Do YOU Pre-Wash Before Quilting?

Good Morning, Quilters!

Do YOU pre-wash your fabrics or your batting before quilting?

While preparing for my upcoming Craftsy video (for release in November 2017), I made several samples-and compared washed versus unwashed. 

I was very surprised to see the amount of shrinkage on every type of batting when the fabric was not pre-washed.

The photo above shows two samples stitched with the same batting, backing and fabrics.  In this small sample-14-1/2 inches–the shrinkage was about 3/8-1/2 of an inch!

In addition to the overall shrinkage–and because of it–the quilting motifs look different.  Shrinkage is neither a good or a bad thing–but it is important to understand so you won’t be disappointed with the finished look of your quilt.

I still have more samples to make:

My next sample will be to pre-wash all of the fabrics and not the batting.

And then another sample, pre-wash the fabrics and pre-wash the batting. (Washing the batting can be a challenge.)

What about YOU?

Do YOU pre-wash your fabric?

Do YOU pre-wash your batting?

Do YOU make samples?

Have YOU ever been disappointed in a quilt after it was washed?

We’d LOVE to hear!

Still investigating….

Lori Poirot  (say that five times fast!)

PS…All tutorials, images and information are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt and are intended for personal use only.  Feel free to re-blog, pin or share with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at lckennedy@hotmail.com.  Thanks!

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121 thoughts on “Do YOU Pre-Wash Before Quilting?

  1. Lori, Thanks for doing this research and reporting on it! I am waiting on the next results. When I first started quilting no unwashed fabric was allowed in my studio! Times have changed and I’ve broken my own rule. Still feel guilty about it….especially since I know the saturated colors I love may run!

  2. I dont always wash fabric or batting. when I make a quilt with questionable fabrics I wash all the fabrics for that quilt together. If it’s going to bleed it bleeds into all the fabrics which is fine with me, makes for added interest. If I do care I use Shout Color Catcher sheets in the wash (1-2) and toss one in the dryer too! I do use either Magic Sizing or Starch to press my fabrics before cutting and a steam setting on my iron. If it’s going to shrink or bleed I will find out then. When I wash batting I fold it loosly, lay it in my large utility sink, fill with HOT water till the batting is covered (pressing the batting down as it fills). Walk away for a bit, come back squish it a few times then let the water drain out. Let it sit and continue to drain a while. Lay out a couple of large towels near by, squish out what I can from the batting in the sink and then transfer it to the towels. Un-fold the batting some on the towels, start rolling the towel(s) up firmly. By now the batting can be laid out to dry.

      • I have used 50/50 Bamboo Blend & 100% Wool by Legacy.
        100% Cotton by Warm & Natural, Warm & Plush
        100% Wool by Hobbs/Tuscany Colllection
        Blend – Bamboo & Cotton by Pellon
        100% Cotton by Quilters Dream

  3. I generally don’t prewash my fabrics. the first time I joined a class to learn to quilt, I washed my fabric AND my batting before coming to class. My batting came out in one big pile of fibers!! That was it; I never washed batting again. Plus, in my classes, I was always told it wasn’t necessary to wash new fabrics. Now, I only wash if it’s a red or another color I might be concerned will run.

  4. I never pre wash my batting or fabric. I love the antique look and feel after washing my quilt. I use an 80/20 batting and have never been disappointed. I do wash reds and indygo’s because of the white used.

  5. I didn’t know you could or should wash batting. Maybe you can do a post on the best way to wash batting. By the way, I never wash fabric. I do the Anita Grossman Solomon thing; put the fabric in a bag with just enough starch to dampen the fabric, this allows for any bleeding, any shrinkage and allows the fabric to hold its shape while cutting and sewing.

    • HI JaniceCarole

      I’ve never heard this before and to me it sounds like a brilliant idea.

      Could you please tell me what kind of bag to use? Either paper or plastic etc…..

    • JaniceCarole, I was interested in this, so I looked it up, and it does look like a good process.

      I did notice that AGS does wash and dry her fabric before starching (in the post I found). Just FWIW

  6. I have successfully washed the batting in a front loading washer by putting it in a large lingerie bag and then drying it loose in the dryer. When I prewash fabric I then use a pinking bladed rotary cutter along one edge so that the edge is zig zag. Then I know it was prewashed once it is in my stash.

  7. The friend who taught me to quilt always pre-washes, however, I don’t pre-wash. I find that the fabric and threads have a different consistency after washing that makes it move differently when piecing and quilting. The threads swell and are more difficult to bury. If I wash everything afterwards in warm water then I can tell the person that gets the quilt that it has shrunk as much as its going to and the appearance will remain the same. I also recommend cold water and lower temps for longer life, but its a gift and how they treat it is their choice.

  8. Over the years I have had several quilts bleed because I was in a hurry to make something and did not prewash.
    Also I found whatever is in the fabric breaks my hand out if I don’t prewash and my hands dry out, peel, crack and bleed.
    Lessons leant!

  9. I never even thought of pre washing batting. I thought it would ball up as one commenter said. And I like the directions another commenter gave about laying it in a big sink etc. However, why use hot water when we all use only warm or cold to wash our quilts, and if we give them away, we advise the recipient to do the same? I used to faithfully wash fabric, but have gotten away from that. My quilting friends like to not wash for the puckering that results and gives the quilt a more folksy or primitive look.

  10. I have successfully used the directions set out by Sue Garman in her blog on how to wash (shrink) batting. I have washed batting from Warm and Natural as well as Hobbs Washable Wool. I really like the way the batting feels after soaking. The directions can be found at suegarman.blogspot.com She uses the washing machine to soak the batting in hot water (or warm, if you prefer) for about 15 minutes – no agitation. Then spin dry. Remove and dry in the dryer until almost dry. Spread out to complete drying. I also pre-wash my fabric, especially when using it with a pre-washed batting.

  11. This will be fun (and helpful) research to follow! I prewash fabrics but not batting. I do like the crinkly look of shrinkage, but most of my quilting is not all that detailed so I’m not concerned with having quilting details lost in the crinkles. I do have to say, though, that my most heavily quilted quilt did not shrink as much (don’t know if that was due to the quilting or the batting or what–maybe your research will help me figure it out). That time I was disappointed because I had made the quilt a little too big anticipating shrinkage–so it’s a bit too big for the bed!

  12. I ALWAYS pre-wash my fabric. Furthermore, the stitching on my long arm is prettier on pre-washed fabric. Having fabric… even expensive fabric… fade after a project is completed will make a pre-wash believer out of you.

  13. I don’t prewash fabric or batting. I like the shrinkage – it makes the quilt look like a quilt to me (hope that makes sense). Also, that shrinkage can serve to hide any small errors or imperfections in your quilting. I’m happy with my quilts!

  14. Twice a year we make a quilty pilgrimage to the Oregon Coast, and I help the JoAnn stores with their inventory, as in taking it away in great gobs. While I’m still jazzed about my new acquisitions, I serge the lot and get it ready to wash. Sometimes I starch and press right away out of the dryer, but more and more I’m leaving those chores until cutting day.

    I’ve had one near disaster with a red&white quilt, only mitigated by a colour catcher. I did have a quilt I’d made a number of years ago run (before I changed my theory to wash first, then use) when I quickly washed it to send on to the fire relief in the Okanagan. It was wine red, gold, and green. Afterward the colours all had a wine red overtone. At least it ran evenly, and being as the recipient would never have seen it before the running event, they wouldn’t know the difference. It’s just easier not to go through the angst of will it/won’t it run. I have enough stress in my life, don’t need the agro. Just wash the darn stuff is my theory.

    • I really relate to the color bleeding; had a near disaster with a deep blue and learned my lesson. I ALWAYS prewash fabrics and use white distilled vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser. Vinegar sets the color. It does change the feel of the fabric a little but once it is ironed (just before cutting with a homemade Best Press substitute) the fabric handles well. I use the ironing time to think about the project and any problems I anticipate with the pattern. I had heard about the bugs problem if you iron – starch and then stash,but don’t know if it is true but why risk it?

  15. Many people love the soft crinkled look of quilts made with cotton batting after they’re quilted and washed. This is a traditional look. If you do not want that look, you will need to prewash fabric as well as batting. Using polyester batting which doesn’t shrink will solve that. It is lighter weight as well and some people do not like the weight of cotton to sleep under. If it’s for decorative purposes, then use the kind of batting according to the use of the quilted item. There is also wool which is great for bed quilts and some quilt artists use it because it shows off their stitching.

    Most cotton batting has a scrim as part of its makeup in order to keep the cotton from falling apart. A scrim is a very light weight material which is bonded or needle punched into the cotton. Hobbs 80/20 for example is 80% cotton fibers with the 20% being the scrim. I like it for quilts to sleep under. Warm and Natural has a scrim and is very flat so works well for wall pieces etc. There are several brands which are similar in characteristics to the two mentioned above.

    I don’t prewash fabric because the manufacturer adds a filler that makes the fabric easier to sew and holds its shape.

    • I was always told this filler was formaldehyde,which is why it is crisp, but terrible as far as chemicals in the sewing room goes. I learned to prewash when I had a serious red/white bleed, couldn’t rescue it. Now nothing comes into the sewing area till it has been washed. Even fat quarters get a dip in the basin of hot water, then dried. Better safe than sorry, especially for those of us who get inspired at 10 P.M. To make a new project!

  16. I always wash my fabrics. Shrinkage & residual dyes are issues with SO MANY of them. I have not, however, washed batting. It would be a challenge, I imagine. I am happy with the results of washing my complete quilts. Different battings create different “looks” after a quilt is washed; 100% cotton or bamboo can give a look of age for instance. I mostly use wooly/poly batting & find this remains true, even with repeated washing.

  17. I don’t wash my batting but I put the batting in a warm drier for 20 minutes
    and then I put it in the quilt to put n my longarm. I find the results very good

  18. I do not prewash fabric or batting because I like the stability the unwashed fabric has. I do, however, color test my fabrics by putting a scrap in plain water and waiting for 15 minutes or so and then, if no fading, I add a bit of detergent. I have found that some fabrics that don’t fade with plain water will fade when detergent is added. I do this mostly on dark colors, hand dyed fabrics and all reds as they tend to fade the most.

  19. Due to allergy issues I prewash all fabric and batting to get rid of manufacturing and warehousing chemicals and aromas as well as for color fixing and shrinkage. Anything smaller than a fat quarter goes into mesh lingerie bags. Commercial fabric is washed with Synthrapol and a Color Catcher sheet. Hand-dyed fabric is washed first with Retayne then a second time with Synthrapol and Color Catcher. If the fabric needs more body after washing I press with sizing, spray starch, or Best Press (non-scented). Shrinkage varies but is usually inevitable. I recently received a (name brand) layer cake which, with washing, shrank to 9.125-9.25 x 9.25-9.5. Batting (usually Warm & Natural or Quilter’s Dream) is machine washed on gentle and tumble-dried. Anything smaller than Queen dries all the way in the dryer; the Q & K sizes typically have to be finished by draping/spreading because they roll up on themselves in the dryer.

  20. I used to sometimes wash, and sometimes not, then I had a couple of good bleeds, so I have prewashed now for years, never prewashed batting though. Red and blues are especially bad and watch out for Batiks, especially the brighter colors. I serge or zig zag before I wash but LOVE Monica’s idea about pinking the edges. Shout color catchers are a life saver. After washing I press and use spray sizing or Best Press, I have heard starch can attract insects over time, does anyone know?

  21. In the beginning I always pre-shrunk my quilt fabrics. Then I realized the puffy, quilted textures of a quilt became more noticable if I used unwashed fabric. I prefer the look and texture of my quilts when I don’t pre-shrink my fabrics.
    I use 80/20 cotton batting which also shrinks.

  22. I almost always wash my fabric, just because iI often combine it with my older fabric which has also been washed, as was the rule way back when. I don’t wash my batting. I love the crinkly look when I wash m finished quilts!

  23. I prewash my fabric but not the batting. I have found it is very hard to wash batting. And then there is the drying thing! How do I wring all that batting—where do I lay it to dry–on the ground on top of a sheet? Then there’s the problem of having someone or something get on it. This makes it easier to dismiss the washing part, so I do. I have had fading problems when I don’t wash my fabric. Once a dark blue sun faded badly. I might have escaped that problem with washing…… Some fabrics are over dyed and the colors run in washing. I wash/rinse untill they don’t. I am rewarded with good stable colors. Looking forward to seeing your samples and results. I use samples for quilting practice; also for embroidered designs to see color combinations, size, etc.

  24. After taking several classes with well known quilters and reading various blogs, I now prewash my fabrics. This was especially recommended for applique. Any suggestions on doing this efficiently for fabrics with more yardage? (1+yds) When I wash small pieces of fabric I put them in mesh bags so that there is less tangling of threads.

    • With larger pieces of fabric snip a 1/4 sq from all four corners before washing it. It cuts down on the wads of fraying. If washing three or more yards at a time, accordion pleat it in yards on one of the salvage edge sides, put several safety pins along that edge. My 1″ bent safety-quilting pins work great. Toss it in the dryer this way too and it won’t get as tangled.

  25. I always prewash my fabrics….you never know about the color running in fabrics. But how do you prewash batting? I only tried it once and it was a disaster…never tried it again as I just don’t know how.

  26. This is an excellent topic. I pre-wash all my fabrics because I usually use batiks. If I wash everything as it comes in I don’t have to worry about uneven shrinkage because one fabric is washed and another is not. A friend did a red-purple batik and solid cream quilt without pre-washing, and when it got a dirty patch, tried to spot clean it. Short story – it ended up ruined from bleeding. All that said, I don’t think that good quality printed fabrics generally need prewashing for color run.
    As for batting, I usually use 100% non-bleached cotton batting on a scrim. I hand-soak in gentle detergent in warm water. This takes care of the 5% shrinkage and also brings a lot of brown out of the batting. I prefer this as gentler to the environment than using bleached cotton. Then I transfer to the washing machine to spin the excess water out on delicate cycle. Then I line dry, using as many lines of the washing line as I need to support the bulk of the weight of the batting. I love the way the batting quilts up after this, and the way the quilt stays looking new after washing. But this is my personal preference and think each quilter will likely have their own opinion on this.

  27. I always pre-wash my fabrics. If they’re going to bleed or shrink, I want them to do it before I spend hours making a quilt. I sometimes put the batting in the dryer for 10 minutes or so to get out the wrinkles. Don’t know if that shrinks it tho.

  28. I almost always prewash fabric, and then use starch to make it behave throughout the piecing process. Then the finished quilt gets a final wash to remove starch, hand lotion, any glues I may have used for appliqué, as well as the dust and grime that can accumulate on a project that I’ve been working on for a year or more. I still get a little shrinkage that way, especially with an all-cotton batting. Enough to add some crinkly texture and cuddle factor but not enough to drastically impact the look of the finished quilt.

    I recommend NOT prewashing for beginners on their first couple of projects since the sizing of new fabric makes it easier for beginners to piece and the additional shrinkage of the finished quilt helps to hide newbie machine quilting mistakes or wobbles.

    The reason I prewash my own quilting fabrics is that I like to combine many, many fabrics in my quilts that often have different rates of shrinkage depending on the tightness of the weave, like mixing Kaffe Fassett prints with batiks and marbled hand dyes. I have also had a couple of disasters with bleeding fabrics, even commercial quilt shop fabrics, and that is so much better to find out up front instead of once i’ve invested 100 hours into a quilt! I have not attempted to prewash batting because i’ve never heard of anyone doing that before, i’m not sure what the advantage would be to justify the additional hassle involved, and the prepackaged battings I buy do not recommend prewashing. I would worry that a batting would just disintegrate into a giant ball of lint. So i’m very interested in your experiments with that! If you’re prewashing batting to eliminate shrinkage post quilting, why not just switch to a poly batting that doesn’t shrink?

  29. Most of the time I prewash. People give me fabric and I get some at yard sales.. that of course goes into the washer. I have purchased a few “cake” pkgs and those I don’t prewash. When I use those I also don’t wash the other fabric I use in the same quilt. that way the shrinkage is uniform throughout the quilt. FYI when I wash a lot of yardage together I surge the raw edges. no more thread mess in the washer!

  30. I don’t prewash. I’ve not had a problem with bleeding if I use a color catcher, or vinegar (sometimes use both as the vinegar seems to set the color and keeps it bright forever almost). Never hurts to throw in some salt second time I wash to set any color that didn’t set completely the first time. I like piecing with non-washed fabric, plus, I hate ironing large pieces!

  31. I have always been a pre-washer and I put in 1 or 2 color catchers each load. It is surprising how much dye is collected in the color catchers. Some times though I will anticipate a particular fabric to really bleed and the color catchers come out clean. Lately I have been using more pre-cuts and I have been pre-washing by hand with a color catcher. I use hotter water than I would use on a quilt but I am trying to maximize the shrinkage if it is going to do so. There is always shrinkage.

    You definitely loose a 1/4″ or 1/2″when washing the layer cakes. On Charms I usually lose 1/4″ in one direction, I believe it is on the length of the charms, same as with layer cakes. I have also pre-washed the jelly rolls and just know that I am losing some yardage and it is a pain to have to press them all but I generally do it. I just started a project at a retreat using the Jolly Bars (5″” x 10″) from the Fat Quarter Shop and I had brought charms that were pre-washed. DUH! I ended up having to cut 1/2″ off of the Jolly Bars (on the 10″ edge) as I had to cut the charms down to 4 1/2″ square in order to use them. I had to cut the charms into 4 squares and draw a line diagonally and if they aren’t square to start with, it was not going to be pretty.

    I still prefer to pre-wash and will try and put fabrics together that are all pre-washed or all non-washed. I have never pre-washed batting and am sure I won’t even try it. I will be interested in what your tests show. Thanks so much, Lori, for keeping us all on our toes.

  32. I have always pre-washed my fabric, ever since reading an article years ago about all the chemicals, such as formaldehyde, used in fixing the colors, and the possible sensitivities that may result. When I started quilting, I had two small children, one of whom had respiratory issues, so I took the pre-washing advice quite seriously. Thirty years later, I still pre-wash–fabric comes home, it goes directly to the laundry. If I want more “crispness” in the handling afterwards, then I use Best Press. I don’t try to pre-wash batting, however.

  33. I never pre wash my fabrics. The only exception is to test red fabric, but usually it’s ok as I only use 100% cotton. I never even thought of pre washing batting. Haven’t had any problems yet.

  34. I still pre-wash all my fabric, except pre-cuts, which I rarely use. I donate many of my quilts, and I expect them to be used and washed like regular laundry. I like to remove any sizing, etc. before I use the fabric, and have had experiences of two identical fabrics, from the same manufacturer, but in different colours, shrink different amounts when washed and dried. I want to have the best finished results in my quilts.
    I don’t pre-wash batting, but choose my batting in each project for its use, and read the label to see how much shrinkage I can expect when the quilt is washed.

  35. Lots of interesting comments! Here’s mine. I always pre-wash my fabrics and batting. I don’t like the the crinkled texture that occurs when you wash a finished quilt made with non-washed materials. I find the quilting can be obscured or distorted by the shrinkage. I like the softer hand of washed fabrics, and I never starch, and never have trouble sewing bias or curved seams. I just throw newly purchased fabric in the washer using the same settings I would use for a finished quilt. I use 100% cotton batting and wash it by soaking it in hot water in the washer, spin drying, then tossing it in the dryer with a towel or two to keep it from balling up. This process assures that my finished quilt will not shrink or bleed when it is washed.

    Thanks for a very interesting blog. It was fun to see you on Sewing with Nancy!

  36. WOW! So many comments! (…and so many differing opinions!)

    Yes; I prewash everything! I primarily use either 80/20 or bamboo batting, which I soak in my machine (hot water), spin (no agitation), and then dry in the dryer. I’ve never had a problem with shrinkage using this method.

    Thank you, Lori, for instigating such an interesting discussion.

  37. Perhaps an adjustment in terminology would help clarify.
    I pre “wash” my fabric with same detergent or soap (that’s a whole ‘nother topic) as my regular laundry; then into the dryer same way.
    I will pre “shrink” my batting more frequently now because of great discussions here … soak in very warm to hot water, NO agitation, let washer spin out the water, then into the dryer for a bit to expose it to the heat. It could then be draped or spread out to smooth out wrinkles and for final assurance that it is completely dry.
    So “washing” is complete machine laundry cycle including dryer; “pre-shrinking” is soaking, squeeze or spin out, then into the dryer. Really enjoying the conversation.

  38. I always pre-wash my fabrics. I’ve had most name brands (Moda, etc) that bleed, and the one time I didn’t pre-wash, in the past few years, the quilt turned pink, from the name brand Minkee (yes, I used color catchers when I washed that one, and it still turned pink). I pre-washed Stonehenge fabric, that I’m using for a very special quilt, and, it shrank about 2 inches. That would have been a very bad thing to happen after piecing, since I’m appliquéing with that fabric. My applique would have turned out oddly shaped. I’ve never pre-washed batting. It doesn’t bleed, and, Iike the amount of shrinkage, after quilting. It makes my quilts look more like vintage quilts. When I first started quilting, the fabrics didn’t bleed nearly as much as they do today. Batiks are really bad, no matter what the color.

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