Wednesday, April 13, 2011

To Pre-wash or To Post Wash? This is My Question...

Do you pre-wash your fabrics before you start quilting? Do you wash your finished quilts? Do you like the way a quilt looks once it’s washed – all wrinkly and vintage? Or do you prefer the pristine pressed look of a finished quilt that’s never been washed? I’ve been informally taking a poll and I’ve got to tell you the opinions on this topic are as varied as the patterns and bolts on our shelves!

As with everything in quilting, and creating, these are merely decisions and there truly is no right or wrong answer. Yet I have customers ask me this question all the time, and so today at the Quilter’s Paradise CafĂ© I’d like to start the pre-wash vs post-wash discussion. I’ll open it up with the 2 most popular opinions, maybe we can learn a little something together on this one?

We NEVER pre-wash our fabrics, we just starch, press, cut and sew…..

It’s true, when Mom, Lisa and I are quilting we do not ever pre-wash our fabric. It should be noted right up front here, that we only use top quality Quilt Shop fabrics. These fabrics are printed on 100% cotton fabric and are generally only sold in quilt shops, they include our favorite manufacturers – Moda, Northcott, Benartex, RJR, Maywood Studios and Windham to name a few….

We ALWAYS press our fabrics, and starch them with a little Mary Ellen’s Best Press, and then we cut and then sew and sew. Once our quilt is finished, as in quilted, and bound, we soak it in a basin, or if it’s a large bed quilt, - the bath tub.

We do this for a few reasons, 1 – to get out any water soluble marking ink we may have on the quilt, 2 – to rinse out some of the starch (we press every seam and starch every time we press), and 3 – to “set” the colors in place. (if there was ever to be running color it would happen now, in the tub where we can rinse it out – I’ve yet to see one of our fabrics run).

Once we’ve finished soaking, rinsing and wringing out our quilt we put it in the washing machine for a “rinse and spin” cycle, and then we put it in the dryer. Yes I said the D-R-Y-E-R. After about 40 minutes on low to medium heat, we remove a fluffy, warm, soft, quilt from the dryer, it’s now finished and ready for a snuggle on the couch.

The truth is we use all of our quilts, on beds, and couches, sleeping children, and even sometimes for a picnic out on the lawn. So we wash our quilts when they are first done, and anytime they seem to need a washing. The quilts do shrink up some in the washer, this adds to that wrinkly, vintage effect I mentioned before which we all LOVE!

Some Quilters ALWAYS pre-wash their fabrics….

I’ve heard them moan and groan and complain… it takes me hours to wash, starch and press all my fabric before I even start cutting! I always answer this complaint with , oh yeah I can imagine that’s tough, but I don’t pre-wash my fabric, I wash the quilt when it’s done instead. Gasps! Are usually the response from the quilter who pre-washes…. “but if you wash it then it get’s all wrinkled and ruined”. It took me a long time to figure out what on earth the first quilter who told me this meant… ruined? Wrinkled? Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

Ah – here comes the difference of opinion… quilter’s of this persuasion have explained to me that they don’t EVER wash their quilts, they don’t USE their quilts, they hang them, and admire them but they do not snuggle or nap with them.

These quilts are serious works of art, and meant to be seen and not touched, and hung and not snuggled. So they are washed in advance of cutting and sewing, no marking pens with water-soluble ink are used, and when they are finished they hang in all they’re neatly pressed splendor. It’s true - the wrinkly washed look does make it a little more difficult to see the quilting patterns that were used, so when the quilt isn’t washed you really get a clear look at those patterns. The quilter’s of the pre-wash persuasion want to be able to admire those stitching / quilting patterns for as long as they possibly can.

So what do you think? Which method do you prefer? I suppose you could always employ a little of both. If you are making a quilt for a bed or a couch or a baby, then post wash it is, but if you’re making a quilt that is going to be a serious piece of art that you want to admire for years without wrinkling, then pre-washing the fabrics is the way to go.

Are there other opinions or methods I missed on this? Do you do something completely different with your quilts? Do tell! My informal survey on whether to wash or not to wash is still in it’s early childhood, and if there’s more to it, we here at QP would love to know! Leave us a comment and let us know which method you subscribe to!

With Love,



Lynne said...

I always pre-wash...I undoubtedly began that habit as a 4-H member in the 60's! I'm sure it is a throw back to the fabrics which weren't as "color stable" as fabrics are these days...correction GOOD fabrics today!

I also post wash if it's a QOV and have started washing more and more other quilts once they are finished!

I'm with you Ingrid..I LOVE the soft, cuddley feel of a washed (& dried) quilt!

Lisa said...

Of course, i sort of count as an off site staffer of QP, but i am in the do not wash first category, unless i am not sure of the stability of the fabric (maybe a hand dye, or batik or color such as red or violet). Always do post quilt wash in cold water, and dry very carefully, in 10 minute increments and take it out before it is totally dry, block it into shape. Most all of my quilts are for use as bed quilts, rather than art quilts.
Each quilter has to use what is their preferred technique, but if you are pre-washing without good reason, it may be time to step out of your comfort zone and try something different. :-)

KatieQ said...

I have always been in the pre-wash club because that was what my first quilting teacher emphasized. That class was full of gloom and doom about the stability of dye in fabrics. Over the years, I have had a few instances of high quality fabrics bleeding when washed. In one recent quilt, I saw no sign of bleeding when the fabric was pre-washed, but it ran on to a neighboring fabric when the quilt was washed after completion.
With the popularity of pre-cuts, I think more quilters will leave the ranks of pre-washing.