Christa’s Soapbox – Why I Prewash My Fabrics

This was a very difficult post to write and I debated about even talking about it. But since I promised on my blog to show my failures as well as my successes, I need to get up on my soap box and implore you to pre-wash your fabrics whenever possible.

Here is my ruined quilt that just devastated me (but I am getting over it after lots of crying!) Do you see the distinct outline of blue? That is from the back bleeding to the front!!

Ruined Quilt

After countless hours of sewing and machine quilting this puppy, I decided I wanted to block it. Since one of my quilting goals is to enter more competitions, I have been learning about starching, blocking, burying my thread tails, and all of the other “little” details one does to make a quilt really stand out.

Because I had used precut squares for both the front and back of the quilt, I did not prewash them. I didn’t have problems when soaking the top with a spray bottle to erase all of my blue marked quilting lines. But then I submerged the quilt in my bathtub to completely soak it so that it was ready to block (lay out smooth on a flat surface to dry into place).

Bathtub Soak

The next day after it started drying, I noticed blue ink seeping through the top and I about had a heart attack. Apparently dye from one of the large blue squares from the pieced backing soaked through to the top. I kept waiting for it to dry thinking I was only seeing shadowing. But no, it really did bleed through to the front. Now, the weird thing is that this exact same piece of fabric is also on the front of the quilt and it did not bleed.

Laying Flat to Dry

In this picture you can see the pieced backing squares showing through to the front. When it dried you couldn’t see them anywhere except in one very distinct spot where the fabric bled.

So I’m not sure if it was just a fluke, or if somehow the water reacted with the wool batting in a weird way or if it was just my day to have bad quilting luck. I really don’t know. But no matter what – I’ve learned a few things with this quilt.

1. Always, always prewash as much as possible. I will be experimenting at some point on how to wash precuts since they are more delicate. If anyone has tips on how to do this please let me know!

2. Even when using precuts that are not washed, I will always use a shout color catcher in the wash from now on. Subsequent quilts I have made from precuts have not had this problem. In fact, I generally throw in 2-3 color catcher sheets to the wash  just for good measure.

Shout Color Catcher

3. Pieced backings are ok but just make sure they are lighter than the majority of the fabrics in the top – not a good idea with all of that white fabric.

4. After all, it is just a quilt and there will always be another one. This has been the hardest lesson to learn. I will move on and there will be more amazing quilts. But this did break my heart.

Finished QuiltYou can still see some of the shadowing where the darker fabrics show through the top. But there is a distinct light blue patch on the front where it’s fabric bleeding, not shadowing.

Oh well, at least it still hangs nice and flat – so blocking does work! 🙂 Maybe I will dye the whole thing light blue some day. I can always keep it as a sample of what NOT to do!

83 thoughts on “Christa’s Soapbox – Why I Prewash My Fabrics

  1. Rebecca says:

    Recently, I received a huge box of scraps. I always prewash and these were not. So after thinking and thinking, I went on Amazon and ordered a 6 pack of multi sized delicates washing bags. I washed the scraps in these bags on delicate. The fabric did ball up in the bags, but before putting them in the dryer, I pulled them out, shook them out, put them back in the bags and dried them. There was a little bit of fraying, but not bad at all! Maybe this would work on precuts?

    note: there were very few that were less than at least 6 inches (roughly) squared.

  2. TheTart says:

    Wow! First, your quilt is gorgeous. No matter what, is a work of art. Second, thx for this post. I’m a new quilter & have heard many ppl discuss to prewash or not to prewash. This was a good lesson. Regardless I adore your quilt

  3. Karen K. at Fireball Quilts says:

    This is a serious issue with regard to precuts. If we start washing them, they’ll shrink and cause problems for a lot of patterns. I was assured by more than one quilt shop owner that the quality of fabrics today (the prime brands at quilt shops) means they don’t have to be pre-washed. Maybe manufacturers should be preshrinking their fabric before cutting precuts if this is an issue. I’m kind of annoyed now. We may be in trouble if we don’t pre-wash them, and we might have a bunch of too-small, not square bits if we do….

    • Christa says:

      Yeah I agree – after making this quilt I’m kind of shying away from precuts more and sticking with fat quarters that I can prewash ahead of time. Though since making this quilt, whenever I’ve washed with the color catchers I haven’t had any bleeding issues.

  4. Norma says:

    Christa, I almost cried reading your post. This quilt is wonderful and the quilting is so great! The little hands, fabulous. I have not been a big supporter of pre washing because I like the old fashion look of the crinkling. But when I made my Ohio Star with the reds, I pre washed and used the color catchers until there was no red left on them. As far as washing pre cuts, I have used a laundry bag, such as you use to wash lingerie.

  5. Queenie says:

    I so sorry you had this happen to such a wonderful quilt. Regardless, this quilt really speaks to the heart with all the tender wee hands quilted in with love.
    Regarding prewashing precuts, there are mesh lingerie bags that are wonderful for machine washing precuts and anything else that needs extra special handleing. Google “lingerie bag” and it will pop-up pictures of what I’m talking about. I have found the best buys for them at the Dollar Store of all places :o)
    Keep up the beautiful work!
    Have a great day.
    Always, Queenie

  6. Alyssa says:

    Oh Christa I am so sorry!!! But, the quilt still looks so beautiful! And I am thankful you shared. I used to prewash then stopped. I usually only prewash when I am using whites with red, blue, or really saturated colors, and I use about 3-4 color catchers for one quilt. So far I have’t had trouble, but I surly would not want this to happen so I need to re-think! This Synthrapol product sounds interesting too! I have heard of people using laundry bags for precuts, but charm squares might be a tough one.

  7. Christa says:

    Thank you all so much for your kind comments and suggestions. It has given me hope that perhaps all is not lost. I will try some of your suggestions and see how it works. Then I’ll do a follow-up post later on.

  8. SueAnn Wirick says:

    It’s funny that I found this post (soapbox) today. The leader of our group asked just last night about how to pre-wash charm squares. I told her not to worry about it…….I’ve sent her your link so she can read why she should ignore my advice. It’s a beautiful quilt even with the shadowing!

  9. Carolyn says:

    I think your quilt is beautiful and I’m sure no one would bring that blue to your attention. I’d have thought it was part of the plan and you should be very proud of it. Thanks for sharing with us but you should very proud of your quilt.

  10. Beth says:

    Oh no! Can it be a design element? And that is such an adorable quilt! I prewashed a bunch of light fabrics recently with what I thought was not that dark of a print but I was wrong and it ruined my brand new fabric! I’ve rewashed a few times but it doesn’t seem to matter. So while certainly not anywhere close to the same frustration of having it happen on a finished quilt, I just thought I would mention that.

  11. textilediva says:

    Your quilt is beautiful and certainly not ruined. I never pre-wash and throw all of my quilts into the regular cycle of the washing machine (as I used them until they fall apart). I’ve had a few that bled a bit but after enough washing they always would come good. I understand your frustration however if you meant this to be a competition quilt. But as you said, lesson learned, and you still have a beautiful quilt to use and love – knowing eventually the bleeding will come out.
    McKenna
    Textilediva.blogpost.com

  12. MandyMandalei says:

    I make quilts with batiks for customers on occasion, and have found that a single prewash is often not enough. I now prewash by hand using basic Dawn, super hot water, and then I wash until the water runs clear. That can take *many* rinses. I also wash FQs either in a lingerie bag or run a quick overcast seam down the edges, if I want to make sure that there is as little fraying as possible.

  13. Diane Moore says:

    I pre-wash my pre-cuts (say that ten times fast) in a lingerie bag that I’ve modified by putting a seam down the middle and adding another zipper on the opposite end of the one already in it. so that I have 2 pockets rather than one – I dry them in this as well and then starch/iron – I learned how to sew a bzillion years ago when you pretty much knew you were in for trouble if you didn’t pre-wash (and pull a string to straighten the grain but we won’t go there)
    I hope one of the tips other readers have given can save your quilt – it is quite lovely.

  14. mummyquilts says:

    Hi Christa!
    Thanks for linking up with T&T Tuesdays! This is a great post – thanks for sharing with my readers!
    If you like here’s a link to the page with the T&T button for your posts/sidebar!

    xo
    Erin

  15. Trudie says:

    I can only imagine your frustration but I LOVE the effect of water color! I would treasure the quilt for that alone! Beautiful, gorgeous quilting!

  16. Roslyn says:

    I actually think the blue on the front gives it a quirky unexpected feel and like it. I guess if you wanted fresh white it won’t work for you but I like it the way it is. The hands are so effective.

  17. Leslie Frost says:

    Regardless of whether you pre wash, there is a better way to block a quilt. Look for Sharon Schamber’s videos on YouTube. She has one on how she blocks quilts.

  18. Joni says:

    I wash my pre-cuts in a small jar, with a little Synthrapol or blue Dawn, then just lay on a towel on a flat surface to dry them. I have also covered a small bleed spot with textile paint and/or paint sticks. I have only tried this to cover up spots on whites on art quilts that can’t easily be washed..

  19. citricsugar says:

    The good news is that the bleeding seems to have happened in a rectangle and not in splotches. It is gorgeous, regardless.

    It might be that the bleeding was caused by the prolonged soak – both from the tub (which may have had hidden soap still lingering,too) and the extended drying time. All my bleeding issues have been the result of fabric sitting wet and then constant contact with other fabrics (some of which will wick colour easily or faster than others) whether by seam or sandwich. I’ve found that I only have bleeding issues with new-to-me manufacturers and/or if I don’t go straight to the washing machine, and straight to the dryer. I try to keep quilts from being wet any longer than they have to be. Usually the detergent in the wash is enough to keep any loosened dye from redepositing onto other fabrics and threads. Perhaps, too, the fabric that absorbed the dye was different than the rest?

  20. Melissa says:

    Have you tried soaking it in oxyclean? I don’t know if it would do the job in this case, but I’ve always had good luck with getting out old set in stains with it. It might be worth a try. That quilt is gorgeous and you obviously put a lot of work into it!

  21. Karen K. at Fireball Quilts says:

    Christa, I’m so sorry. All hope is never lost. As you mentioned, you could simply decide to dye it someday, but if you try the above suggestions with synthrapol, please let us know how it turns out. You can’t blame yourself either. Everyone “knows” that you don’t prewash precuts. I am working on a quilt with deep blues and white, and while I have presoaked all the medium and deep blues in Retayne, I still have a knot in my stomach thinking about the first wash it will get. Good luck!

  22. rshirt says:

    What a beautiful quilting pattern! I love the hands! Even with the blue spot (which it took me a minute to find on my screen), I would be so grateful to receive such a thoughtfully made item! Best of luck with the Synthrapol or the Professional Textile Detergent options, if you try them!

  23. sylvia says:

    I didn’t read all the comments, so I’m sure someone has already said this, but: SYNTHRAPOL. A very similar thing happened to me recently with a purple fabric that I DID prewash, but still bled when I washed the finished quilt. I didn’t notice until after it went in the dryer. I washed a couple more times, and it just got worst, so I took a deep breath and used Synthrapol according to the package directions. This is a scary thing because you have to wash your already-bleeding quilt in hot water, but how much more can it ruin your quilt? After two washes with Synthrapol all the bleeding disappeared, and I was still able to give my friend her birthday present on time! The color of the backing fabric did change significantly, so if you did something that relies on a careful gradation of color, you may still be disappointed. But your quilt is totally saveable, do not despair!!!

  24. Amy DeCesare says:

    It is a really beautiful quilt, still! I have a question about how exactly precuts like jelly rolls or charm packs can be prewashed. If they don’t shrink uniformly, or too much, that would make them a nightmare to use, I think.

  25. barb price says:

    so sorry for you Christa, very frustrating. i always wash my fabrics first, though i had been debating if it was necessary, now i know for sure to wash. usually with my precuts i put them in a lingerie bag and then lay them out to dry and then i starch, thank heaven for starch. thankyou for sharing what you learnt. it helps us all.barb

  26. Kathleen O'Grady says:

    Your quilt is still beautiful and all the love you poured into shows in your labor. I want to cry for you also, what a shame.

  27. Margaret says:

    I don’t know what you tried to get the blue out, but I had it happen to a quilt (that I had not put near as much time in). I found information on Amazon with synthrapol. As mine was not as large of a scale, and I couldn’t get it locally, I didn’t try it. Here is a link. In the comments section a woman talked about how she saved a quilt that bled. http://www.amazon.com/Craft-Synthrapol-Sizing-Dye-Remover/product-reviews/B000YZ3UHQ/ref=sr_1_1_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

  28. toekneechestnut says:

    Love the quilt..and appreciate the hours and hours of love poured into it and can only begin to appreciate how intense the emotions would have been to discover the bleeding..you have my deepest sympathy and love:) grace

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