If you have ever experienced a garment shrinking in the wash, then you can probably understand how important it is to pre-wash your fabric before sewing. You don’t want to spend all that time sewing the perfectly fitted garment, only for it to shrink after the first wash and no longer fit you.
So, should you wash fabric before sewing? Yes, it is recommended to pre-wash or pre-shrink your fabric before sewing so that you can get more accurate measurements, remove any debris or chemicals, and reduce color bleeding in future washes. Natural fabrics, especially, will benefit from pre-washing, as they are more prone to shrinking.
Bu does every fabric need to be washed before sewing? Let’s take a look at the following guide to see if you need to wash your fabric before sewing.
Why You Should Pre-Wash Your Fabric
There are three main reasons why pre-washing is needed: if your fabric shrinks a lot, if your fabric bleeds a lot, or if your fabric was treated with chemicals during the manufacturing process.
Natural fabric such as cotton or bamboo tends to shrink substantially when it goes through the wash. Depending on the natural fiber that you have, your fabric may shrink up to 10% under the heat and friction of the washing machine and dryer.
While some fabrics made from 100% cotton, such as denim, can relax somewhat after shrinking, it is still recommended that you get all the shrinkage out of the way before you cut and sew your fabric so that the garment will fit you perfectly and won’t shrink in subsequent washes.
2. Reduce Color Bleeding
If you have ever had your whites turn pink after washing them with a red cotton shirt, then you probably know that some dye colors and some types of fabric tend to bleed on others.
If you have really bold colors on synthetic fabric, chances are it will bleed all over your clothes during the first wash. Pre-washing the fabric will get rid of all the bleeding and bring the color to its true tone so that you will have a better sense of what the fabric will look like after the first wash.
3. Remove Chemicals
Many types of fabrics are processed with chemicals during their production stage, especially synthetic and semi-synthetic fabrics like acrylics or rayon.
If you have sensitive skin, then these chemicals will likely cause irritations when they touch your skin. Washing your fabric first before working with it will help you remove any chemical residue as well as the starch and dirt on the fabric to get it ready for sewing.
What Fabrics Should Be Pre-washed?
We have mentioned a few types of fabrics that need to be pre-washed above. Every natural fabric is prone to shrinking in the wash, so if you are working with cotton, linen, bamboo, or wool, then you should absolutely wash the fabric to get the shrinkage out of the way before sewing.
Similarly, synthetic blends like cotton-poly will also need to be pre-washed. Synthetics like polyester or acrylics don’t always shrink, but they are prone to bleeding due to the synthetic fibers’ poor ability to grab onto dye.
If you have a fabric with a very strong, bold color, you should wash it first to remove the bleeding, and then you can get to work.
If you have a synthetic fabric with a neutral color, then pre-washing is not required. However, if you feel that the fabric is dirty or if it has received some starch treatment in the production process, then pre-washing will soften the fabric and make it easier to work with.
Fabrics that have been treated with strong chemicals during the production process, such as rayon, absolutely need to be pre-washed to remove any chemical residue on the fabric.
Polyamide and polyamide blends are less common, but these fabrics actually expand in the wash. Pre-washing is also recommended, although polyamide is usually recommended to be dry-cleaned.
If you have special types of fabrics, such as leather, suede, or fur, you usually don’t need to wash these fabrics before sewing. If you wish to pre-wash them anyway, then you should follow the specific care instructions so you won’t damage the fabric in the process.
If you are making an accessory that doesn’t need to stay true to size or something that you won’t wash in the washing machine (like a bag), then you don’t need to pre-wash the fabric before sewing.
How To Prevent Fraying During Pre-Washing
Some fabrics, specially woven fabrics, can fray a lot, so it’s only natural to worry about the integrity of the fabric after going through a wash cycle.
While this step is not necessary for every type of fabric (for example, jersey and knit usually don’t fray), if you have a woven fabric, you should take some steps to secure the edges to prevent it from fraying in the wash.
1. Serge The Edges
If you have a serger, then this is the easiest step to prevent your fabric from fraying. The serger will cut away the frayed threads and secure the edges with a stitch so that the fabric won’t fray any further in the wash.
If you don’t have a serger, you can use a zigzag stitch in your sewing machine to achieve the same result. With a zigzag stitch, you will need to cut away the frayed threads manually, but the result is just as good.
2. Use Pinking Shears
If you don’t have a serger or a sewing machine, then another trick you can use to prevent fraying is to use pinking shears to cut the edges of the fabric. The wavy edge of the cut will minimize the fraying that can occur in the wash.
Keep in mind that with this method, the edges are not necessarily secure, so the edges can still fray minimally. This method usually works best if you have a tightly woven fabric with a higher thread count since the threads are tighter together and won’t fray easily.
3. Pre-Fray The Fabric
The last trick is to intentionally fray the fabric in a way that prevents further fraying. While this is quite counter-intuitive, it works well because it creates a “border” using the existing threads so that the fraying won’t invade the rest of the fabric.
You can do this by removing a thread about an inch from the edge that is parallel to the edge. Keep pulling until this thread is completely removed from the piece of fabric, and repeat this for all the edges that you have.
This gap will act as a border that prevents your fabric from fraying past that point in the wash. While you will see some fraying, later on, the fabric will be protected by the border, and you can simply cut away the frayed edges after washing.
How To Pre-Wash Fabric
While pre-washing is similar to doing laundry, there are a few things you should pay attention to while pre-washing your fabric.
1. Check Care Instructions
When you buy a piece of fabric at the store, it usually comes with a list of care instructions (similar to clothing care instructions) that can be highly useful in this step. Check the care instructions carefully to see whether the fabric needs to be hand washed or dry-cleaned before moving on.
If you are unsure, you can always wash a test swatch first. For synthetic fabrics that may or may not bleed, this step is probably needed to check the colors before moving forward with pre-washing.
2. Prepare Fabric For Washing
If you have a woven fabric that may fray during the wash, the next step would be to seal the edges to prevent the fabric from fraying. You can use one of the methods we have mentioned above to “seal” the edges before putting your fabric in the wash.
If you bought fabric from a thrift store, you should examine the fabric in this step to see if there are any stains or discolorations that need to be treated separately. If you need to treat stains, you should do so before putting the fabric in the wash.
3. Wash With Delicate Cycle Using Warm Water
Unfold your fabric to make sure that the detergent and water can get into every corner. If you keep the fabric folded, some areas may not be exposed to the water, which may result in uneven colors or uneven shrinkage.
If you have a piece of fabric that tends to bleed, you should soak the fabric for about half an hour before washing. That way, the color can seep out of the fabric without causing any lines or scratches in the existing pattern.
Then, wash the fabric using a delicate cycle in warm water and a little bit of detergent. If you have really delicate fabric like silk or wool, then you should hand wash the fabric in this step.
Warm water is recommended in this step because it will help you pre-shrink the fabric, especially if you are working with a natural fabric like cotton. However, if you are washing synthetics, you don’t have to use warm water.
You should wash one piece of fabric at a time, or if you have multiple pieces in similar colors, you can put them in the wash together. This is because each piece of fabric reacts differently to the conditions inside the washer and dryer, so if your fabrics are different in colors and fibers, you will need to wash them separately.
Then, depending on whether the fabric is suitable for the dryer, you can put it through a dryer cycle or air dry the fabric.
4. Iron Your Fabric
Even if you don’t plan on working with your fabric immediately after washing, you should still iron the fabric right away.
This step will help you remove any wrinkles from the fabric and make it easier to store in your stash until you need to use it. If you need to use your fabric right away, then ironing will help the fabric lay flat to help you create your pattern and cut your fabric.
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