Quilt Process: To Wash or Not to Wash, that is the question

Before I get to my next step in my quilting process – the cutting, I thought I would take a moment and deal with the question of Washing your fabric or not.

Now I know I am about to open a can of worms here because some people feel so strongly about this issue – almost as much as pressing seams open or to the side (different post).

I will be up front here, I am not an expert on this topic.  But I would like to share with you what I have learned.


  • Unfortunately some fabrics bleed – reds, purples and some of those amazing BRIGHT colors.  It is better to wash these a head of time so they don’t bleed on your other fabrics once your quilt top is complete.
  • Some fabric isn’t “clean” when it leaves the store.  We’ve all been to those fabric stores that make you feel like you need to scrub your hands because of all the dust in their locations.  If that is how your hands feel after 30 minutes how do you think the fabric feels after being in there for days, weeks, months…..
  • Cotton fabrics shrink.  It is just the facts of life, cotton shrinks.  We spend so much time putting the quilt top together that it would be dreadful to have spent all that time and then have problems once it has been washed.  So it is best to wash it before hand so that it won’t shrink on you once you finished your top.
  • Some cottons are poor quality.  It is true that not all cotton is created equal.  Some manufactures take time to create a wonderful product, others aren’t interested in that.  If you are working with a poor quality fabric, wash your fabric to check the shrinkage – that fabric will shrink more than the others.
If you plan to wash your fabric before hand, purchase a little bit more than you need because you will have shrinkage and lose some of the yardage you need.  Been there, done that, have the incomplete project due to shortage of yardage. 


  • Some fabrics you just can’t wash – precuts.  Precuts cannot be washed, they are cut to a specific size and if you wash them then you will lose that size .  Then you will not be able to use them in the pattern that calls for that pre cut ie a jelly roll quilt.
  • Some fabrics are clean when they leave.  Some fabrics are kept clean when they are in clean stores.  They are moved regularly and dusted to keep them “cleaner”.
  • Some people don’t like working with washed fabric.  There are some quilters I know who prefer working with unwashed fabric because it has a “stiffness” to it and it is easier to piece with.
  • Function of the project.  If you are making a quilt for a baby that is probably going to be washed more than your best t-shirt, WASH YOUR FABRIC.  If you are making a hand embroidered wall hanging that will stay on the wall – then I am inclined not to wash the fabric.

These are the reasons I have learned to either wash or not wash my fabric.



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