Two Votes in Favor of Prewashing Fabrics

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This is what happens when I walk away from a quilt in progress!

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Two votes in favor of prewashing fabrics?

Only because I’ve recently screwed up two quilt queen-sized tops, with easily 150, insomnia-fueled, late night and wee-morning, hours of piecing and hand quilting between the two.

Today, I was so excited to put the finishing touches on the ugly pickle quilt and deliver it to its new home.  Although it wasn’t the prettiest quilt ever, it was definitely for someone truly special to me.

I sewed on the front side of the binding by machine, and I tossed it in the machine to soften it all up prior to hand stitching the back of the binding on.

Then for about 20 minutes, I sipped a cup of coffee, blissfully unaware of the quilty devastation occurring.

In all my years quilting, this is only the second time that I’ve had fabrics bleed in a cold water wash, and both have been in the past month.

This evening, when my daughter arrived home from work, I heard my son tell her that I stood still in silence and disbelief for a few minutes before tearing up.


Why I Used to Be Anti-Prewashing

  • I absolutely love the look of a quilt after I’d finished hand stitching it and then tossing in the wash where it would soften and crinkle up just a bit.  In my opinion, it’d make it that much cozier and charming to wash after working the fabric.
  • I really didn’t notice too much problems with fabric shrinkage and the minimal amount seemed to be easy enough to account for.
  • I liked working with fabric that retained all its sizing.  It seems much easier to cut, piece, and press fabrics that are already a bit crisp and very smooth.
  • I am completely lazy.  The washer is on the basement floor of my house and I don’t go up and down those stairs very often.  The time investment in washing, drying and walking up and down those stairs hasn’t appealed to me very much in recent years.
  • By purchasing quilt shop quality fabric, I’ve never had much issue with color retention and bleeding.  However, a couple years ago a teacher mentioned to be on the lookout for reds and purples that bleed more due to chemical property changes.  I promptly forgot the advice.  The ugly pickle quilt had neither reds, nor purples.
  • I work with a lot of scraps, and scraps (and pre-cuts) don’t get prewashed as a general rule.  Small pieces should not be pre-washed, because they definitely will get twisted and knotted, and they may get stuck under the agitator of the washing machine.
  • I often make art quilts and wall hangings, neither of which are going to get washed, so prewashing is never even a fleeting thought in that process for me.

Why I am Now an Advocate of Prewashing

  • I’d like to avoid overhearing my son tell my daughter how he watched me silently cry.
  • I’d like to think my hours of insomnia-fueled quilting are not in vain.
  • I finish things up at the very, very, very last minute.  The last possible moment is not when you want to stand over a quilt that suddenly has lost all its luster and glory (or at least lost all its color retention properties sharing them with usually white or  light fabrics).
  • Less fabric shrinkage in the finished quilt because fabrics washed and dried prior to cutting and piecing will result in less distortion later on.
  • Lingerie wash bags can be utilized for smaller pieces (i.e. fat quarters, fat eighths)
  • Sizing is removed while washing, as are other chemicals and possible allergens.  Removal of sizing makes the fabric softer to work with.  I’m especially fond of hand quilting fabrics and stitching down binding that is a little softer and pliable without the added sizing and chemicals.  If you prefer the stiff, crisp feel of fabrics that are not pre-washed, fabric sizing or starch can be used while pressing prior to cutting and piecing.

Orvus Paste for Washing Quilts

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Some folks like to use Dawn dish soap or Ivory flakes for textiles.  I use Orvus paste for washing fabrics and quilts.

Orvus is sodium lauryl sulfate and typically used for washing livestock, such as horses. I got hooked on using Orvus paste when I raised sheep and would wash fleeces.  It is completely biodegradable.  It doesn’t contain phosphates.  Many people use it to wash vintage linens, too.  It’s really quite versatile stuff!

Even living in the city, and not trying to wrangle up and sheer unruly sheep, I find myself at the farm & feed store/tractor supply store quite often.  During my trip to Tractor Supply last month, I totally forgot to pick up a new container of Orvus paste.

My last two quilty culprits were washed in regular wash soap from the grocery store.  And now I’m wondering if that didn’t help my cause.

I have two antique quilt tops that need tending, so I’m going to have to make a trip to pick some up.  It takes a while to go through 7.5lbs of washing paste (about $34.99), so I don’t have to buy it very often!!

FYI: I think a lot of people buy smaller repacks of this as “quilters’ soap” with a steep markup through online vendors (about $10.99 for 8oz through a big box craft store).


Even Ugly Quilts Deserve Love

My daughter says if I can’t get all the color-bleed stains out of the ugly pickle quilt, she’ll give it a good home while I make a new one.  She hates the backing fabric, but she loves cuddling up with quilts.

She has some stiff competition to give this quilt a home:

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a cat on quilt sleeping
This image slightly appears that rigor mortis is setting in, but I assure you she’s alive & well!

Do you prewash your fabrics before quilting?  Why or why not?

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    • Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment Whitney! Lucky for me, I have a couple of fantastic kids. They stayed up until nearly 11pm running in through the cold wash over and over and over until it was very lightly stained instead of a hot mess! I like the cat pictures too. I probably post too many because she sits on every quilt I’m working on!

  • Oh, what a sad tale! I’m so sorry you had to deal with dye running on your pickle quilt. You’ve made me think twice about the fact that I don’t prewash. I’ll probably get burned someday, too. But I’m lazy and I need to conserve water (we live on a boat), so those are my excuses!

    I really like the new blog design, by the way. Very crisp and fresh!

    • Oh thank you for letting me know you like the new design. It’s a bit of a work in progress, but I was thinking I’d like something that showcased more quilts and less clutter 🙂 In defense of my bleeding fabrics for my quilts, I mixed Kona cottons with some less expensive fabrics that were on sale in a store going out of business. The second quilt had some denim fabric in the blocks that lost some dye. Maybe I’ll pick up some Retayne color fixative in case I slack a bit in the future.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment! I really appreciate it.