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. Lesley says:

    So sorry to hear of your situation, but the quilt is still a stunner! Love the fabrics and the quilting is so well suited. With all the suggestions, I have a feeling you will find a way to way to reduce the blue dye. Thanks for writing about your situation…makes us all think!

  2. my studioQ says:

    I love the little hands popping out on your lovely quilt!

    Have you tried washing the finished quilt in your washer with the dye catcher(s)? As my mother use to say -“It couldn’t hurt”!

    Also, I prewash everything due to bleeding and shrinkage – both experienced! I wash pre-cuts in a mesh bag. Just make sure the edges are alreaady cut by pinking shears.

    Good luck!

  3. CathyK says:

    I am sorry about the bleeding fabric. May I say thank you for posting this so others may learn from unfortunate incidents that have happened to you? How thoughtful of you to have us learn from you! GORGEOUS quilt, by the way!

  4. Sewing Mom says:

    So sorry. That would be truly disappointing. =( Did you use cold water? I don’t normally pre-wash…so that makes me think. Thank you for sharing your sadness with us. It’s definitely still beautiful.

  5. Kirsten says:

    It is a beautiful quilt! If the washing suggestions that others have provided don’t work, you might consider playing with fabric dyes and doing a color wash to make it look like you meant to do that.

  6. Pamela S says:

    I have also had a blue fabric bleed and it was a designer fabric! Since then I hand-wash my precuts, jelly rolls and charms included. My technique is easy – put like colors in my bathroom sink, gently swish and then rinse by hand. Place on bath towel and then roll towel into a cylinder, pulling moisture out of the pre-cuts. Place on a dry towel to air dry and press. No bleeding since then! (I use nylon mesh bags for large cuts, 1/2 yard and larger and wash on gentle cycle.) That’s a gorgeous creation and I love your quilting – very inventive!

  7. Carolyn says:

    I think your quilt is lovely…if you even see the blue fade I think you might think it is a part of the fabric pattern. I’d never heard of shout out but that sounds like good thing to have handy. Be proud of your lovely quilt!!

  8. Ellie says:


    Don’t be so hard on yourself. The quilt is still beautiful you’ve given it a personality not a flaw. Did you ever see Hindu sand drawings that are done on pavements and are deliberately flawed so as not to be perfect? They are also destroyed afterward too and not preserved. Their lesson is not perfection. They are done in reverence. Give yourself a break.

  9. Joanne P. says:

    I wash all my yardage and fat quarters, mainly to get out all the chemicals from manufacturing. I don’t us precuts very often. I did see a suggestion on a site…can’t remember which one…but they suggested washing the precuts by hand then putting them in a salad spinner to spin out the water; then lay flat to dry and press. A shame about the bleeding on the quilt, but as several people have said, it is still beautiful and most people would not notice or be bothered about the light fading.
    I know you probably wanted to put it in a show, so hopefully you will be able to get it out.

  10. Rosalee says:

    Christa, such a gorgeous quilt! Would still be perfect for a little boy though! Very nice work!! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Heidi says:

    Thanks for sharing , this is a great topic. I had a quilt run in the early 90’s and actually fixed it with the Woolite color magnet sheets many years later. I usually like a cotton, puffy look to accentuate quilting, so I still do not pre-wash fabrics, except for a few exceptions; if any fabrics in the palette already washed, I wash them all so shrinkage will match , vintage fabs, flannels (obviously!). I just pinned this great technique I plan to experiment wtih and blog about the results. I have done a lot of tye-dye in the past, so I wonder that I never thought of it. I love color magnet sheets and have used OODLES of them over the years, so now I will make my own

  12. Christa says:

    Thank you all for your kind comments and helpful suggestions. This gives me hope! I will try some of these ideas and will post again later with a follow-up to let you know how it turns out.

    I am really glad so many of you are having success with the color catchers. Once I started using them I was so pleased that I didn’t have any problems with any other quilts!

  13. ivylovestosew says:

    Gorgeous quilt anyway! This is what Keepsake Quilting says about washing precuts: “If you choose to pre wash the die cuts we recommend rinsing in luke warm water, rolling them up in towels to remove the moisture and then iron the dry.If you pre wash please be advised that there may some shrinkage as they are 100% cotton.” Anyway, you’re the second person to mention blocking. I’ve gotta check that out–never even heard of it! Plus I’ve been told to always use at least two Shout Color Catchers when washing a quilt for the first time.

  14. Kathy Gentry says:

    Don’t give up without trying to get it out! This is such a beautiful quilt with remarkable quilting. I’m sure there is a way to remove the faded color. Keep trying!

  15. ivylovestosew says:

    Your quilt is beautiful! A little blue isn’t going to change that! Anyway, I am confused about blocking. I’ve been quilting for years and have never heard of that! Will have to check it out! As for prewashing, I don’t. I use at least two color catchers with every finished quilt. Sometimes I’ll take a charm square, run it under water, wring it out, and iron it dry. I always hem the edges of linen, then prewash, or else it becomes a shrunken, ravely mess, no matter if I use gentle or handwash cycle on my washing machine. I used to order from Keepsake Quilting and their precuts always came with washing directions. I’ll try to see if I still have them somewhere.

  16. Robin says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing your experience. I always prewash fabric as soon as I bring it in the door…but not so much with BOM programs that send already cut fabric. Now I am nervous and will go out today and buy the color catchers! I have a beautiful quilt made with a layer cake filled with reds that I am nervous about. Your quilt is beautiful regardless…I love the quilting!

  17. craftysorcha says:

    It is such a gorgeous quilt, it is a shame there was some colour bleeding.
    Do you notice if you pre-wash pre-cut fabrics that they shrink or stretch? I made a baby quilt and I never knew you shouldn’t pre-wash precuts, I washed my charm pack and when I cut out my pieces, I realised they weren’t all the same size. I was able to fix the problem but it was a pain!

  18. Abby says:

    Thanks for your honesty. It is such an easy accident to happen but serves as a timely reminder to me as I hate prewashing. I just want to dig in and start stitching.
    I don’t know if you have it in the US but in Australia we have a product called run away by dylon. I always have some just In case something runs in the wash. You just re wash the load with the liquid instead of detergent and all the runs diss appear.
    Hope you can get some results. Good luck.

  19. loufay says:

    Your quilt is beautiful!!! And your quilting is stunning, I hope some of these suggestions given to you help remove the blue that bled through.. I am new to quilting so I’m glad that you did share your experience with us.

  20. Peggie Adams says:

    Christa, all is not lost. I was making a Lone Star quilt and was just about done quilting it when I used a new marking tool on one of the setting blocks. Big mistake! After I traced the templet onto the quilt I had a thought “oh no what if it doesn’t brush off”! Sure enough my gut instinct was correct. So, I finished quilting the other setting blocks and on the instructions of the lovely blue chalk it said to use detergent if it doesn’t just brush off. So I did…then I made a suds bath and only soaked the block that was giving me trouble. An hour later I checked on it and I then had a “Tye-Dyed” quilt. The batting had soaked up the water and distributed it throughout the quilt. I was absolutely sick. To get to the point of why I’m writing to you I got all of the dye out. You might have to order it online, but “Synthrapol” does the trick along with the Shout Color catchers. I had to wash 3 times in the washing machine with “Extremely Hot” water…I know I freaked too about using hot water. I boiled some of the water in order to get it hot enough. I looked online for testimonials on the web and read several from people who swear by it, I’m telling you I will ALWAYS have this product in my house. Let me know if you do. It did take 3 times of washing to get it out, but now it looks awesome. Good luck!

  21. Lisa Marie says:

    I am a pre-washer too. Often I prewash things by hand in small tubs and the amount of dye that comes out in the water is crazy! Retayne helps, but I wish I didn’t have to fool with it. Even with pre-washed fabrics I still wash quilts with color catcher sheets. Your quilt is beautiful. If you haven’t tried removing the excess dye with Synthrapol it would be worth a shot. It has worked for me and once saved a friend’s quilt that a red fabric had bled onto and nearly ruined.

  22. gail olney says:

    I prewashed a jelly roll once and ended up with a huge ravelled mess. But the next time I did it I made loose knots in 4 strands, clipped the ends together with clothes pins and it did not tangle in the wash, or the dryer. I did still lose a lot to ravelling, but I needed to test it for colorsafeness and also the shrinkage, since I was working with white too. I suppose a lingere bag would also work on smalller pieces, or put them in a pot of hot soapy water on the stove and see how they behave.

  23. Meran says:

    Christa, it is a beautiful quilt. Don’t give up on it, until you have tried the readers ideas. I horrify my friends by not pre washing fabric, unless I think it may run.

  24. Evelyn H says:

    Your quilt is still a beautiful quilt! I haven’t prewashed 2-1/2″ strips, but prewash everything else. Charms and layer cakes I pin together and place them in large lingerie bags. They may shrink a bit so I sometimes have to adjust patterns accordingly, but I don’t mind doing that. Maybe you can put your quilt through an actual wash cycle with a Color Catcher. But I guess you would have to reblock it? Just a thought . . . .

  25. Cynthia says:

    May I suggest synthrapol? It is available from Dharma trading and is what all fabric dyers use….Every time a quilt bleeds colour, synthrapol is suggested and invariably take out the excess dye. Try it.

  26. Beatrice Jade says:

    Keep your head up! It could come out with the above suggestion or simply over time? It’s gorgeous and I certainly appreciate you sharing your major frustrations with us. Quilt on!!

  27. farmquilter says:

    Don’t despair…try Oxyclean gel. Massage it gently into the front of your quilt where the bleeding is, leave on for like 5 minutes and wash the quilt (bathtub or washing machine, both work). You may have to repeat this a few times but it works well. You can put a dark back on a white quilt but using a double batting will help with the “shadows” on the front. Remember, you see things on your quilt that no one else will ever see if you don’t point it out!!! Don’t give up on this beautiful quilt without just a little more work…Oxyclean can work wonders!!!

  28. Esther @ ipatchandquilt says:

    I feel for you! All of the hard work and than the fabric bleed! Wow, I think I would have used some strong words to express my state of mind 🙂
    I have used fabric die but found that the colour kept on bleeding even after a million washes. So be careful what you put with it in the washing machine.

  29. Béatrice says:

    I wash all my yardage before using it, I don’t wash the precut, I always use color catchers when I wash the finished quilt and one thing I learn is never let the quilt to soak, (it’s here color bleed and leave) always stir gently before spin drying. Sorry for my bad english 😦

  30. Marjory says:

    Your quilting is beautiful! I love color catcher sheets. I’ve even pulled rust spots out of fabrics by using the sheets in the wash. I haven’t used precuts, so I never thought about washing them until now. You could try soaking them in water to which you have added white vinegar to set the colors. I do wash all my yardage before using it.

  31. Melissa Ryther says:

    Oh, such a heartbreak! I would still be crying. But it ‘s still beautiful. Think of all the antique quilts which are a little ragged for wear, but absolutely beautiful. That’s for sharing the lesson with us all.

  32. Elizabeth Johnson says:

    Mine happened with a Christmas quilt turned everything white pink. Before color catcher which I have never had a problem since. Have you tried to wash it with a few color catchers in you machine to see if it pulls the dye out. It did help some on mine and it was a month later. My thought are with you and you are a wonderful talent so expect you will create many more amazing quilts.

  33. Rosemary says:

    Your quilting is beautiful as always! I certainly can feel your pain but the quilt is absolutely lovely. I don’t wash the precuts either. I don’t use them much but I haven’t washed them prior to making the quilt. I don’t wash any fabric ever without color catcher. It’s a great product and always use it when I pre-wash and when I’m finished. I love your quilting … hands? OMG how great they are. Thanks for sharing your pain ,,, we all understand and it’s definitely a reminder to wash our fabric.

  34. Leona says:

    Have you thought about coloring the quilt. Irena Bluhm and Sherry Roger Harrison both have 2 great techniques using coloring pencils.

    Love the quilting.

  35. Sue says:

    Have you tried re-washing it with a couple of colour catchers? I had a red fabric bleed on one of my quilts (and I had already pre-washed that fabric) but I threw it back into the wash with a couple of colour catchers and ta da! no more bleeding! Might be worth a try! Its a gorgeous quilt, I love the handprints!

  36. KatieQ says:

    The quilting is so fabulous on this quilt. I love the little hand prints. Sorry to see the fabric bleeding. I think with the popularity of pre-cuts, a lot of us of stopped pre-washing. I had a close call with a backing recently. I was preparing the backing and spayed it with water to press the wrinkles out. The fabric started to bleed on my ironing board. I washed it and the Color Catchers I used came out of the machine full of dye. Luckily, I found out before it was quilted.

  37. Stacy says:

    Oh Christa!! It’s still a darling quilt with stunning quilting. : ) That’s a great tip to use a lighter-color backing. Thanks for turning it into a lesson for us all.

  38. Jeneta says:

    Have you tried washing the quilt again with the colour catchers? I had a red and white mini quilt that I didn’t pre wash. It accidentally got swept up with some items and was washed. It was disastrous! The red from the front as well as the back ran all over the white. I put it through the wash again (a few months later) with some colour catchers and it came out just fine!! Needless to say I was absolutely thrilled. I must admit to never pre washing but using the colour catchers when the quilt is first washed. It there is an abundance of colour ‘caught’ by the catcher sheets I will usually do a second wash. So far it has worked every time.

  39. mn says:

    i always use the nylon mesh bags for lingerie to put new fabrics in for washing, whether they are by the yard or precuts, even for jelly rolls. true, lots of threads sometimes, but then i know everything has shrunk the same, and if the dye wants to run, that is the time for it. i also use 3 or 4 of the shout color catchers. the bags seem to help with the fabric not getting so many lose threads, if you fold it with all the cut edges to the inside. i put several yards per bag and it works fine. i get fabric scraps from the quilt store, and wash those the same way, also. then iron it. lots of heat, shrinking done! hope this helps you. and your quilt looked pretty, don’t worry about the blue parts. 🙂

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