Life Made a Pre-Washer Out of Me, Part I.

posted in: Chicago, Quilting, Small Wonders 1
If Small Wonders fabric was pretty and sweet before; washed and dried, it's angelic.
If Small Wonders fabric was pretty and sweet before; washed and dried, it’s angelic.

For PaperGirl readers who are not quilters, you are about to learn that quilters are a divided people. We are locked in a brother-against-brother conflict so deep, so indelible, generations of quilters from now will bear the weight of our differences. And it all comes down to how a quilter answers this question:

“Do you pre-wash your fabric?”

When a quilter gets home from the quilt shop or opens the UPS box, she has a choice to make: will she pop that cotton into the laundry first or will she just take it all to her fabric stash and just pull it out when she’s ready to use it? There are strong cases to be made on either side. What’s most important to know now is this: if you pre-wash some of your fabric, you must pre-wash all of it.

That’s the hard and fast rule. You can’t be a little bit pregnant and you can’t be an on again-off again pre-washer. This is because pre-washing pre-shrinks. If you make a quilt with some pre-shrunk fabric and some that isn’t, you are in danger of ruining your quilt. Stretching, pulling, snapped threads, rippling: fabric stitched together that shrinks at different rates wreaks havoc. If you care about what you made — which of course you do — don’t cross the streams.

Here’s the pre-wash argument: pre-washing gets rid of fixative chemicals from the factory; it obliterates any fear of dye bleed when the finished quilt is washed; you’ll use fewer pins because pre-washed fabric sticks together way better; if you use fabric softener it smells amazing; best of all, it feels incredibly soft and nice and it’s fluffy.

The non-pre-wash argument: you have to be insane to do more laundry what is wrong with you; any fixative used on the fabric is negligible; no one wants to wait to use new fabric; you’ll endure Thread Hell from unraveling edges; fabric from the dryer is super wrinkled and you have to press everything. No way.

It is a rare, rare occurrence indeed when a quilter leaves her team for the other. It’s like a Confederate soldier joining the Union Army. A Packers fan with a Bears jersey in his trunk. My friend Susan switching to Pepsi from Coke. (Never!) Aside from the convictions held by quilters on their respective side of the aisle, it’s a really, really big deal to stop or start pre-washing. Either you start in and pre-wash all of your stash one day, or you have to give away/donate all of your pre-washed fabric and resolve to not wash any fabric you bring into your home from here on out.

But I switched.

Right now, at this very moment, six washing machines in my building’s laundry room are sloshing and swishing yard after yard of fabric. Right now, four dryers in that room are tumbling, fluffing the material that I use to make quilts.

I’m doing it. I’m pre-washing my entire stash. I’m switching teams. I’ll tell you why tomorrow.

  1. […] Wash darks with darks, lights with lights — and reds with reds. Several reds did bleed, as evidenced by the stray piece of light gray that got into a red batch. It is now a pale pink […]

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