped a little bit. I had never prewashed any fabric before, and I quite honestly thought it was a little scary – what if the fabric bled?! what if the fabric frayed?!

After a moment of panic, I did some research about prewashing fabric and found that most people are on either extreme – ALWAYS prewash your fabric, or NEVER prewash your fabric. It seems there is no in between.

Here’s some reasons for pre-washing your fabric;

– Fabric shrinks after washing, so quilts can have a rippled effect due to the change in fabric size after washing.

– Fabric has sizing and chemicals on it after production, which stay on the fabric until it is washed.

– Farbic colours (like reds, pinks, browns) can bled when first washed. It’s best to ‘set’ the colour to the fabric before quilting or sewing, to ensure the colour won’t bleed.

Here’s some reasons against pre-washing your fabric;

– Shrinkage isn’t all bad; it can create a cozy, vintage finish to your quilt.

– Prewashing takes too much time; I just want to get stuck into my new project!

– Fabric sizing works to my advantage; it creates a crisp clean finish when cutting.

The point of this post is to tell you – I’VE SWAPPED SIDES!

This weekend, I pre-washed ALL of my fabric stash, pressed and folded it, and by goly, it’s the best thing I’ve done! Let me tell you the lead up and my reasons for this extreme switch.

1. The fray ain’t all that bad.

Lots of people recommend serging or overlocking the non-selvedge edges to ensure fabric doesn’t fray in the wash. I’ll be honest – I don’t have time for that. After reading online, I found you can pink the edges to avoid fraying. There’s also some talk of cutting triangles from the corners. I didn’t try this, so I can’t comment. I used the pinking method, and honestly, the amount of fray was far less than I originally expected – below is the extent of the fray that I had.

Minimal Fabric Fray after Pinking

Minimal Fabric Fray after Pinking










2. Colours bleed, dammit!

You might think that your quilt fabric colour won’t bleed. Let me tell you it probably will, and most likely on the worst possible position on your finished piece. After washing a dark load, I had a number of fabrics get dottings of colour bleed. You can see this below. Imagine if that had’ve happened after I finished my project?! I would be devastated!

Colour Bleed

Colour Bleed










3. The chemicals.

I never noticed it before, but fabric from the shop (at least in Australia), as a definite smell to it. Turns out this is sizing, which helps to keep the fabric in line on the bolt. I have really sensitive skin, so if I was wearing clothing that had sizing on it, I’d probably break out into a rash. For me personally, this is a definite reason to pre-wash fabric.

So, if like me you decide to give pre-washing a go .. Let me give you some tips.

1. Don’t pre-wash your fabric stash all in one go, unless you like a challenge.

That’s what I did, and I got a blister from my pinking shears (pinking all my fabric took me 2 and a half hours).

2. Use cold water in your wash, and delicate cycle.

You could wash your fabric by hand, but we all want to get started on our new projects straight away, so the sooner the better right? So use cold water in your washing machine for your fabrics and put it on a delicate cycle. I found putting my washing machine on a half load was best. In essence, the less room to move in the washing machine, the better for the fabric. Don’t pack it all in so that it can’t move at all, but if it’s a little snug, that’s okay. The cold water helps to set  the colour, and it’s better for your electricity bill.

3. Consider using a colour catcher.

I didn’t, and that is probably why about 5 of my fabrics came out with fabric bleeds. I read that putting salt in the  wash helped to set the colour also. I added it, and only had a few issues with colour bleeding.

4. Don’t dry your fabric all the way in the dryer.

Pop your fabric in the dryer once it’s washed, and put it on dry until it’s just damp. You don’t want to dry the your fabric all the way, otherwise the dryer might leave permanent crease marks which are hard to get out by pressing. If you don’t have a dryer, air dry inside on a rack. I don’t think air drying outside in the sun is the best idea, as you don’t want your fabric to fade.

5. Wash your fabric as soon as you buy it.

I will definitely be doing this from now on, to avoid washing my fabric all in one go. This is what our house looked like after 4 loads of quilt fabric was done. I spent about 6 hours pressing, folding and organising all my fabric too. Whilst it was definitely worth it, it would be much more manageable to do this only with my new purchases!


To end, if you don’t pre-wash your fabric, all power to you! Like I said, I never used to, and I don’t judge anyone who doesn’t.

The real point of my post is to say to anyone else who is scared by pre-washing their fabric – it’ll be okay! The fray won’t be that bad, and you’ll have lovely, clean, and wonderful smelling fabric in the end.

I think you should definitely pre-wash your fabric if you’re sewing anything for children or if you’d be devastated if something happened to your project at the very end (colour bleed, ripple effect).

I’d love to hear your thoughts on pre-washing your fabric. And just to be clear, there is zero judgement either way. We’re all creators of special wonderful things – that’s all that matters!






15 thoughts on “Prewashing Quilt Fabric

  1. With the exception of my new ironing board cover (I wanted to keep the firmness of the original fabric) I’m firmly in the pre-wash camp – which includes separating colours, darks and lights. Some complain about the effort, but I think that the risk of not washing far outweighs the effort.


    • It definitely takes a lot of effort, and planning .. Unless you pre-wash all your fabric as soon as you get home, you can’t just straight a new project straight away.

      I separated by darks and lights, but for my next round of washing I think I’ll separate by colours too.


  2. I’ve done both. I didn’t prewash the fabric for a baby quilt because I wanted it to shrink and get all vintage looking. But I have prewashed as a Christmas quilt. I really don’t have a preference. And I do bounce back and forth.


    • Oh yes – that lovely shrink look is so great for a baby quilt .. Makes it look so snuggly and welcoming :)

      Fair enough! I think the main thing to remember is the fabrics you have and haven’t washed. I would hate for you to create something amazing and then have one fabric shrink more than the other when washing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Totally! That would be the worst. I’m kinda a rookie and so don’t really have any scraps or collections so it’s easy for me because I have nothing. Lol.


  3. I am another quilter firmly the “in-between” camp. I may wash some blacks and reds (especially if they are cheaper quality fabrics), or if there is a mix of recycles (and therefore pre-washed fabrics) and new. But I am mostly too lazy and I like the crisp feel which makes sewing easier. I have done some projects with old top sheets (once the bottoms are worn), and the soft fabric, which feels lovely when the project is done, is much more difficult to manage.


    • I can definitely understand the in-between camp. I’m going to try and firmly be in the pre-wash camp, but we’ll see how that goes hehe!

      I can also understand the extra effort required to pre-wash. I think that’s why it’s best to do it as soon as you get it home, otherwise if you try when you’re ready to start a new project, the excitement of starting will definitely outweigh having to pre-wash.

      I personally haven’t noticed too much difference in crispness, but I get where you’re coming from either.

      Us quilters are a unique bunch hey! I love all the different approaches and ideas that we all have :)

      Liked by 1 person

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