How to Care for Fabric

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Hey everyone! I’m Caila from CailaMade and I’m new to the scene here at Go To Sew. I might be the new girl but you and I are already friends because we both love to sew, or are learning to sew, or are trying to improve our skills. Either way, we share a love of fabric and that is what matters here today!

I’m kicking off a series here at Go To Sew that will cover a lot of basic tips for successful sewing. If you’re an experienced seamstress, maybe these will freshen up your skills. If you are new to sewing and excited to learn more, these will help you get started on the right foot. We all started somewhere! I remember emailing random people on Etsy asking them my questions when I first learned to sew 4 years ago. I’m here today so you don’t have to do that! In fact, this might make those of you novice sewers feel better: I cried the first time I went into a fabric store to purchase fabric. I actually stood there and cried in the isle. I was totally overwhelmed and couldn’t figure out what the quilting book I was using meant by “fat quarter.” It used the term over and over and all I could think was, “what a weird word.”

But I survived that day and the rest is history. I’ve been sewing seriously for four years now and the learning curve was steep. I get a lot of questions from beginners on how to care for fabric once they’ve brought it home, and this post will answer those questions.

To wash or not to wash

After you purchase your fabric and bring it home, what should you do? Opinions differ slightly on this, depending on the type of fabric and what you are planning to sew. Many serious sewists prewash their fabric, especially knits and woven cottons, to preshrink the fabric. This is a smart choice if the fabric will be used to make garments, because you don’t want the garment to shrink after you spent all that time making the perfect size! However, many people who sew and sell handmade garments do not prewash fabric before sewing. Lindsay Wilkes, the creative fire behind The Cottage Mama, suggests not washing fabrics if you plan on selling the item. “You never know how a customer will launder her garment. It’s unknown what allergies a child has or what products they are sensitive to. It’s just best to leave [the washing] in the hands of the customer.” If you plan on selling the items you sew, perhaps it’s best not to wash after all!

If you don’t plan on pre washing your fabric, make sure you are using high quality fabric from a well-known manufacturer. If you’re using something out of a bin in the city fabric district, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry and wash it before going any further!

Even sewists who never wash cotton wovens are sticklers about washing knits. Knits shrink twice as much as wovens in the wash, so keep this in mind when deciding how much knit to buy and preparing it for sewing. There is nothing worse than making an adorable t-shirt for your child, washing it, and finding that the arms have shrunk up three inches!

Here are some instances when you should not prewash fabric:

  • Charm squares and fat quarters to not need to be washed if meant for a quilt. Quilt pattern instructions are typically based on unwashed measurements, which means if you wash the precuts and shrink them, your pieces won’t be big enough for the pattern. Many quilters do not prewash fabric, instead choosing to wash the finished quilt and let any shrinkage in the fabric add to the charm of the quilt.
  • Silks, wool felt, upholstry fabric, and some other fibers should never be washed in the machine. Olga Becker of the blog Kid Approved suggests learning about the fibers in your fabric. “For example, you wouldn’t want to wash wool or cashmere in hot water or put it in the dryer.” If you don’t know how to care for a particular fabric, look at the bolt for care instructions or ask a sales associate.

To keep things simple, Palak Shah from the blog Make It Handmade suggests only buying fabric for garment sewing that is washable in the machine. “If it’s not machine washable, don’t buy it! I mostly stick to that as much as possible.” Especially if you are sewing for kids, this will help you avoid laundry disasters in the future.

Do you have any other tips for pre washing or not pre washing fabrics? I would love to hear from you in the comments below! You might also be interested in this post from The Sewing Loft about prewashing fabric. If you’re interested in vintage fabrics, this post on how to wash and care for vintage fabric might also be helpful.

 

Storage

Storing fabric can be tricky for those of us who hold on to it for a long time. I personally wash all my machine-washable fabric right when I bring it home from the store, then fold it and put it on a shelf in my sewing room.

If you are storing specialty fabrics, make sure you keep them in a cold, dark place. Any fabric left in the sun will beach over time.

It is also important to refold fabric every few months so the fold marks don’t weaken the fabric. Fabrics that are left folded for long periods of time can also fade along the crease line, which will remain a permanent flaw. Olga from Kid Approved also suggests folding the fabric so the right side is not visible. “That way, if it gets dusty or the edges yellow, or the colors fade, it’s on the wrong side of the fabric.”

Ironing

Using an iron seems pretty self-explanatory, but here are a few things to consider before pressing your fabric with a hot iron:

  • Use the correct setting: don’t use the iron’s hottest setting on synthetic fibers. Check the type of fabric before you iron, and use the corresponding setting on the iron.
  • Press, don’t pull: use the iron to gently press the fabric. Don’t push and pull aggressively on the fabric with the iron, or you might distort the fabrics.

Well, that’s all for today’s discussion on how to care for fabric! Do you have any questions? If so, please leave them in the comments section and we will do our best to answer them correctly. I’d also love to hear your tips for caring for fabric!