How to Wash Fabric Before Sewing

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You just got the goods from your latest fabric shopping spree , and are dying to get a few of those beautiful purchases cut out and sewn. It's a tough urge to resist, but trust us, you want to hold off just a little while longer. Because it's important that you pre-treat fabric before sewing with it. If you don't, you could end up with some major shrinkage problems. Here's what you need to know before hitting that sewing machine.

1. Think About the Finished Garment

Nearly all fabrics need to be laundered in the same way that you plan to launder the completed garment. So if you plan on tossing it in the washer after each wear, be sure to do so before creating it. That said, there are a few exceptions to the rule: you can skip pre-washing for 100% polyester fabrics such as polar fleece and minky, and for vinyl fabrics like faux leather. Of course, if you don't plan on washing the item (perhaps it's a wall-hanging), then you don't have to wash your fabric beforehand either.

2. Decide Your Preferred Pre-Treatment Method

There are three main methods of pre-washing: by hand, in a home machine, or at the dry cleaner's. To determine which one to use, think again about what you'll do post-wear. If you plan to toss your cotton skirt in the washing machine using cold water, then dry it on medium, you want to do the same with the fabric before you begin sewing. But if your wool skirt and silk blouse will always go to the dry cleaner, then give your yardage the same treatment before a single cut and stitch. Same goes for hand washing — if you prefer to hand wash more delicate materials, then give it the same love before it becomes a beloved garment.

Pro Tip

Serge or zigzag the cut edges of your fabric before tossing in the washing machine. This extra step will prevent raveling and stop the fabric from twisting into a gnarly mess.

3. Choose the Right Wash for Your Fiber

Your fabric choice will help determine the best way to pre-wash before you start sewing. Here's a handy guide for our preferred methods.

Cotton

Voile and lawn do better with a gentle or hand-wash cycle in your washing machine. (Actual hand washing is also an option.) Follow it up with a few minutes in the dryer, then hanging until fully dry.

Broadcloth or quilting weight cotton can go in the washing machine and dryer. Use the same temperature settings that you plan to use for the garment (or go higher to minimize future shrinkage).

Flannel loves to shrink, so use hot water and a hot dryer when pre-treating. That way your normal, cooler laundry temps won't cause more shrinkage down the road. Same goes for knits — you can pre-treat them just like flannels until they're constructed. Then you'll want to keep them out of the dryer, only tossing 'em in for a few minutes to remove wrinkles and excess moisture.

Rayon

In general, knit or woven rayon likes to shrink. Wash your yardage on gentle in warm water, then dry on medium. And just like with cotton knits, keep all rayons out of the dryer post-construction.

Linen

Wash away! Linen will soften up after laundering, so you can freely toss the yardage and the finished garments into both a hot bath and a hot dryer.

Silk

There are a lot of different opinions on how to handle silk, but we prefer to hand wash with baby shampoo in the bathroom sink, followed by a good hang-dry. Dry cleaning is another option though, so you do you on this one.

Wool

Another fiber that elicits strong opinions: wool. We prefer dry cleaning on this one, though some like to treat it the same as silk and hand wash with baby shampoo (or another gentle soap) before hanging to dry.

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How to Wash Fabric Before Sewing