Should I Wash My Fabric Before Sewing?

A common rookie mistake people make when they first start sewing is not properly preparing their fabrics. Before you put in all the time and effort to create that impressive end product, know the fabrics you are using and what you are using them for so you know if they need to be washed.

There are many reasons to wash fabric before sewing. Opinions vary across the industry on this topic, but there are three general ideas behind prewashing that seems pretty even across the board.

1) Avoid Shrinkage

If you are crafting items like fabric wall art, dolls, and other items you have no intention of washing, then there is no need for you to spend the time worrying about washing the fabric. However, if you are crafting custom garments, quilts, tablecloths, and similar pieces you will be washing when they are finished, it is a good idea to do so before you start sewing.

Washing fabrics intended for wear and use before sewing will eliminate shrinkage in the final piece. You don’t want to spend time creating a beautiful dress you can strut your stuff in only to wash it and end up with an oddly fitted shirt.

Know the type of fabric you are using and wash on the setting that will do the most damage regarding shrinkage. Take natural fiber fabrics like cotton. Cotton shrinks terribly in hot water, so prewash cotton fabric in hot water. This will save you from any unexpected fabric shrinking when your piece is finished.

2) Prevent Future Bleeding 

Prewashing fabrics more vibrantly colored fabrics (reds, dark blues, purples, etc.) will remove excess dye that could do damage to your work in the future. The easy thing about washing fabrics that have bleeding potential is that you can wash them with your regular laundry. Two birds, one stone!

Test the fabric first to see if it will bleed. Take the fabric in question and pair a sample of it with a sample of light colored fabric in warm water and soap and let sit. This will give the samples fabrics time to mingle and potentially bleed. Another test you can do is to wet the colored fabric with warm, soapy water and place it on a paper towel for a time and see if it bleeds onto the towel.

If you are looking for that washed-out, watercolor painting look to the finished product, then hold off on washing. Wait to wash a heavily dyed piece until you’ve finished and let the dye work its colored magic.

3) Remove Protective Coating

When you purchase a new piece of fabric fresh from the factory, there is a protective coating on it. This can either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you plan to craft.  Actually, some of the cheaper machines can jam up quickly if you don’t remove some of the “stickiness” of the fabric.  Some of the higher quality sewing machines can handle it though, so keep that in mind.

Some crafty creations are more difficult to construct with washed fabric because the tumbling of the washer will remove the protective stiffness of the fabric and make edges less clean and more difficult to work with. Thus, you don’t need to wash fabrics that will not be washed when finished.

Other sewing products are easier to work and turn out softer if they are prewashed, and the coating is removed. So, it all depends on how you prefer your fabric to feel when you work with it and when it is finished.

Every seamstress has their own preference when it comes to washing fabrics before sewing. So, it really depends on you, what you like, what you’re making, and how you want it to look and feel. So, run some fabric tests, have some fun, and go craft some amazing stuff!