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Do you or do you not wash?….

FabFashion | Posted in General Discussion on

Hello Y’all!
I am new to this forum and already enjoying it. Although I don’t have too much time to read all the threads. LOL!
I collect vintage and enw fabrics. My question is: do you or do you not wash vintage and new fabrics before sewing? do you do this with cotton based fabrics only?
I am kind of new to sewing, but have sewn before. I don’t rememebr pre-washing but someone commented to me recently that it was necessary for all fabrics. I am a bit confused with this comment. what is your take on this?
thank you!


  1. cafms | | #1

    If I plan to wash and dry the garment or whatever I'm using the fabric for after it is made I always wash/dry it before sewing.  For vintage fabric this would tell you if it will hold up after you've made it.  Any fabric may shrink, change color or hand, or do other surprising things that you may not like if you wait to wash after sewing it.  Usually polyesters and some other fabrics won't shrink much if at all but other things may change.  I have also found that sometimes there are soiled spots on the fabric that I want to be sure are gone and won't show up later.  I like to wash mine as soon as I come in the house with it then I know it is ready to go when I have the time to get sewing.  Washing will also tell you if the fold down the center from the bolt will disappear or is something you need to work around.  Wool can be washed with care but I don't usually wash it.  I did have a bad experience with wool once after sending it to the dry cleaners where it shrunk a good bit - after I made the dress.

  2. User avater
    ThreadKoe | | #2

    The rule of thumb is to pretreat everything as you would the finished garment. That being said there are many reasons to wash your fabric before hand.
    Many fabrics, natural fibres of all kinds especially, are pretreated with antifungals and pesticides, to keep them pristine for shipping and storage. You do not want to be working with those.
    Fabric hand and feel changes when the starches that keep the fabric looking nice on the bolt or roll washes out, and these finishes also will cause skipping or uneven stitches.
    Overdying of fabric can cause colour discharge in the wash. You want to have this happen before the garment is finished, so trims do not pick up excess colour. This can happen even in synthetics.
    Washing can change a fabric in many unexpected ways. Or not at all. You want to be aware of this before you make your garment. If washing makes a fabric really rumply, you may decide to send it to the cleaners for pressing after all. Preshrinking is always a hit or miss affair. Most are between 2 and 10%, but there is the oddball that continues to shrink over time, or shrinks more for some reason. Best be prepared.
    As for antique or older fabrics. Some fabrics will shred after washing or become fragile. All that work for something unwearable, or that changed colour. Pretreating or testing a swatch is your best bet here, and that includes drycleaning a swatch. I now own some lovely pieces in my stash that will forever reside there for historical reasons only, because they cannot be used. I enjoy their beauty as is. If I knew more about them, I might donate to a museum.
    I wash synthetics as well. Even if they do not shrink, it is because the finishes often cause skipping of stitches, and they sometimes do strange things. Not often, but it has happened, often enough that I no longer take chances. Manufacturing spots, and foldlines that became permanent are the main reasons.
    Welcome to Gatherings, and I hope you find this useful. Cathy

    1. FabFashion | | #3

      thank you for your tips!
      Most of my vintage fabrics are polyester based, and others are cotton/rayon based, and some wool as well. I will wash the polys and cotton ones and see what happens, the wool i don't know yet.
      I am very apprehensive since I don't want to damage the vintage fabric I have, as it is one-of.

      1. User avater
        ThreadKoe | | #6

        You do not need to machine wash your fabrics to pre wash! You can tub wash them by hand in the sink.
        Use a small, and I mean tiny amount of fabric detergent pre mixed into the water. Gently submerge the fabric into the tepid water. Tepid means room temperature, not warm, not cold. Gently swish the fabric in the water. Squeeze most of the water out, and rinse under cool water until the soapy water runs clear. Roll in a towel and squeeze the towel until the towel has absorbed most of the water. Hang to dry or machine dry as you prefer on a low or gentle setting. Do not wring the fabric while it is wet as it will distort the grainline of the fabric or cause damage. If you wish to prevent grain distortion while machine washing, use a lingerie bag or pillowcase. For antique pieces, I would wash by hand anyways, so I could see what was happening. Wools can be done the same, just handle carefully, and lay flat to dry. Good luck, and happy sewing. Cathy

      2. starzoe | | #7

        A question for you - at what age does fabric become "vintage"?

        1. Teaf5 | | #8

          I've seen the term "vintage" applied to brand new fabrics! Unlike the definition of "antique" furniture, which generally means at least 100 years, the definition of "vintage" seems to be wide open. It can describe a style rather than age, and it's used in fashion magazines to mean "from a previous design year," and in stores as anything that could have been sold before, whether or not it has been used or worn.

          1. starzoe | | #9

            The new fabrics called "vintage" are reproductions or in-the-style-of earlier eras, I know. I searched the 'net to see if anyone had a definition of vintage fabrics but couldn't find anything definite. The poster said she had vintage fabrics of polyester and it got me to thinking that they must be reproductions.Myself, I would call fabrics from the '40s and earlier real vintage but that covers a lot of territory. I think furniture is antique after 100 hears and just old stuff is vintage.....even from the '60s.

          2. User avater
            MichelleinMO | | #10

            I wash or dry clean each fabric just like I would after it is finished. 

            I remember my mom made me a pair of the Calvin Klein jeans from a patter and she didn't prewash the denim.  They fit after she made them, but then she washed them and they  no longer fit me.  She had to remake them again. 

            I learned from her mistake.

        2. FabFashion | | #11

          thank you for the tips. I will be washing some of the fabric but the rest will be steam cleaned somehow.
          Regarding "vintage" fabrics. it depends, nowadays they are reproducing fabrics and labelling them vintage. in my case, some of the fabrics are true vintage, that means they are at least 20 years old. some are 'newer' vintage which is about 10 or more years old. anything less than 10 years i consider 'new' or contemporary.
          the rule of thumb is over 20 years is vintage; over 40+ years is more antique vintage, which are rare and expensive.

          1. cafms | | #12

            Hmmm.... I think some of my stash might be more rare and valuable than I thought.

          2. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #13

            YIKES!!! My stash is full of vintage and antique fabrics! Guess I should get at those UFO's and tentative projects before they truly become museum pieces! giggle Cathy

          3. Teaf5 | | #14

            Twenty years is vintage? And 10 years is newer vintage? Then nearly all of my stash is vintage, and those pieces from junior high are antique vintage...

          4. User avater
            Sewista | | #15

            I wash EVERYTHING other than heavy wool coatings. If the fabric doesn't survive the washing, I don't want it. I will have heavy wools steamed before sewing. I wash all interfacings and trims as well. This all happens as soon as they come in the door. I am always ready to go with my sewing this way. bunny

            Edited 4/23/2009 7:49 pm ET by Sewista

  3. Ralphetta | | #4

    I wash any fabric, trim, notions, that I plan to wash in a finished garment. I put the new fabric on my washer as I come into the house. Any time I'm tempted to skip it and start cutting out...I remember the dress I spent lots of time cutting out, matching the print, etc., and then the first time I pressed a seam and the steam hit it...it shrunk 3 sizes! All that time was wasted and I will never take that chance again.

  4. alotofstitches | | #5

    Remember to NOT USE  any dryer sheets or fabric softner when pre-washing.  Fusible interfacing will not stick & stay stuck if any of the above are used.  I pre-wash or have the dry cleaners steam press EVERYTHING I sew!  I sew  a wide range of fabrics and use a big variety of fusible interfacings--prewashing/steaming solves a lot of problems!

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