Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Great Unwashed

The phrase, "The great unwashed" is a term coined well before my time, and I am using it only in regard to the washing of quilts. You know I love to play with words. 

So tell me, what is your opinion on washing fabric before sewing it into quilts? Or how do you feel about washing quilts? And at which point do you decide they should be washed?

When I first began making quilts I would wash every piece of fabric that I bought. I thought it wise to wash the loose color out of it and shrink it before sewing with it. When I began teaching I always recommended that my students do the same. After we moved to Virginia I discovered that the employees in the LQS were telling everyone, no, they didn't have to do that. It took me a while to adapt to that, but I began to see what they were trying to achieve: they liked the fabric to shrink a little and give the quilt a vintage look. At this point I really began dealing exclusively with Civil War reproductions, and I wanted to achieve that vintage look also. And it was lots easier to not wash and iron the fabric! 
 Recently I made a queen size quilt using 100% cotton fabric and 100% cotton batting. I wanted that bubbly look that a washed quilt sometimes gets. After washing and drying, I placed the quilt back on my bed and was astounded at how much smaller it seemed. I measured it and discovered that it shrank about six inches! I was not happy about that. I guess in the past I haven't noticed any shrinkage, but on this one it was pretty obvious. And I was using 100% cotton everything, so what did I expect? 

The lesson here is an easy one: if you use all cotton be prepared for shrinkage! But more than that, it also made me aware that as a pattern designer I need to adjust the sizes of my patterns. Instead of stating that a quilt is 90 inches square, I need to add "prior to washing". 

I bet many of you have had similar experiences. Am I right?

This morning when I stepped out of the shower I discovered that I had not replaced my bath towel that was thrown into the wash yesterday, making me "the great undried", right? Seriously, I need a caretaker. 
 




The quilt in the photo is Cocheco Gardens, available on my website, using all Marcus Fabrics. Be sure and see their newest Cocheco III line that is all pink and brown! Love it!


22 comments:

Janet said...

I wash and dry all the fabric I use in quiltmaking. I don't like surprises. 6 inches - wow that's a surprise!

Sharon said...

I don't wash, unless it is a burgandy or red...and then I usually just do a color test to see if it really needs to be washed. Love your quilt in the picture!

Monica said...

I do not prewash and I never have a moment when I decide they should be. It usually when I'm walking through the house and I see one of them and just decide to give it it's first washing. And when I do that I just use Color Catchers.

I do have a few that I'll never wash because I want them to remain exactly as they are.

Karen said...

I wash all my fabric. I still get the crinkled look because I use cotton batting.

Mary Lou Casada said...

I'm waiting for you to tell me that YOU shrunk six inches in the wash!! and then I'm RUNNING to the shower to give that a try! LOL I mostly don't pre-wash unless I know I'm going to hand-quilt. I don't mind the shrinkage so much unless it draws up over my handwork! Then I'm a little ticked! :-D
Blessings,
Mary Lou

Diane said...

I prewash everything-very early on I had a fabric bleed on me and ever since I don't take a chance.
I have noticed shinking on backing fabric 108" before washing is usually around 104" after.(I've had 102" too). The first time I realized this I thought the fabric had been wrongly labeled or I was being cheated-ticked me off as I NEEDED the 108" but after asking around found that other quilters I know have had similiar results.
live and learn

LizA. said...

I have to chime in here. I am now the not so proud owner of a ruined Christmas quilt and this was even after pre washing. https://picasaweb.google.com/LizQuiltz/WHYYouShouldPreWash

And yes, I used color catchers.

Phyllis in Minnesota said...

I wash and dry everything and perhaps that comes from having been a garment sewer because any shrinkage can be disasterous in garments. There is enough shrinkage with cotton batting to give any quilt that nice old look after washing. The transferring of color scares me as well as using fabrics from different manufactures in a quilt and only 1 of the manufacturers fabric shrinks. Did the manufacturer use hazardeous chemicals in any part of the process? Most of the fabric we purchased are manufacturered overseas and I wonder who overseas their process. When I look at all the possibilities - I'll keep prewashing! Whatever your decision - keep on quilting!!

Quilts And Pieces said...

I"m a washer. I love the smell of the fabric after I wash it while I"m working with it. And I don't like the feel of it before washing. But then I love the cotton batting and wash it when done for the crinkly look. So you still get the crinkly look even if you wash the fabric. I always assume the size of the pattern is before washing.

AnnieO said...

I wash all fabric that is not precut, because of course a jelly roll is not washable, lol. Mostly I wash fabric because the scrappy look is my favorite and putting together lots of different prints, patterns and colors also means the fabrics are not from one line/manufacturer. So washing eliminates differences in shrinkage that might otherwise make it really obvious!

Love your quilt! You could have used that to dry off with, I guess :)

synnove75 said...

I wash everything bigger than fat eights, because I find the fabrics easyier to work with when they are prewashed. I have also had fabric bleeding in a quilt, and that's not nice.

Alexis said...

I have also been hearing more that there is no need to prewash but all of my stash has been wash and I don't think its safe to mix washed with unwashed in a quilt. So unless I decied to have 2 separate stashes I'll continue to wash.

Me and My Stitches said...

I don't ever pre-wash any of my fabrics and I've never had a problem with colors bleeding - but I do use the Color Catchers in with quilts.

sewprimitive karen said...

Oh my. A lot of people prewash. I am sure that would be better. Too big a job to wash this stash, though. It would take months LOL.

mckie2 said...

I pre-wash everything because I think the slight shrinkage at that point helps to tighten the weave of the fabric so I have fewer little strings popping off as I sew pieces together. Those little strings drive me crazy - I hate having the back of the top looking so raggedy. I always use color catchers when I wash the fabric and when I wash the quilts. I don't wash the quilts after completion - They only get washed when they really need it.

Annemiek said...

Shrinkage is not caused by the fabric. If it is properly quilted, the fabric has not enough room to shrink a lot. The most shrinkage is caused by the (unwashed) cotton batting. I always prewash my hobbs batting and when in a quilt it doesn't shrink anymore.
I always prewash fabric btw. I'm still traumatised when my DS' quilt (black/white and red) came out of the washer PINK. I hate washing quilts and don't do it unless it's really REALY dirty!

Jan said...

Since I am primarily a hand quilter, my fabric always gets prewashed. I don't like the chemicals, like formaldehyde, that are used, or the stiff feel of new fabric. Actually, washing fabric is a fun chore for me! I've never prewashed batting though.
I like the way my quilts look after quilting, and after washing - probably because I make reproduction quilts, and it makes them look older. Six inch shrinkage is quite a bit, but I believe that there is a certain percentage that you can count on. It may even be on the batting package.
I like the quilt in your post!

Angie said...

Oh Marcie, that quilt is gorgeous! Love the pattern AND the colors!! I don't wash until after it's a 'quilt' (which pretty much means only once in a blue moon around here LOL!) cause I love that bumpy, loved look. :) Better grab a towel, girlfriend, the UPS guy may be ringing the doorbell.....

Country Log Cabin Quilter said...

I always wash and iron the fabric first with color catcher. I don't mind doing it (too much). After that, I don't usually wash the quilt for a while. I still haven't washed the quilt that has been on my bed for a couple years. I think it needs it by now.

Appalachian Quilts said...

I'm one of those horrible non-pre-washers. Some day I am sure it will catch up with me! LOL

Libby said...

You crack me up!!!


But seriously, I never pre-wash fabrics because I love the wrinkly, crinkly look you get at the other end. I have never *knock on wood* had a disaster with color bleeding. But I am fully aware that shrinkage is lurking just around the corner. To offset that I usually go for an extra row each way to compensate for size of my finished piece. Now I don't make a lot of bedsized quilts, but when I go to the trouble, I do want my feet warm *s*

Katie said...

I wash everything. I dislike the smell and feel of unwashed fabrics and I don't like to think of the chemicals on them, especially the fumes when I iron. Ick. :-)