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Pre-Wash or Not? Quilting’s Perennial Question

So many choices. What's best for my quilt?

So many choices. What’s best for my quilt?

As a teacher of beginning quilters for over 30 years, one of the questions I am asked most often is whether or not I wash my fabrics before using them. My answer is SOMETIMES. I clarify this by explaining that most of my quilts are made for books or patterns and generally travel with me while teaching. I am not using these quilts and washing them regularly in a way that many quilters may do. My hope is that by not pre-washing the fabrics for these quilts, the quilts will maintain their “new” look and resist soiling and fading. So far, I have been happy with this approach.

In the next breath, I tell students that I do, however, pre-wash all fabrics that I plan to use in a quilt that will be washed regularly, especially a quilt that is intended for a child. Not only do I want to remove any chemicals, but I also want to avoid any surprises by having a release of color (often called “bleeding”) from one fabric onto another when the quilt is laundered.

A sad example of what can happen when fabrics are not pre-washed.

A sad example of what can happen when fabrics are not pre-washed.

Pre-washed fabrics are softer to work with and generally fray less than those that have not been washed. Also, I often use flannel on the back of baby quilts. Since flannel shrinks more than other cottons, I wash these 2-3 times before using them.