To Wash Or Not To Wash

I am often asked whether or not you really have to wash and iron all of your fabric before working on a quilting project. This topic has sparked many hours of conversation and sometimes arguments amongst quilters.

In the days of "utilitarian" quilting, washing fabric was not an issue. People seldom had money to buy new fabric for quilting projects. Quilts were made from pieces of fabric salvaged from worn clothing so they had already been laundered many times. When quilts were made it was because people needed blankets, not for hobby. Design was an added bonus!

After that, but still years ago, prewashing fabric was a must for a couple of reasons. When a quilt made with new fabrics was first washed, the fabrics would shrink at different rates causing the quilt to buckle and pucker. The fabrics had to be washed first so they would shrink and the quilt top would then lay flat. Also, if dark colors (especially red, navy or black) were chosen for use in the quilt the colors would run and the quilt top may be damaged. Washing the fabrics first would allow the extra dye to run off and the colors to set.

Many of our modern fabrics are preshrunk and colorfast. It may not be vital to prewash all of your fabrics.

I follow a rule of thumb ... be consistent. Wash all of your fabric or don't wash any!!! If you choose one or the other, your fabrics will all act more consistently when your quilt is laundered. Remember to treat your backing fabric the same way you treat the fabric used for your quilt top.

I know many quilters who swear by prewashing and ironing all of their fabric. The most organized of these washers washes, irons and neatly folds each piece of fabric when she brings it into her house before even bringing it in to her sewing room. She even goes as far as tagging each piece with the yardage and date purchased!

I personally am a nonwasher!!! I have chosen to be a nonwasher for many reasons. My top reason is volume. I buy fabric by the bolt. I purchase many bolts of fabric at a time. I do not want to spend all that time washing, drying, ironing and folding fabric when I could be quilting!!! If you prewash your fabric you need to cut it into 2 or 3 yard lengths so it does not tangle too badly in the washer and dryer. I prefer to keep my yardage together until I am ready to use it and cut it to the length I need for a project. Also, if you buy a collection of precut pieces to incorporate into your quilt project they will most likely not be prewashed and ironed. You cannot wash these precut pieces as you may alter their size and shape. Remember the rule of thumb. You want to be consistent.

I would appreciate your views and comments on this subject. Are you a prewasher or a nonwasher? Why or why not? Let me know!

Happy Quilting,