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Should you Pre-Wash your Fabrics or Not? That is a very interesting question! What about Starching your Fabric?

These are fairly hotly debated topics in our quilting world … and everyone has their own pros and cons.  We also have different quilting styles, shapes to cut, and sewing needs … so the most important thing I think I hope that you get out of this information is an understanding of the process and when you could use any of these processes.  And know that the answers to these two questions vary widely, not only among quilters … but among a single quilter’s different projects!



Everyone has a different opinion about pre-washing. Pre-washing simply means to wash your fabric before you cut into them and start sewing. You should never pre -wash fabric, this is smaller than a fat quarter. Pre-cuts are not to be pre-washed before using them in a quilt.  

The benefit of pre-washing is that you will wash away excess dye to reduce possible color bleeding. Reds, blues and purple fabrics are notorious for bleeding, so I sometimes pre-wash when I have high contrast colors such as red and white. While I acknowledge that not pre-washing these fabrics is a "risk." 

When I am working with Batiks if I have a high contrast fabrics in the quilt I will pre-wash the blacks, reds, blue and purples.  Batiks are a hand dyed product, and they do not always have the best rinse and setting of the dye.  I will try a piece in the sink with water and ivory soap.  If it bleeds too much, I will put some vinegar in the water to help set the dye.  I do some of my prewashing in the kitchen sink if I really want to know the amount of bleeding that is happening.

I skip pre-washing and use Shout Color Catchers when I wash my quilt for the first time. Typically, these one to two Color Catchers and that does the trick, but if I ever find bleeding in my quilt after the first wash, I would rather deal with the aftermath than take the time to pre-wash. I have used a couple of products successfully in removing bits of bleeding.

Most fabric manufacturers use starch and stabilizers on their fabrics to keep the fibers stiff while they're on the bolt. When you wash your fabric, either before it's in the quilt or after, you wash away that starch. Personally, I like the added stiffness, as it makes for cutting and sewing to be easier. But if you choose to pre-wash, you may decide that you want to add some starch back to the fabric to make it easier to work with. I always starch or size my fabric if it has been washed.

Some quilters also choose to pre-wash so that they "pre-shrink" their fabric. This makes a difference if you are using various fabric types within your quilt. For example, linen and flannels shrink at a different rate than cotton does. If you use both types of fabric within your quilt, once they shrink, they could cause areas of pulling on your seams or make your blocks wonky. If you go ahead and pre-wash/pre-shrink everything, then the fabrics in your quilt will all be similar, which will in turn give you a better chance at a successful outcome.

One other thing to understand is that your batting (depending on it’s material) will still shrink … so pre-washing your fabric doesn’t 100% solve this problem of the quilt shrinking in the first wash.  It is not recommended to wash batting.  Also if you spritz your batting and throw it in the dryer it does take some of the wrinkles out before you sandwich your quilt.

That being said, I can probably count on one hand the amount of times that I've pre-washed my fabric in recent years.  Back when I started quilting 20 years ago I did pre-wash all my fabrics. Most manufacturers do not recommend washing your fabrics before you start.  The dyeing process has improved greatly over the last few years and pre washing is not necessary with most fabrics.

How to Pre-wash:

Some start with cutting the corner off the end of the selvage side of the fabric to help with raveling. Wash fabrics in cool water with a mild detergent. You can even just soak them in the kitchen sink or bathtub if needed. You can use a mesh bag to prevent fabric from stretching or twisting. Dry on low heat and remove the fabrics from the dryer immediately once it's dry or even semi dry.  I like to take them out just before they are dry and press them. For yardage, re-align selvedges and press the fabric to create a new fold. It may be off grain if it was pulled during the drying process.  You can align the salvages and iron back into shape.  If you have a couple of towels to throw in, that helps in the drying cycle too.  Wash like colors together like you do for your laundry to help with fabric not bleeding onto others.

DO NOT pre-wash pre-cuts because when the fabric frays you will not have the designated amount that you need for your project.

I have been told that you can “stay-stitch” about 1/8" away from the perimeter of the edges to help prevent the fabric from unraveling too much. I have personally never tried this because then you have to for sure cut the 1/8 off.

Again, pre-washing is one of those a highly debated topic in the quilting world, so don't feel like there's a right or wrong answer. Follow what you feel is best for the fabric you are using and the project you are making.  There is no perfect answer every time.


First Question:  How is starch and sizing different? 

Starch is used to stiffen fabrics, while sizing is used to add body, “crispness” and “hand” to it. Starch is vegetable-based (it's formulated from wheat, corn or rice), while sizing is a resinous solution that can be either vegetable- or plastic-based

To be honest, I use starch about half the time.  Most of the time when I iron my fabrics, it has enough starch already in the fabric. I've found that if I am working with smaller pieces or bias edges, it really does help with accuracy. Starch makes your fabric more stiff, which makes it easier to sew and work with.  There are many products on the market.  I also use sizing at times.  There are so many brands, each with a personal preference.  I am sensitive to smell, so I can't use anything with a fragrance. So that rules out a lot of brands for me.

Be careful with starch and too hot of an iron.  You can scorch the starch and cause a burn mark on your fabric, or on some fabrics it creates a sheen or shine that you can see.  I have also had it become flaky at times.  So I really decide especially on solids if I want to use starch.  

Remember that you'll want to starch your fabric before you cut out your quilt. For yardage, assess how your WOF is folded. You'll want the two selvedge ends to be right on top of each other. This may mean ironing a new crease in your fabric. When I starch, I spray the entire piece of fabric to get it pretty saturated, then use my iron to press out any wrinkles or creases.  Once you starch your fabrics, lay them on a flat surface until you cut them, do not fold it up.