Every time I write a book, teach a class or talk to anyone I recommend that people prewash the fabrics they will be using in a quilt. The reasons why people don’t prewash their fabric range from “It’s too much trouble” to “The sizing the manufacturer puts in the fabric makes it flatter and easier to work with.” Some people say that they never plan to wash their quilts. That leaves me wondering how they are going to smell and feel in 10 or 20 years if they never get washed. Are they going to dry clean them, perhaps? You’d have to have a really good dry cleaner to entrust them to a quilt that you’ve labored over so much.
We prewash everything because you never know what’s been on that fabric, because I want the shrinking to happen before I start working with it and because I’ve seen way too much bleeding. I’ve had the biggest bleeding problems with red fabrics but have had fabrics of other colors run as well.
In that wonderful Harriet Hargraves book, From Fiber to Fabric that was re-released in August of this year, Harriet works with a textile engineer to figure out the best ways to wash fabric to prevent fading. She notes that while the soap one uses affects fading and running, so does the minerals in the water used in the washing machine. Although she writes that equine shampoo may be the best overall soap to use when washing fabric, Ivory Ultra dishwashing soap is also excellent. (And frankly, I can’t recommend to our clients who live in New York City that they need to track down equine shampoo.) Anyway, I love that book so much that the first words I uttered after meeting Harriet Hargraves were, “Thank you so much for that wonderful book and all of the research you did for it.” If you haven’t read that book, you will find the research in it extremely helpful.
I always want to show people who don’t believe in prewashing fabric the red and white quilt I made ten years ago that bled, even though I thought I had prewashed all of the fabrics. To get the bleeding out I had to pretreat the stains and wash the whole quilt on hot, which of course faded all of the fabrics.
Seeing and reading about bleeding that has happened on other people’s quilts has really made me think every time I wash a quilt. Last week we washed in cold water with Ivory Ultra a quilt that will be featured in our upcoming book. The quilt has multicolored shapes on a cream field. All of the fabrics used in the quilt were tone-on-tones from a variety of commercial manufacturers. Even though I was certain that we had prewashed all of the fabrics, the white field made me nervous. Just to be safe I threw a Shout Color Catcher (a small sheet that you add to the wash cycle to catch bleeding dyes from ruining your whole load) into the wash with the quilt. Even with prewashing look at all of the dye the Color Catcher caught (the one in the middle of the photo)! I couldn’t believe it.
I became similarly concerned washing a quilt made with Cherrywood fabrics. I followed the recommendations and prewashed the fabrics with Synthropol before I started cutting them up. Look how much dye came out on that Color Catcher (the one on the far right)! Even with the Color Catcher, the quilt bled onto some multicolored cloth napkins I had washed in the same load. I still love Cherrywood fabrics and will continue to use them but I will make sure that I only wash them with very dark fabrics and will always use a Color Catcher.
By the way, if you live in the US and have never seen Shout Color Catchers in the laundry aisle of your supermarket, you might want to try Target or buying them online.