Monday, April 7, 2008

Pre-washing fabric

At Cidell's suggestion I am turning this into a blog post, you seasoned bloggers seem to think of everything in terms of 'how can I format this for my blog?' (which seems to me, 'do I have a picture relevant enough to justify my blabbing about it?'). So here it is, hopefully someone will find this useful.

I hate drycleaning. I wash everything, including silks, bras, wool sweaters, lined skirts, etc. I do however use delicate wash bags, a front-loading washer, and delicate detergents like baby shampoo depending on what I'm washing. About the only thing I won't throw in the wash is a blazer, too much structure to get screwed up there.

One of the big benefits of sewing your own clothes (to me) is the ability to prewash fabric before making a garment. Most fabrics shrink up to some degree when washed; weaving and knitting processes can place a lot of tension on the fibers. When you expose the fabric to water, heat, and/or steam, the fibers relax and assume their final form. As long as you pretreat the fabric in the same manner you plan to clean it when it is done, you can pretty much eliminate any sizing surprises down the road. A few caveats would be some fabrics (like denim) shrink progressively, meaning they shrink a bit more with each wash. I wash new jeans 3-4 times before hemming for that reason. Also, I've heard some silks (like dupioni) lose their sheen when immersed in water, and of course anything with a lot of structure or interfacing (like blazers) don't do well in the washer either.

If you are too afraid to wash your entire yardage, you can cut swatches and test those first to see how they behave. Cidell found these awesome coatings at Michael's fabrics that I immediately ordered some of, they are double-faced cotton with a 'classic' stripe pattern on the reverse. She sent me swatches to test so I washed these 3 in cold water, baby shampoo, delicate cycle, and then air dried.

I outlined the swatches on paper before washing, after they dry you can line them up to see how much shrinkage occurred. None that I could see, this is nice fabric. :-)

I only washed half of each swatch to compare, the washed pieces are on top. There didn't appear to be any change of finish or color.

Other information I obtained from this experiment was the fabric is already somewhat water resistant, it kind of beaded up when I took the swatches out of the washer. The red swatch looked like the color had soaked through to the tan stripe side at first, however once it dried the color returned to normal. Don't ever assume one color will behave exactly like another! And finally it hardly frayed at all, I wouldn't expect a tightly woven double-face to anyways but that's good to know.




I'm still waiting for my piece of this stuff to arrive. I'm glad to know I won't lose much of it when I pre-treat.



Same as you, I'm washing everything. Including blazers :)



I am so terrible not to pre wash fabrics. I have to start doing this. Also, I am happy to learn that denim shrinks a little everytime you wash. I have some jeans that are about 3 years old and they seem to get tighter as the months go by. I am not gaining weight and my other clothing fits, so it is good to know they really are shrinking.

Lindsay T


I washed some silk dupioni, because Sandra Betzina said you could do so in her book More Fabric Savvy, and it turned all slubby-looking. I'm okay with that since it's going to be used as trim on a cotton tunic that I'd like to be able to machine-wash. But washed dupioni is nothing like unwashed dupioni.

But as a rule I do pre-wash all my fabric.



I'm with you on the pre-wash thing. I figure manufacturer's tell you to dry clean everything just so they can't get sued if it gets ruined in the wash!

Nancy K


Since you mention stripes on the back I am assuming that you are talking about the Burberry raincoat fabric from Michael's. I bought the black and I pre washed and dried it and I felt that the surface wasn't as smooth after washing. What detergent did you use? I used my regular detergent and put it in a low drier. I also thought that it the water beaded up better before I washed it.



Hi Nancy-

Yes that is the same fabric, I thought we weren't allowed to use the b-word in fair use so I didn't. I used baby shampoo and air dried, and when pulling out the pieces again just now I don't feel any difference. I didn't test the water resistance before washing though.

Linda T


I'm a (pre and post) washer too, EVERYTHING. To me, it make the fabric feel better and smell good!