Should You Prewash Fabric Before Quilting?

Should you prewash fabric before quilting?

A wise woman once said to me, “Suzy, the very first thing you should do when you get home from a fabric shop is throw all of your fabric into the washing machine. One must prewash fabric before quilting. It's essential.”

Another wise woman also said to me, “Prewashing?? I ain't got time for that.”

Thus began my inner debate – to prewash or not to prewash fabric before quilting?

Those Who Prewash Fabric Before Quilting Have Their Reasons

It Prevents Bleeding.

Prewashing does more than just fluff up your fabric. One of the most important things washing your fabric can prevent is the dreaded bleed. For those who have never experienced a bleeding quilt, thank the sewing gods for your good fortune. However, all of those who HAVE watched in horror as navy dye seeps into a once cream fabric, raise your hand. You, my friends, don’t need me to tell you that pre-washing fabric can prevent vibrant dyes from spreading onto other fabric. Reds, purples, and dark blues are the usual suspects. In my case, it was a fabulous navy with beautiful metallic gold dots.

I hate that fabric now. It is my enemy.

To help prevent this bloody tragedy (Can I say that? If it was once bleeding, that makes it bloody, right?), add a couple tablespoons of Retayne* to the wash. Here's a quick refresher on the two main chemicals we talk about dumping into our washing machines here at SQ:

  1. Retayne: sets dye into fabric. Retayne PREVENTS fabric dye bleeding by locking dye into fabric. DO NOT use it if you are experiencing a fabric bleed situation. I keep a bottle of Retayne in my laundry room and pour some into every prewash that includes highly saturated color fabric.
  2. Synthrapol: releases dye from fabric. Knowing that, I don't think I need to warn you not to dump this into your washing machine when washing a quilt....cause you know that, right? Use Synthrapol when either dyeing your own fabric or working to get naughty fabric from bleeding. Read more about fixing fabric bleeds here.
Should you prewash your fabric before quilting? Here are the pros and cons to both sides.

It Removes Chemicals.

Sensitive skin anyone? If you have a propensity for itchy, irritated skin, you may want to consider jumping into the prewash camp. By washing your freshly purchased fabric before sewing with it, you are removing any sizing (more on this later) or chemicals acquired during its life in a factory.

Shrinkage.

This word is going to make an appearance in both the “Pros” and the “Cons” list. Basically, fabric shrinks once it’s been washed and dried. Yes, yes, I know you already know that. What you may not have thought about is how this radically changes the look of your quilt if the majority of the shrinkage happens after it’s been quilted. By choosing to prewash fabric before quilting, you are decreasing the crinkle effect (similar to the butterfly effect in that this one decision can be world changing….think about it.)

So ask yourself, “Do I want my quilt to shrink up and look instantly vintage and crinkled after it’s laundered?” Or “Do I want it to look relatively the same as when I first sewed it together?”

The straight line quilting on this Triangle Jitters quilt shows what fabric looks like before it is prewashed
Should you prewash fabric before quilting?

The quilt featured in this post is the Triangle Jitters quilt pattern. Download it here!

Prewashing? Notgonnahappen.

It Takes Too Much Time.

Also sometimes you forget! Also sometimes you are running home from the fabric shop because it is imperative that you begin cutting into that fabric you just purchased immediately. Like world-endingly imperative that not a second is lost!

What I’m saying is, sometimes life gets busy and you just want to quilt. For those of us who are not great at planning ahead (raising my hand), prewashing feels like the step we forget to take until it’s too late. Because once that rotary cutter is in hand, no prewashing will occur.

Remember Those Chemicals?

We actually like some of them. As mentioned previously, sizing finds its way onto fabric fresh from the factory. Sizing is similar to starch in that it adds crispness to the fabric and reduces wrinkles. This added stiffness makes it easier to cut and sew.

If you choose to not prewash fabric before quilting, you get a beautiful vintage crinkled look once the quilt is washed.

Shrinkage.

Oh, hello again. Fancy seeing you here.

Where my crinkle-peeps at?? If you love the look of a fluffy, puffy, puckery, cozy, cuddly quilt, then prewashing fabric before quilting is not for you. Fabric is going to shrink after that first wash, so if it’s now part of a quilt, it will slightly pull at that stitching – giving your quilt maximum crinkleage. And that’s a word. Just don’t look it up.

The crinkled straight line quilting on this Triangle Jitters quilt shows what fabric looks like after it is washed

A Few Final Prewashing Tips

Whether or not you prewash fabric before quilting, at some point you will need to wash your finished quilt. Check out this post on washing, drying, and caring for your quilts so they last and stay nice as long as possible.

Don’t Prewash Pre-cuts.

By “pre-cut” I mean anything the size of a Fat Quarter*fat or smaller. Those little cuties are small enough that their raw edges may unravel a lot. So much unraveling can occur that it no longer fits the requirements for a Fat Quarter quilt pattern.

*Fat Quarters are quarter-yard cuts of fabric cut wide (hence the name fat). Rather than a classic long and narrow quarter, which would be 9" x 42", an FQ is approximately 18" x 21". If you are looking for a cute FQ-friendly quilt pattern, check out Stars Hollow!

Color Catchers Can Save Your Life.

Whether or not you pre-wash or don’t pre-wash, it’s not a bad idea to throw a Color Catching sheet into the wash with your quilt – especially if your quilt includes saturated colors. A nervous giggle always escapes my mouth when I see how much dye those catchers collect. You can find these in the laundry detergent aisle.

Now go forth and prewash! Or don’t. It’s totally up to you. As you can see, Scrappy is impartial.

My little quilt dog sure loves a freshly washed quilt. Check out this post on prewashing fabric before quilting and also who to wash and care for a quilt
Should you prewash your fabric before quilting? We've listed all of the pros and cons to both prewashing and not prewashing

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, check out the FAQ page.

Newsletter Sign Up

Suzy Quilts

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

30 thoughts on “Should You Prewash Fabric Before Quilting?

  1. Stephanie says:

    I love getting to see this Jitters quilt in your posts. Thanks for sharing! I’ve been shopping for fabric to make a quilt with your Reverse Sawtooth tutorial. I sew clothes and toys for my son, but I’ve never made a quilt before. I’ll plan to send you a photo or two if it turns out!

  2. Anne Dawson says:

    Once I started using precuts I stopped prewashing so all my fabric would be the same when the quilt was washed. I always wash a quilt with colour catcher before I gift it.

  3. Rita says:

    I’m relatively new to quilting, less than a yr! However, I’ve come to love it, at least the easy ones! I have been busy ordering fabrics and making throw quilts constantly! I have made 14 quilts, and one in the works! I have been using my family as guinea pigs, so I can practice! Everyone has dearly LOVED them! I hope to sell some since I love quilting so much!! I pre-washed two times… I was done with that! I refuse to prewash now, I am a color catcher queen! Lol The main reason is, the crinkle effect, I LOVE IT! It was interesting and informative to read your article on this subject! … but I will remain in the NO PREWASH camp! Lol Happy quilting! ☺️❤️

  4. Margaret says:

    I’m brand new at this (just a few months) but am obsessed and must have fabric for my next project before I finish one…(I’m trying to tame that). Anyway, one note about prewashing: I read that if you are using a flannel backing that it should be prewashed as it shrinks different than the regular cotton, so I am NOT prewashing my quilt fronts and I AM prewashing my flannel backs and have been happy so far, although I have not used a lot of very dark or bright colors yet. Thanks for your tips…Side note: I use your binding video every time I finish a quilt (starting with baby quilts here) and cannot live without it…works perfect every time! Thanks for your continued help!

  5. sally says:

    I prewash, I guess because I came from sewing clothes to quilting. I serge edges and wash as small as
    a FQ. though I can generally tell the difference, I also mark on the selvedge if washed.
    I wash every quilt when done and always use color catchers.

  6. Annemiek says:

    Prewasher over here! After a handsewed and handquilted black/white/red quilt came out of my washingmachine PINK😱😱 although I put a gazillion colourcatchers in the machine..(and I really hate pink, haven t got a single piece of pink fabric in my stash!) I was horrified!
    I made another red/white quilt ( again by hand), prewashed all the fabrics and……I never washed it out of fear of another disaster. Better a bit dusty and a little dirty than PINK!!

  7. Kathy says:

    I’m in the never prewash camp. For two reasons, first I prefer to cut and sew non washed fabric and secondly I like the crinkly look of quilts.

  8. Pam says:

    Thank you for showing us the quilt comparison. I’m normally of the “no prewash” camp unless I my quilt sandwich layers have considerably different shrinkage factors.

  9. Carolyn says:

    What if you didn’t prewash the fabric. You completed the quilt top. Then gently washed the quilt top by gently swishing around in a bathtub. Suppose you would have to press it…….don’t know. Then have it quilted. How would that work? Would I end up with one fine mess?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Oh no you’ll be just fine. I didn’t prewash any of the fabric used in the Triangle Jitters quilt shown in the pictures, and the only thing that happened is it crinkled up and looks more antique. If you are using dark colored fabric, though, I highly recommend using a couple color catcher sheets when washing the quilt for the first time.

  10. janequiltsslowly says:

    I am in the ALWAYS pre-wash camp mainly because I started out pre-washing and now I can’t stop. Also I am sensitive to the chemicals on new fabric. Itchy hands are no fun. I keep thinking someone is going to give me money. (My grandma told me that one. ) So sad when it never works!

  11. Sheri Ketarkus says:

    I have started pre-washing for ONE reason. 3 days before my niece got married, I finished her quilt-butter yellow with black. A curved log cabin. Yeah, red center blocks. Yellow faded, black & red faded-into the yellow. Oh, and did I mention streaks fo black & red into the now faded yellow?! No gift went with me. The next quilt I made. The happy couple was prewashed (and finished in record time!).
    Sometimes I forget to prewash (gotta start that quilt), but I cringe when I start.

  12. Gwen S says:

    I wash everything before using or even wearing.
    1. Because the first load I did on my own in college turned all blue and tough lessons linger longest. (Darn those tie-dyed MC Hammer pants!)
    2. I’m allergic to everything and need to wash fabrics in my super-duper fragrance-free environmentally friendly stuff.
    3. I tend to use really dark colors and have been known to repurpose fabric from other sources.
    4. I can’t remember…there was another.

    Strangely, as far as my regular wash loads, as long as something has been washed before, they all go together. I don’t separate whites from colors or anything. Doing one load is more important to me and the environment than getting all sorty-sorty. 🙂

  13. Jamie says:

    I prewash all fabric with any cotton in it. A long time ago, before my prewashing days, I sewed a bag for myself with fabric straight off the bolt. I used that bag often till it needed to be washed. It shrunk. A shriveled-at-the-seams, wrinkly purse isn’t as sweet as a crinkly quilt and ironing didn’t help. So now I prewash. Plus, I never have to postpone a project because the fabric has to be laundered first, like for clothes or bags. On the other hand, I did wash a Fat Quarter bundle once and regretted it. As you said, it was for a quilt designed to be cut from FQs, and many pieces shrunk too much. I had to get creative with that one. Thanks for the post! A good read, to be sure!

  14. Allison says:

    I am new to quilting and am excited to make your weekend candy quilt as a baby gift for my sister. Should I prewash the 1/4 yard fabrics before starting? I thought I could at least wash the larger backing fabric. Thanks!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Greet question! If you prewash a cut that small, I recommend trimming around the edges with pinking shears so you don’t lose precious fabric to fraying.

  15. Linda says:

    I am a Pre Washer, however I have learned that if I wash my fabric in cold water on the delicate cycle with just a splash of baby laundry detergent (optional) there is very little fraying. Also I do wash my darks separate from my lights so this helps to stop the bleeding of colors.

  16. Terri Stradinger says:

    I prewash because I like high contrast and tend to include highly saturated colors in my quilts. I had a finished quilt ruined by colors bleeding. You only need to have that happen once to turn you into a prewasher! Even though I did prewash, I had another awful experience with a set of beautiful hand dyed fat quarters. I was able to reduce the bleeding, using color catchers in a subsequent washing.

  17. Jamie S says:

    I’m wondering about a set of linen fat quarters that I have… Elsewhere on your blog you recommend prewashing linen because of the shrinkage, but here you suggest that prewashing fat quarters can result in too much shrinkage for patterns (which I’m worried will be the case with my fabric!). What would you do in this case? Thank you!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Great question! In this situation, I’d say it’s up to you. Linen will shrink up a lot so if you don’t prewash, it will get veeery crinkled as a quilt. If you do prewash, sew a basting stitch (that’s a long straight stitch) around the edges of each fat quarter so you don’t lose inches due to fraying in the wash.

Leave a Reply

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