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Hi, I’m Dr. Suzy, and welcome to Quilting Medical School. Today’s class will be about a special sort of quilt surgery: fixing fabric bleeds.
Fabric bleeds are one of the most common quilting “emergencies,” and they can be pretty traumatic. Sadly, I speak from experience. One cold November morning I discovered a quilt-sized box on my doorstep. My high-flying joy plummeted into stabbing fear when I realized that the top of the box was soaking wet...and not just water wet. Oh no. Soapy wet.
My freshly longarmed quilt had been soaking for hours in spilled cleaning solution from a box that was sitting on top of it. GASP! and NOOOOOO!
The following 24 hours were a harrowing life and death fight for my quilt's survival. I tried to recall all of my fabric dyeing knowledge from my time as a fiber arts major in college as well as researching eeeeeverything the internet had to offer. This is a photo my husband took of me the following morning. PTSD is not pretty.
Just like a medical injury, fabric bleeding can be both treated and prevented. Today, we’ll talk about both.
Fix Fabric Bleeds: First things first
If you’re here in a panic screaming “SAVE MY BLEEDING QUILT!” at the computer screen, don’t worry. I’m here for you in mind, spirit and quilt. Just because one (or more) of your fabric colors have run and dyed other parts of your quilt, it doesn’t mean all is lost. Put on your gloves, and let’s get to work. (Really, go get some gloves. We’re going to be using some very hot water.)
- Tub Time. To soak a bleeding quilt, you want a looot of water; more than your sink or washing machine can handle. That means it’s bathtub time. Fill your bathtub up with as hot of water as you can (different people have different limits set on their hot water heater, so if your hot tap water is sort of meh, add some pots of boiling water. Boiling water is hot! I know! This is why you need gloves!)
- Add Some Suds. This part is important. Though people get all excited about Synthrapol (and it does work well, so you may want to keep some on hand), Dawn Ultra Pure dish detergent will do the trick, too. Add as much as half a cup of the good stuff. Oh, and make sure your quilt is in there, too. Did I miss that part? Now swish things around for a good ten minutes. (Note: if the water gets REALLY dark REALLY fast, you’ll want to drain the water after about 10 minutes or so, and refill.)
- Let it Rest. We’re talking about a good long sleep, here. Make sure every bit of the quilt is underwater (so none of the water dye sticks to the quilt at the water line), and give it a full 12 hours. (But what if you want to take a bath? TOO BAD. Your quilt needs some R&R.) Don’t worry if things are looking very dye-ey up in there – the soap’s job is to keep the dye suspended in the water, and not in your quilt.
- Rinse and Repeat… if necessary. It’s time consuming, but if you really want to heal your precious quilt, keep repeating the process until the water is clear for about 6 hours or so.
When things are looking clean and clear and under control, go ahead and give your quilt a final cold-water rinse. This is also a good time to add some Retayne to the water to firmly lock in the remaining fabric dye. Now carefully remove your quilt to dry.
Disclaimer: This process may not be 100% successful 100% of the time, but every medical procedure has risks. It’s the best, most effective method out there, so it’s worth a shot, especially when a quilt’s life is at stake!
Fabric Bleed Prevention:
Now that the crisis has been handled, let’s talk about some preventative measures you can take to prevent this from happening again!
- Pre-Wash. Now, we all know that we should prooobably pre-wash and press fabrics before cutting… but do we always do it? Don’t worry, we’ve all had the temptation to jump straight into cutting. Resist! Form a support group if you have to! Pre-washing your fabric, whether it’s commercial or hand-dyed, will set you up to have minimal to no bleeding if and when the quilt gets wet. If pre-washing all of your fabric just simply cannot fit into your schedule, try to at least pre-wash vivid colors like navy, red and purple. Using a color catching sheet can also save your life, so go ahead and toss one into the wash while you're at it. Here's a blog post with more wonderful pre-washing info.
- Test. The best way to know if your fabric is going to bleed or be absorbed by another fabric in your quilt is to actually give it the chance. Stick a swatch of each fabric together in a hot water wash, and see what happens. (Hopefully nothing too exciting!)
Congrats! You’re now a certified Quilt Doctor. Go out and do no harm! And be sure to let me know what has worked for you!
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