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

posted in: Quilting 1
I made a little pal. He's got a soft, fuzzy cape! He is nestled in pre-washed love. (All fabric: Small Wonders.)
I made a little pal. He’s got a soft, fuzzy cape! He is nestled in combed, pre-washed love! It is a happy day. (All fabric: Small Wonders.)

If you’re new around here, you might want to start reading PaperGirl last February and get caught up. What is there to do the day after Thanksgiving but tidy up, eat cherry pie out of the tin, and sit down with your laptop? Don’t say, “Brave the crowds for the coffeemaker Mee-Maw wants because I have a coupon.” The PaperGirl story leading up to now will help you understand what I’m about to tell you. At the very least, if you haven’t read yesterday’s post — Part I of the pre-wash discussion — definitely do that first. 

When I knew I had to come home to Chicago, I began to brood more than usual. What was I looking for over the last 1.5 years? Did I find it? and what did it cost? What did I gain? If I come back essentially the same person after the odyssey, were all the moves and the disorientations just sweat-and-blood-producing effort? Or did I make life? And did my tenants destroy my house? At least I know the outcome of that.

But I did know I had to reclaim this city and reclaim my home. Like, deep reclamation was needed to touch the ground, to be here, to be back. I left so much fabric when I left. I couldn’t take my entire stash to New York City. The NYC experiment was to be one year. I rented this place furnished in order to afford to go. After the year, I’d make a decision to come back or stay away and at that time, I would gather my stash and make a permanent move. But I did come back. I touched my fabric again. I saw the colors. I saw the palate I use to make quilts which is what a stash is for a quilter: a palate. I saw the all the fabric I left behind.

And I knew I absolutely had to wash it. All of it. Washing every scrap (every scrap over 5” square or so) would click my brain into place, would work to say, “I left, but I’m back, and I’m changed.” To handle each yard, each fat quarter, to take inventory, to wash my entire experience and have proof that something happened — even though I can’t possibly know what that is, yet — that was I had to do. To go from a non-prewasher to a pre-washer, that was concrete. Did I really go away? Yes, I can say. Because look at what I am now: I’m a pre-washer. And I wasn’t before. How come?

When people ask me, “Why do you pre-wash?” I can’t tell them, “Well, I met a wonderful person and upended my life. I moved to New York City but it all failed. I left for Washington, D.C. and lived there and loved it, but I had to come home to Chicago and my heart sang when I did, but I needed proof I left and returned because it hardly seemed real. I washed my stash so that the experience was real, to prove I had changed, indelibly, and for good.”

I can’t tell them all that. I’ll just tell them I like how it feels.

Tomorrow, the third and final installment of this story, I’ll tell you about my process. There is a lot to know about pre-washing fabric and I need to take you through all the tips I’ve gathered from quilters across the country. I’ll discuss pre-cuts, the process you need to go through before putting the fabric in the wash, post-production, and more. Thanks for listening.



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.