To Prewash or Not to Prewash- That is the Question

To Prewash or Not to Prewash- That is the Question

Dear Geraldine,

I’ve heard so many different opinions on prewashing or not prewashing quilting fabric. What should I do?

-Confused in Columbus


Dear ‘Confused,’

Ah, the eternal debate in the quilting world: to pre-wash or not to pre-wash fabric?

Ah, the eternal debate in the quilting world: to pre-wash or not to pre-wash fabric?

Let's dive into the pros and cons of this age-old quilting conundrum.

Pros of Prewashing:

1. Fabric Shrinkage: Pre-washing helps mitigate potential shrinkage issues that might occur when the finished quilt is laundered for the first time.

2. Colorfastness: Washing the fabric beforehand allows you to assess its colorfastness. If a fabric bleeds during pre-washing, you can take replace or eliminate that fabric to prevent color transfer in your finished quilt. This is especially important for red, dark, or hand dyed fabrics.

3. Removes Sizing: Fabrics often come with sizing or finishes that affect their hand and drape. Pre-washing eliminates these, giving your quilt a softer feel.  But sizing can be a good thing- it makes accuracy a bit easier. If you decide to prewash fabric, you could always starch it a bit before using to restore that crispness.

4. Eliminates Odors: Some fabrics have a distinct smell due to dyes or manufacturing processes. Pre-washing helps eliminate any unwanted odors, ensuring your quilt smells fresh.

5. Quilt Appearance: Pre-washing can give your quilt a vintage, crinkled look from the start, adding character to your finished project.


Cons of Prewashing:

1. Time-Consuming: Pre-washing can be time-consuming, especially if you're working with a large amount of fabric. It requires additional planning and patience. Sometimes you just want to start quilting!

2. Fraying: Fabric edges may fray during pre-washing, leading to potential loss of usable fabric. This is particularly true for fabrics with looser weaves such as thread dyed.

3. Texture Changes: Some quilters prefer the crispness of unwashed fabric for precise piecing.  Stiffer fabric is easier to handle and sew accurately.  Pre-washing can alter the texture and hand of the fabric.  That said, If it’s an art quilt you’re making that is unlikely to ever be washed, there’s little need to wash fabric beforehand.

5. Fabric Selection: When working with pre-washed and unwashed fabrics in the same project, achieving uniformity in appearance can be challenging. The shrinkage factor after washing the quilt for the first time may lead to distortion in the blocks.

Ultimately, the decision to pre-wash fabric boils down to personal preference and the specific characteristics of your quilting project. Some quilters swear by it for its practical benefits, while others like the untouched vibrancy of unwashed fabric.

My personal preference is to prewash.

As soon as I bring the fabric home and before it’s stored, it gets washed.

For smaller pieces, like fat quarters, I hand wash in cool water with just a drop of dish soap.

For yardage, I will pink or serge the edges to prevent fraying, then machine wash on the gentle cycle with just a few drops of liquid detergent (one that is free from extras like harsh stain removers.)

I’ll then line dry or lay the fabric outside over a fence to dry.

The fabric will be rolled or folded for storage, and then I’ll iron it just before using since I like to iron all fabric anyways before using. At this point if I know I’ll be cutting on the bias or will be precision sewing, I’ll use spray starch. If the resulting quilt top is stiff from the starch, I may wash the finish quilt before gifting.

I really started this practice when I started incorporating up-cycled fabric from garments in my quilting (just like in the old days of quilting!) Knowing that that fabric had surely been washed (at some point in the garment’s life) I wanted to make sure that I would never be sewing with that combination of washed and unwashed fabrics in a future project.

And although I do love the crinkly look of a washed quilt, I achieve that by using cotton thread for piecing and quilting, and (unwashed) cotton batting. Those shrink just enough in the wash to create that slight bunching around the stitches.

This is just my preference and reasoning. You may decide not to prewash, but at least now you know the risks and rewards of both methods!

Information is power, right?

Whichever path you choose, happy quilting! 🧵✨


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Josephine Hili

Josephine Hili

I like to always wash my fabric just incase it might Shrink and the color might run plus its nice and fresh and easy to iron and cut



Always was you fabric first before using! The listed reason are good but there is one other reason. Fabric is made, stored and shipped. That fabric is sprayed with pesticides and insecticides at creation to survive to market! So wash it before using.

Geri Sherwood

Geri Sherwood

I starch almost all my fabric. Then after I finish quilting and binding I wash with 4-6 color catchers I have never had a problem



I always wash and iron my fabric before I do anything else with it. I love to see and feelthe product before I start using it

Ancilla Winters

Ancilla Winters

I use a permanent Sharpie marker to make a “W” on one corner on the selvage. That way I always know which fabric has been washed.

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