May 20, 2011

Pre-laundering Fabric

Many of you have uploaded your fabric picks to the flickr pool and are ready for the next step! Hurrah! Make sure you jump over and have a look and leave a comment on some of your favorite fabric picks. If you haven't picked your fabric yet, don't worry. There's still plenty of time. When you do spare a minute, rush out to your local fabric store or better yet, if you've built up a small sewing stash, go shopping in your own fabric stash for fabric for your skirt.

Vicki Kate's fabric picks / nettevivante's plans for her piped trim

As beginners, you may not know that its a good idea to pre-launder your final fabric. Why pre-launder? To minimize and stop shrinkage when you finally have to wash your garment after you've sewn it and worn it a few times. Now, there are many different ways to go about this and there are many different (and sometimes opposing views) about pre-laundering. So, I'm going to tell you what I do - which you are welcome to do too - and also point out a few articles of what others do too.

What do you mean by "pre-laundering?" Prelaundering, prewashing, pre-getting wet, preshrinking - for me, there is a difference between pre-laundering and washing after I've sewn a garment. I do all of my own pre-laundering for fabrics, but not necessarily all of the washing after a garment has been created. Does that make sense? For example: I wash all my wool fabric on gentle cycle in cold water and hang out to dry, but I dry clean the garment that was made from my pre-laundered wool. I grew up in a household that didn't have a lot of money, but we had a lot of taste for fine fabrics. My mom never believed in the "dry clean only" label except for certain items and it rubbed off onto me. There are actually very few garments in my wardrobe that I don't clean myself. So let me break down my usual routine for certain fabric types:

Cotton - Pre-launder: I pre-rinse cotton fabric, in warm water and let tumble dry in a dryer on medium heat. The final garment: I wash in cold, on gentle and hang dry.

Wool - Pre-launder: I wash wool fabric on gentle cycle, in cold water (many times wool is pre-treated with chemicals to prevent moth eating, so it usually smells) and let hang dry. The final garment: I used to do the same as the pre-launder for wool, but have found that wool tends to shrink a little each time I wash it, so it is spot cleaned, steamed, brushed or dry cleaned sparingly.

Silk - Pre-launder: I hand rinse silk fabric in cold water and let hang dry. The final garment: hand wash, however if the garment is very structured, like a jacket, it would be dry cleaned sparingly.

Rayon - Pre-launder: I pre-rinse rayon fabric in cold water on gentle cycle and let hang dry. The final garment: wash in cold water on gentle cycle and let hang dry.

Linen - Pre-launder: I pre-rinse linen fabric on gentle cycle in cold water and let hang dry. The final garment: wash in cold water on gentle cycle and hang dry.

Synthetic fibers like polyester, acetate and nylon - Pre-launder: I still like to freshen it with a pre-rinse in cold water and let hang dry. The final garment: wash in cold water and let hang dry.

You might be asking what is a pre-rinse? I find that shrinkage is caused by the fiber's reaction to water, so I usually on pre-rinse as opposed to running a fabric through an entire wash cycle. I'll also say that my way does involve more work. Most fiber types you see here are hung out to dry, that also means that I have to iron everything too, and that's OK with me because I do actually enjoy ironing. Ultimately the decision for how you want to pre-launder something is up to you. Here are a few more articles on more ideas to incorporate into your pre-laundering adventures:

Prewashing Your Fabric -

Preshrinking Fabrics: Methods and Mishaps - Gertie's Blog for Better Sewing

Regardless of what pre-laundering method you use, the fabric must then be pressed. I did post on this not too long ago, so jump over and have a look. OK! Let me know if you have any questions about this sewalongers. I'm very happy to help. Tomorrow, I'll be back with a pre-post on picking your pattern size and the flat pattern adjustments. Next week - its time to get sewing our skirts. Hip Hip Hooray!




  1. I'm glad you have put a post in aboutprewashing. It is something I do. I tend to wash my fabric in the setting I will be intending to wash it in the futre. I think this is great practice, after all I would be devistated if my best skirt shrunk and I couldn't wear it.

  2. oh, i'm bookmarking this. my new reference table!

  3. Thanks so much for hosting this sew-a-long. I'm learning so much and feeling so inspired already!
    On a different note, it may just be my computer screen, but I find the font on your blog really hard to read.

  4. I'm pretty brutal with mine! I subscribe to pre-washing a little harsher than the finished garment is likely to be treated!

    It gets a full wash at 40' if it's cotton as if the hubby gets hold of it, that's what will happen to it. I do line dry though as we hardly ever use the dryer, and it'll go on an airer in the winter inside with a dehumidifier on! All man-made stuff goes in at 40' too.

    I haven't dealt with wool yet, but love your method of a gentle machine cycle and then spot cleaning and brushing the finished garment. I'd love to learn how to steam clean a garment. I have designs on a Lady Grey for the winter...

    Rayon is pretty hard to come by here in the UK so is another I have no experience of.

    Silk would go in on the delicates cycle and be handwashed once the garment is completed, same as you.

    I don't really go a bomb on linen because of the crumple whilst wearing factor! I suspect though that it'd get treated the same as cotton though.

    I do edit my choices when shopping for fabric if I can't deal with it at home. Thanks for the links to other guides as well. This and they will be put in the bookmarks just in case!

  5. Thank you so much for letting me know! I actually work on a Mac and thing looking different on them than PC's. I'll be changing the font very soon.

  6. I'm pretty lazy with my fabrics. I pretty much don't buy anything that can't go in the washing machine. I just try not to get my hand made pieces to dirty/sweaty so they don't need washing as much. Plus, I don't have my own machine and I'm not paying (or taking the time) to wash two things in their own delicate cycle. And I hate pressing! :p

  7. Thanks Vicki Kate! I don't allow Mr. S near the laundry - he's already destroyed a sweet sweater I had. But I definitely understand. For steam cleaning, I fill up the old iron and press with lots and lots of steam - though I know that you can purchase one of those really great steamers which I would love to have. I've used them before when I worked in retail and they are fabulous! I'm actually very partial to linen, but its because I'm one of the few whole likes the wrinkles in the garment while wearing it. In a way, I'm kind of obsessed with the way it wrinkles, but I know that many many others don't like linen for that reason. Thanks for your input and for your lovely fabric picks in the flickr pool!

  8. Linda (crazygrad at pr)May 20, 2011 at 3:27 AM

    I'm confused. Are we making two skirts? I planned to muslin out of (wait for it) muslin. Everyone else is picking some sweet fabrics. Now I'm reconsidering the crap version and thinking about a nice first and second versions. I mean, I DO have the fabrics.
    Right now, this is academic. My pattern hasn't arrived.

  9. Great tips! i just finished reading the last few posts and they are so inspiring! Love it! I have two questions, however they are not related to pre-laundering, so i hope it's okay to ask them here.
    First: i loved the details you added (painted?) on your green linen dress (which i love, by the way). Could you share how you creted those leaves? i'd like to copy them on my green linen dress :).
    Second: i found a very nice cotton but it is described as "heirloom quality cotton". What does that mean? would it be good enough for a skirt (as far as transparency, drape, etc.)? thank you so much!

  10. I always launder my fabric before cutting. I just treat it the same way I plan on treating the finished garment so there are no surprises later!

  11. I do have one question about pre-laundering and that concerns the cut edge of your fabric.

    How do you stop it fraying and ending up with balls of threads that have started to unravel from the material edge? If you wash it still folded up and in a washing bag or a pillow case, would this stop any possible fraying problems but still produce the pre-shrinking effect you are after?

    Thank you.

  12. Hi Musetica,

    As far as my green linen dress, I used the stencil from Natailie Chanin's book, Alabama Chanin. I used her directions for how to mix fabric paint and how to apply the stencil onto the fabric too. And then I just outlined the stencil with embroidery here and there. Really wasn't hard, but I highly recommend the book if you don't already have it. It's really really cool.

    I believe heirloom quality cotton is cotton that is mostly used for hand sewing, such as smocking which is then used for clothing. Especially little kids' clothes from what I've seen, but that does not mean you can't use it for your skirt! Go right ahead, I'm sure it will be just fabulous!

  13. Hi Linda,

    I'll be making two skirts - one with stripes for v.3 and one with a solid fabric for v.2. But I'll also be making a muslin with you using muslin fabric, so don't worry. Making the muslin from muslin perfectly OK. I'll be looking just as drab and cruddy in the muslin color as ever. I've never had good luck even making a wearable muslin, so I'm all for muslins in muslin. You'll be seeing mine next week!

  14. This is totally understandable and somedays, I'm right there with ya. Especially in summer, cotton just really beats all, doesn't it?

  15. Thank you, Sunni! I'll get that book from the library today.

  16. Just a little more info on pre-laudering that I have learned. I hang most of my fabrics to dry, because that is how I dry my clothes. I have found that slow-drying days are not as good for pre-laundering as fast-drying days, as the fabric does not shrink as much if it takes a long time to dry. So those really humid weeks are no good for pre-laundering.

    I am interested to know how others dry long lengths of knits that they have pre-washed. I don't like to hang them because I worry that this will distort them (does anybody know if it does), and sometimes they are too long to lay down to dry (well, without children running over them with dirty feet!).

  17. A reply to Elaine Maul above...some people baste the cut ends of fabric together to stop them unravelling in the wash.

  18. Thank you Katherine :)

    The cotton print I've just bought seems quite robust so I'm hoping it won't fray (fingers crossed!). However, it could be a problem with some fabrics, I would guess so your basting idea is a good one.

  19. I've prewashed a few knits before and I too like to hang my fabrics out to dry. For knit, I give them about 10-15 minutes in the dryer and then hang the damp cloth out to dry. This way the dryer gives them good shrinkage but doesn't reduce them to lint.

    I had never really considered a humid climate when pre-laundering either. I live in a dry desert which does make a difference. Great tip!

  20. It's an idea that I never thought of, but yes that would work. I also like to pink the cut edges with my pinking shears. Helps reduce fray through a wash too.

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