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{ PRE-WASHING / TREATING FABRIC } & why its so importante…

I learnt the hard way just how important it is to pre-treat or wash fabrics before cutting or sewing them. I had many botched projects due to purchasing fabric & then cutting & sewing right away without thinking about how that piece of fabric would react to soaps, water & temperature both during the sewing process, but more so afterwards.

I will admit that this part of the process is laborious, boring & takes some discipline however I will also admit that it has saved me considerable heartache especially after I realised just how much shrinking occurs depending on the fabric of course.

Being sensible about how you go about treating/washing fabric beforehand is key. And by sensible, I mean, common sense really. If you know the piece of fabric is 100% cotton & you usually wash your cotton at 40 degrees, then pre-wash in the same manner, press/iron as you would your cotton dresses, tops etc & you are ready to go. Same goes for wool or delicates.

Below I have put together some thoughts to consider when approaching pre-treating/washing for the 3 most common fabric types : delicates, woolens & cottons.


{ DELICATES } are silks, chiffons, lace, satins etc

Wash these by hand, preferably in cold or luke warm water. Use very little soap & if possible, try to purchase a mild soap that is advised for delicates. Some people even use baby shampoo because it is so mild. Avoid using your machine to wash these fabrics even though its very tempting however, if you know your machine is able to produce a very gentle “hand wash” then go for it but I would still avoid a machine spin.

The colour used for dyeing delicate fabrics can still run so remember to wash these grouped by colour.


{ WOOLENS } I think fabrics that fall under the Woolens category are the most misunderstood fabrics & I think it is for this reason, that many people are not sure on whether to wash woolens, dry clean them, cold water, hot water etc etc.

Woolens to me are delicates 🙂 So I normally treat them as such however saying that, I treat woolens as delicates in a different manner to what I discussed above. The care labels in the majority of woolen garments advise professional/dry-cleaning but I dont think that running off to the cleaners is affordable or advisable in many circumstances. So, learning to steam shrink at home is something I would highly recommend. I reviewed the Claire Schaeffer DVD called Basics & in the pressing section she shows you how to shrink or stretch woolens using your steam iron ie. for curves, but essentially, this is the same process you would use to pre-shrink woolens at home using steam.

If you are going to wash your woolens at home, make sure you hand wash using cold water with very little agitation. Again, bear in mind colours may run so wash colour appropriate & consider using a colour catcher of sorts to avoid colour loss especially if you want to avoid dullness.


{ COTTONS } are in my opinion, the easiest fabrics to work with. Not only is cotton pure & fresh but its super easy to pre-wash & in my experience, yields the least shrinkage, providing it has no stretch. I usually just pop these into a normal 40 degree cycle (sometimes a short cycle), spin on a low spin to avoid too much wrinkling & air dry. Sometimes cottons are starched when you purchase them, sometimes they are pre-shurnk, so again, ask for all this information when you purchase so you are aware. Again, wash grouped in similar colours & if you have a printed cotton, add 1/2 a cup of salt to your wash to avoid colour bleeding.

{ TIPS }

  • Before washing, check to see if the fabric is prone to unraveling. If so, overlock/serge/pink/zigzag the edges to avoid especially if you are using the machine washing method.
  • Look to RTW or store-bought garments to see what is advised on care labels to give you a better understanding of what you should do with a piece of fabric. I browse high street stores as well as high-end brands for inspiration as well as education & Ive learnt a great deal by looking at fabric composition & care labels.Anything with a stretch should raise concern regarding shrinkage. Cotton knits, rayon knits, jerseys etc { MUST } be pre-washed otherwsie you are in for a surprise if you sew with these without pre-washing. What may be a size 10 before washing, will quickly become one size smaller after the first wash!.
  • A good fabric store/supplier should have their bolts of fabric labelled with a care label of sorts. Nothing irritates me more than no labels whatsoever – no price, no composition, NADA. I absolutely loathe having to ask composition of fabrics because most times it’s revealed the sales people are not 100% sure themselves which puts me off instantly. I like helpful, knowledgeable staff when Im shopping for sewing related things. Anyway, like I said, if the bolt of fabric is not labelled, then ask & note down the answer because this will help you in the future. Fabrics are sometimes pre-shrunk therefore saving you the time/hassle of doing it yourself.  A good fabric store will also either tell you the fabric is NOT pre-shrunk therefore allowing you the opportunity to add a little extra to your order { OR } they will automatically add the extra knowing that you will need it. I have shopped at many fabric stores that do this & I always go back to them because that is professional & honest. There are many fabric stores that dont have this information readily available and I think that if we all started asking these questions regularly, they may start providing the information as they should & not because we keep asking.


If you are not one of those that regularly practices pre-treating/washing, I would like you to try this little experiment. Take a piece of fabric that you have purchased (that hasnt been washed) & measure it – both width & length. Then treat/wash that piece of fabric with one of the above methods suitable & once its dry & pressed, measure it again. The majority of fabrics will have shrunk…it may not be a huge amount but in some cases, it may well be. Now imagine what that does to your garment sizing/fit if this shrinking happens post-sew.

Have a good weekend wherever you may be, & thanks for stopping by x



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