It is best practice to pre-treat fabric before sewing it up. There are a couple of reasons for this, the most important of which I think is hygiene related: I don’t know what fabric has been through before landing on my to sew pile so it calms my mind to put through a wash and know for certain that it’s clean.
Pre-treatment can extend to all manner of things, but I tend to keep it simple:
- Obtain fabric
- Put through a wash
- Store in stash, ready for the divine combination of inspiration and available time to match
Generally, I wash fabric as the label suggests. However, there are times when I will purchase dryclean only material, knowing full well that it will only ever be washed in the machine or bathroom sink. In such times, I launch straight in and wash it as such – better to find out it’s never going to work and only ruin fabric, rather than ruin fabric and all the time that went into making something I say!
Of course, sometimes I will purchase fabric knowing that I am going to dryclean it – I wouldn’t want any readers to think that I discredit these suggestions out of principle! In such times, I will dryclean and then sew.
Other than the hygiene reason given above, the other main reason I pre-treat is to know what the fabric will be like in real life. There are all sorts of things that can be on fabric that can alter the way that it handles – I would rather know about these and factor them into the design process.
For instance, here are the results from a couple of fabrics that I washed last weekend. Pre-treating at its simplest - standard wash and then drying over a doorframe.
This one gets a lot of static electricity in the wash – not sure what I’m going to do about that. Line it completely perhaps?
This one has a different shape now – so I need to check the grain and not assume that the cut edge is on the straight grain. This will affect how I place pattern pieces (or how the garment hangs if I don’t). Grain should always be checked pre-cut of course, but this serves to remind me that this one might be particularly bad (and I may not have enough material for the intended garment - boo).
This one wrinkles a lot so will need to be ironed each time it’s washed. This means I’m not now going to make it into a casual dress as I would never iron it but also wouldn’t wear it if it were crinkled.
A few little tips from me, Mrs CT:
- Shrinkage – if there is a lot, you may want to wash it again before cutting out your pattern pieces – it may shrink even more!
- Wrinkles – does it wrinkle and what are the likely ironing requirements. Think honestly about whether you would iron the future garment, and if not, if you would wear it un-ironed.
- Colour – has it faded/run? If so, what other colours should it be washed with in the future?
- Static – is this fabric going to cling to you when it is made up into a garment?
- Grain – is the fabric still a rectangle? Or is it now more of a parallelogram?
- Timing – wash it as soon as it is obtained. That way, you can sew to your heart’s content when the mood strikes you.
Image sources/owners: Mr CT
DISCLAIMER – I have ‘ruined’ fabric with this cavalier approach. I say ‘ruined’ because I don’t really view it as such, given that this approach is more close to my reality than if I pre-treated per suggested methods that don’t match what I would ever do in the future....
Also, I don’t pre-treat some fabrics (coat-weight wool for instance). For things like that, where the fabric properties are unlikely to change, I’m too tight to pay for drycleaning before and after sewing. Instead, I prefer to get it drycleaned just after the sewing is finished (and before I wear the garment).