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Patchwork Fabrics - Pre-wash or Not?

There are conflicting opinions about the need to pre-wash fabric. The debate is a modern one because most antique quilts were made with unwashed fabric. However, the dyes and sizing used today are unlike those used a century ago.

Pre-washing fabric offers quilters certainty as its main advantage. Today's fabrics resist
bleeding and shrinking, but some of both can occur in some fabrics - an unpleasant prospect once you've assembled the quilt. Some quilters find pre-washed fabric easier to quilt. If you choose to pre-wash your fabric, you'll need to press it well before cutting. Other quilters prefer the crispness of unwashed fabric for machine piecing. And, if you use fabrics with the same fibre content throughout the quilt, then any shrinkage that occurs in its first washing should be uniform. Other quilters find this small amount of shrinkage desirable, since it gives the quilt a slightly puckered, antique look. I recommend that you pre-wash a scrap of each fabric to test it for shrinkage and bleeding.

If you choose to pre-wash a fabric, unfold it to a single layer. Wash it in warm water to allow the fabric to shrink and/or bleed. If the fabric bleeds, rinse it until the water runs clear. Do not use any fabric in your quilt if it has not stopped bleeding. Hang the fabric to dry, or tumble it in the dryer until just slightly damp. Press the fabric before marking and cutting. If you wish to return the fabric to its crisp pre-washed state, then use spray starch when you iron it. Spray the starch on the wrong side, allowing it to soak in, then press. Repeat this process and you will end up with a fabric that will resist stretching both while cutting and while stitching. You will be surprised at the difference this simple process makes.