I know from experience the heartbreak of having fabrics bleed in a quilt. This quilt is now in the rag bag, after it bled when I blocked it. As soon as I saw the bleeding, I put the quilt back in the washer, and tried to remove the pink dye in the white background, which made it worse. I overreacted and added bleach to the wash which ruined the black and white background fabrics. At that time I didn’t know about DAWN and how it can save your quilts that bleed! I will never make this mistake again, because I have vowed to wash all my fabrics before making a quilt!
When students ask the question,
Q: Should I wash my fabrics before making a quilt?
Here is my simple answer.
A: Absolutely. I am a huge proponent of washing all fabrics in your quilt. I highly recommend that you wash your fabric first before putting all the time and effort into making a fused applique quilt.
But the answer is not so simple after all. There are a whole bunch of factors that went into making the decision to never make another quilt without washing the fabric first. Here is the LONG version of that very short answer!
Washing fabric is a necessary step to make top quality quilts that will have fewer issues in the future! There are four reasons to wash your fabric before using it in a quilt. Skin Sensitivity, Shrinkage, Color Fastness, Bonding Ability.
Fabric from the fabric store contains finishing chemicals that are not durable. That means the chemicals (softeners, hand modifiers, crease resistant finishes, glazes) wash off the first time you wash the fabric or the quilt made with these fabrics.
It is best to remove these chemicals before making your quilts. Not only do you want to remove chemicals that might irritate your skin, you want to remove these finishing chemicals that will interfere with the Fusible Webs that we use for fusible applique. Even for pieced quilts I wash my fabric first. Washing and Drying also removes shrinkage. Some fabrics shrink up to 5%. Some don’t shrink that much. Differential shrinkage can cause puckering in perfectly flat seams once your quilts are washed.
Fusible webs are made to bond together two layers of fabric. The heat sensitive glue is made to grab onto the cotton fibers of the top and bottom fabrics and bond them together chemically. The bond will not be as strong when you are bonding two layers of finishing chemicals together. Remember the finishing chemicals will wash off in your first wash, leaving no bond between the fibers. You need to remove the chemicals, expose and fluff the cotton fibers, then bond with the fusible web.
Washing Fabric in the washing machine: I wash all my fabrics first thing when I return from a shop or when I get fabrics in the mail. After I shop I drop the fabrics in the laundry room which is right inside my front door (see notes on fraying below).
All new fabric goes in with the regular wash unless it is a dark color and I suspect it will run.
Washing fabric in the sink: If I think it the fabric may run, I swish the fabric in my bathroom sink (the sink is white) so it helps to see if the fabric is a bleeder. If it is, I soak the fabric in hot water with a tablespoon of DAWN dishwashing detergent. The Dawn surrounds the dye molecules so they do no redeposit on other fabrics or on the white portion of printed fabrics.
Drying Fabric in the Clothes Dryer: Dry fabric in the dryer until it is just damp. Iron when damp to remove wrinkles. Fold and trim edges (see notes on fraying below).
The heat of the dryer will make the fabric shrink. This is a good thing! Get rid of the shrinkage before it causes puckering in your quilt seams.
Reduce fraying and a jumble of tangled strings in the washing machine and dryer:
There are two ways I reduce fraying and strings. When washing fat quarters or small pieces, I cut a diagonal snip off all four corners.
If I am doing yardage or longer narrow pieces (WOF) then I make ¼” snips along all raw edges about every 8” to 12” before washing. This works great! After washing and pressing, I fold the fabric and trim off the fuzzy edges and the ¼” snips. This makes it look like it was never washed, so it is hard to keep track of what is washed and what is not washed. That is why I wash everything before it goes into my sewing room!
Washing Precuts: I rarely use precuts because it is almost impossible to wash them. When using Jelly rolls for quilt such as Desert Flowers (bonus quilt for Hope’s Diamond) I sew together the Jelly Roll first, then I wash the quilt top. Trim the edges, and you are ready to applique!
Washing Quilts: Quilts can be washed in the washing machine and dried in the clothes drier if all fabrics have been washed before making the quilt. If you suspect that the fabrics were not washed or that they will run, The DAWN soak also works for quilts. Lay a clean sheet in your bathtub and keep track of the four corners. Put the quilt on top of the sheet. For quilts that will not bleed, simply soak in the bathtub with warm water and a mild detergent such as Ivory flakes.
If a quilt has a fabric that is has bled, soak quilts in the bathtub with very hot water and a couple tablespoons of DAWN. Keep fully submerged by putting something heavy on the quilt. Use dishes, gallon water jugs, anything that will weigh down the quilt to keep it fully submerged.
Rinse the quilt well until water runs clear. Grab all four corners of the sheet gathering the clean quilt into a ball and gently press out excess liquid. Go out to the yard and spin the quilt around by holding the four corners of the sheet and swing the quilt in a circle to express as much water as possible.
Dry quilts flat on a grassy area of your yard. Lay out a clean sheet first, then the quilt, then another clean sheet on top. Weigh down the corners with clean stones or mugs. Turn the quilt to completely dry. The sheets will keep the quilt clean (just in case a bird flies overhead!) and will prevent fading in the sun.
Old quilts can be soaked in Retro Clean before drying in the same manner. Follow the instructions on the Retro Clean package.