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Why I Prewash Quilt Fabric & How To Do It

The debate over prewashing fabrics is a long-standing conversation among quilters. Over the years, I've made quilts with and without prewashing but right now I'm riding the "wash everything before I start" train.

Jen taking quilt fabric out of the dryer
Yep, my fabric is dry as a bone this time

I became a dedicated prewasher when I discovered color catchers because I could then wash all my fabrics at once. Yes, convenience convinced me. Color catchers are exactly what they sound like, nifty sheets that go in the washing machine to "catch" colors, preventing fabrics from bleeding into each other. Finding these not only got me prewashing my quilting fabrics, but completely changed the way I do laundry - no more sorting by color, woohoo!!! I LOVE not separating by color, and guess what? They're reusable too! I generally get 3-6 uses out of each sheet and toss them when they're dark gray.

Now, some argue that color catchers can fade some fabrics. While I haven't experienced this, it makes sense that if a dye isn't completely fixed, the catcher will pull it out. Sooooo, wouldn't that fabric have faded with washing anyway? Thus making starting with quality fabric to reduce this risk worth it.

Why Prewash?

  • Removes chemicals, dust, and grime from the printing and manufacturing process - If you've got sensitive skin like me, you'll be much happier working with washed fabric.

  • Improves quilt block accuracy - Washing shrinks fabric and I don't want that shrinking to happen after I've taken the time to accurately cut and piece my quilt. The argument in opposition is that a steamy iron will do the same, okay but won't the wash do it much more consistently?

  • Prevents Bleeding (note: sharp pins, rotary cutters, and scissors will unfortunately still cause the blood kind of bleeding) - I've heard enough horror stories about this that I now have anxiety if I don't prewash. One story in particular came from a longarmer friend of mine who was spending hours custom quilting a customer's quilt. She spritzed it with water to remove her marks then rolled the quilt to work on the next section. When she finished and took it off the frame, she found that the pink back bled into the light colored front. Can you imagine the devastation she felt in that moment?!? She says it turned out okay in the end because after washing it three times with color catchers, most of it came out and the customer understood. Yikes!

  • True colors get revealed - If a fabric is going to fade, then I'll get to see it happen and decide if it will still work in my quilt.

How to Prewash:

  • Unfold your fabric and put it in the washing machine with little bit of laundry detergent and a color catcher sheet. Use a delicate cycle. I use hot water for everything but hand dyed and batiks, for these I use cold because they have a much greater tendency to loose their color.

  • The ends of the fabric will have some unraveling so use fabric scissors to trim and untangle after washing.

  • Tumble dry on low heat.

  • Iron while damp. *If I remember, I try to take my fabric out while it's still a bit damp so I can iron it right away. It's easier to iron wrinkles out of damp fabric. But I'm human and often forget that I've put fabric in the dryer. I end up ironing my bone dry fabric by misting it with water, then using lots of steam and Best Press. Best Press is a combination of sizing (relaxes the fabric's fibers to get wrinkles out) and starch (stabilizes the fabric reducing stretch and fraying).

Situations When Prewashing May Not be in the Cards:

  • Out of time - Crap, the (insert event here) is tomorrow!

  • The quilt is going to be hung on a wall not wrapped around someone.

  • I'm using quality fabrics that likely won't bleed and I like working with it when it's stiff off the bolt.

  • No red or pink fabric in this quilt!

What do you think about all this? Do you prewash?

Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Quilting!



Hi! I'm Jen, a quilt pattern designer and teacher. I founded Snapdragon Quilting in the spring of 2022 in memory of my beloved Grandma Louise, a skilled seamstress and crafter who grew beautiful snapdragons in her garden. I've been sewing for as long as I can remember and began passionately crafting quilts of my own creation in 2006. My quilt patterns bring bold and vibrant designs that blend traditional piecing methods with contemporary techniques. I love to play with color and contrast so you'll find lots of layout and color options in my patterns. Whether you're new to quilting or making your 100th quilt, you're in the right place, because here at Snapdragon Quilting, quilt patterns make sense. 

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