Fabric Care for Quilts
Washing Information for Quilters
Many quilters believe that all fabrics must be pre-washed before using them for quilts. They also believe that pre-washing will ensure that their fabrics will not bleed. This is not always true.
Reasons to pre-wash:
- Sensitivity to fabric sizing makes it difficult for some people to work with unwashed fabric.
- You want a smooth, contemporary look in your finished quilt, and you wish to avoid shrinkage.
- Washed fabric is somewhat easier to needle for hand piecing or hand quilting.
Or Not to Wash?
Reasons not to pre-wash:
- The sizing in unwashed fabric makes it a bit crisper and easier to handle for machine piecing.
- Unwashed fabrics are better protected from mildew and fading.
- Pre-washing doesn’t guarantee the fabric is colorfast. Some fabrics continue to bleed. Pre-testing is the only way to know.
- The shrinkage in quilts washed after completion gives a crinkled, old-fashioned look.
- Pre-washing limits choices. If you pre-wash all of your fabrics, you cannot decide later you want the look of an antique quilt. Rather than laundering your entire stash, wash just enough to complete each project. The balance of your fabrics can then be used either washed or not.
Significant Color Loss
If there is significant color loss when washing or testing your cotton fabrics, the quality of your cotton fabric may not be the problem. Detergents that contain bleach or even the chlorine in tap water could be the problem. For more information refer to “From Fiber to Fabric” by Harriet Hargrave.
How To Test For Washfastness
- Cut a 4 inch square of each fabric to be used in the quilt.
- Use a clear pint glass jar half full of cool to tepid water and one teaspoon of your chosen washing agent* for each swatch. (The testing solution can be reused if there is no color left in the water from previous testing.)
- Put a square of fabric in each jar, and shake often for several minutes. Check the water to see if any color has leached out of the fabric.
- If no color is present in the water, rinse in a jar of fresh water, and check again for color loss.
- If there is color in the rinse water, place the wet sample with a wet sample of the lightest fabric in the quilt, and let the two pieces dry together. If no color leaches onto the light fabric, the fabrics are probably safe to use together. If color transfers to the light fabric, try testing again with a different washing agent. If a particular fabric continues to bleed, do not use it in a quilt.
Consider testing your fabrics with several different soaps and/or detergents so you can compare the results.
Instructions For Washing Quilting Fabric
Small pieces should be hand washed to prevent excess raveling. Larger pieces can be machine washed.
- Fill the washer with cool to tepid water, add your chosen washing agent*, and allow the washer to mix the detergent in. Turn off the washing machine
- Unfold the fabric and distribute evenly in the machine. Complete wash cycle.
- Tumble partially dry, or allow to line dry till just damp.
- Press the fabrics while still damp to avoid excessive wrinkling.
- Wash dark and bright colors separately.
Test all fabrics for bleeding (washfastness) before washing.
To Wash A Completed Quilt
- Use the same detergent (washing agent) that was used for pre-washing/pre-testing the fabrics. Different detergents can have different effects on the dyes in fabrics.
- Fill the washer with cool to tepid water, add your chosen washing agent* (one tablespoon of Orvus Paste is enough) and allow the washer to mix the detergent in. Turn off the washing machine.
- Unfold the quilt, and distribute evenly in the machine.
- Agitate gently by hand, then allow the quilt to soak for about 10-15 minutes.
- Turn the washer dial to the spin cycle, and spin out the soapy water. A second wash cycle may be needed for very soiled quilts.
- Repeat the above procedure without detergent two times to rinse.
- Quilts should be allowed to air dry flat if at all possible.
For delicate antique textiles, check with an expert in textile conservation for instructions.
Recommended Washing Agents
- Orvus Paste (available in feed & grain stores by the gallon)
- Quilt Soap from Quilter’s Rule, which is Orvus Paste repackaged in a smaller container.
We recommend testing for color bleeding (washfastness) of all fabrics before using them in quilts. Be careful to test rich, saturated colors and all red, rust, purple, and teal fabrics.
From Fiber to Fabric by Harriet Hargrave, C&T Publishing
An excellent source of information on quilting textiles and how to test and care for them.