Prewash quilt fabric or not? Jo Morton has the answer

It’s a question every quilter’s come across on their quiltmaking journey: to prewash fabric or not? Sometimes when you buy the perfect fabric and own the perfect pattern for said fabric, it’s hard to get home and then be patient. Going through the prewashing process before commencing cutting can feel like it takes forever!

Best-selling author Jo Morton votes “Yes!” when it comes to prewashing fabric. But what are the benefits? Today we’re sharing an excerpt from Jo’s latest book, Jo’s Little Favorites III, that just might convince you that it’s best to launder your fabrics before the real fun begins. Read on for Jo’s pretested prewash process.

Jo MortonJo’s Tips for Prewashing Fabric

“Many people ask me if I prewash my fabrics. Yes, I do prewash them all, for several reasons. Whether I’m sewing by hand or machine, I prefer the way prewashed fabric handles during the process of piecing or appliquéing. The fabric weave tightens up during the washing and drying process and not only makes it easier to handle, but also makes it less likely to ravel. Prewashing gets rid of any chemicals used in the finishing process. I generally don’t work with precut fabrics; if you do, you probably shouldn’t prewash those.

When I wash a fabric, I don’t just rinse it out in the sink to see if it bleeds. I wash the fabric with my regular laundry soap, using the gentle wash cycle and cold water. I run it through the entire cycle and then place it in the dryer on the permanent press setting until it’s almost dry. Overdrying fabric may set in wrinkles. As soon as I take fabric out of the dryer, I fold it and place it on the shelf. I press the fabric when I’m ready to cut it for a project.”

You’ll find lots more of Jo’s quiltmaking tips and tricks in Jo’s Little Favorites III, along with 16 stunning small quilt patterns—which one would you make first?

Tic-Tac-Toe quilt
Perhaps you’ll start with a little game of Tic-Tac-Toe?

Blueberry Muffins quilt
Or maybe you’ll bake up this little Blueberry Muffins quilt.

Basket Parade quilt
How about appliquéing a beautiful Basket Parade?

Star Shine quilt
Of course, stars never go out of style!

See more from Jo’s Little Favorites III here.

What do you think about prewashing: yay or no way? Tell us in the comments!

Browse more books from Jo:

Jo's Little Favorites Jo's Little Favorites II Jo's Floral Album Simple Friendships with Kim Diehl

78 Comments (leave a comment)

  • I always prewash the fabrics and treat batiks with strong colors with retayne.

    —Cheri on July 20, 2018
  • I was taught to prewar he which I did faithfully. Then I was told it wasn’t necessary, so I stopped prewashing. Lately I have started prewashing again because I like the feel of sewing with prewashed fabric and getting rid if the chemicals.

    —Carolyn on July 20, 2018
  • I guess it all comes down to personal preference. I like the ease of working with fabric right off the bolt – I find the sizing and finish from the manufacturing process gives it a bit of body that makes piecing easier (for me, anyway) and I love the crinkle you get when a quilt shrinks up after that first washing. It works for me – though I can appreciate the pre-wash advice.

    —Regina Arlauckas on July 20, 2018
  • I always prewash my fabric. The thing I do differently is I use the hot water setting on my washing machine.

    Sandy on July 20, 2018
  • I don’t generally prewash. I think I’ll try it on my next project to see which I like better.

    —Janet G on July 20, 2018
  • I prewash everything. I also want to get rid of all chemicals and see how the fabric is going to act. I do usually prewash in warm water and sometimes in hot water, as I don’t know how my quilts will be washed after given away. If I think there is any chance of fading, I will use Retayne and soak the fabric in hot water for at least 1 hour, then run through the wash cycle, then wash on a regular cycle with a color catcher. I don’t want any surprises.

    —Jacklyn on July 20, 2018
  • I try to wash the fabric before beginning a project. . . there have been a couple of times I did not and I have had some rather unhappy surprises with colors bleeding and the whole texture of the fabric changing after I finished the project and then washed it. Love, love, love this new book of Jo Morton’s!

    —Celene on July 20, 2018
  • I wash all my fabrics when I first get them home before I store them. I hand quilt and the fabric is easier to quilt when washed. I also hope that my quilts will make it way into the future and I don’t want them ruined after they are made by washing them. The first thing I do after one is quilted is to gently wash the finished quilt. It sinks the stitches in and makes them look prettier.

    I don’t use pre-cuts much because if I add fabric to it they are usually washed. I do make up pre-cuts from my left overs. I love Jo’s little quilts and I love her use of color.

    —Phyllis K Menefee on July 20, 2018
  • I wash yardage but lately have been using mostly precuts, which of course can’t be washed. I love anything Jo makes so this book is a must have.

    —debby setlock on July 20, 2018
  • Always. Even precuts. I have seen quilts ruined by colors that ran and it is just not worth it. I would add to Jo’s tips above that I also use a color sheet at least once when pre-washing and if it picks up a lot of color, more than once.

    —cyndy on July 20, 2018
  • My favorite is the star quilt. It is just so appealing. Would love to win her new book. Thanks.

    —Ann West on July 20, 2018
  • I just realized I didn’t answer the question correctly – not enough coffee yet. I try to prewash my fabric but I am not always that good.

    —Ann West on July 20, 2018
  • Yes, definitely. For all the reasons Jo gives. Also, besides the chemicals used in making the fabric, just think of the bolts being exposed to who knows what during the warehousing and shipping. Yuck! I like to work with clean fabrics.

    —Glenna Denman on July 20, 2018
  • I alwyays pre wash just as Jo does. I will try the permanet press dryer cycle however. Happy to know I am in good company.

    —Diana Johnston on July 20, 2018
  • I prewash my fabric. I serge the edges so it does not ravel in the wash.

    —beth d. on July 20, 2018
  • I always prewash. Perhaps old school because fabrics these days are quality, but takes care of some shrinking and bleeding. As Jo said, be careful not to overdry.

    CARLA ELLIOTT on July 20, 2018
  • Yes, I always pre-wash my fabric. It’s a holdover from my garment-sewing days.

    —bookboxer on July 20, 2018
  • Yes I’m a washer. For many of the same reasons that Jo stated. I learned through experience that it tightens up the weave so when I’m sewing I don’t get the fraying on my pieces when handling them. I’m sensitive to the chemical smells in fabric off the bolt, I’m sometimes bothered by that smell in fabric stores. So I wash and iron and starch and I’m good to go.

    —Rita Nichols on July 20, 2018
  • I agree completely with Jo. That’s exactly what I do! In addition, before I prewash, I clip the corners of the fabric. It helps reduce the "strings" produced in the wash. Plus it helps me be sure that I’ve prewashed a fabric.

    —Marcia on July 20, 2018
  • I totally agree with Jo. I see many quilters who do not pre-wash any of their fabric. But I have always made it a practice to pre-wash mine. Reds especially tend to bleed even after washing. I don’t want to do all that work and have the quilt ruined by wandering dye. And I love Tic-Tac-Toe 🙂

    Jocelyn on July 20, 2018
  • When I took my first quilting class 25 years ago, the trend was to prewash your fabrics. I would cut a little corner off one end of the fabric and toss it into the washer/dryer. I knew when I pulled fabric for a project that if a corner was missing it had been washed. As the years progressed, I think the manufacturing process of fabric also progressed, especially with regard to bleeding, and I no longer prewash my fabrics. That being said, if it helps control the fraying or raveling of the fabric, I might have to return to prewashing.

    —Fran Bianchi on July 20, 2018
  • After reading several viewpoints on prewash or not, I no longer prewash for quilting. I do prewash for clothing.

    —Susan MacLeod on July 20, 2018
  • I always prewash my fabrics, they handle better, and there are no surprises later!

    —Debbie Clayton on July 20, 2018
  • I once hadn’t prewashed blue fabric and when washed, my whole work was damaged and I had to throw it in the garbage bin. Never again!
    Yours sincerely quiltfru (Birgitt)

    Birgitt v. Dewitz on July 20, 2018
  • Oh the joys of haveing fabric run as your press….I now pre-wash all fabrics, do more of that then laundry som week, and sew well worth time and energies to have a safe quilt.
    Can’t wait to get your book and have sew much fun.

    —Joanne on July 20, 2018
  • I prefer to prewash my fabric before cutting out the block pieces. This eliminates excess dye as well as uneven shrinkage between different fabrics.

    —Beverly Kinney on July 20, 2018
  • Other than pre-cuts, I always wash my fabrics before using.

    —Diana DeWitt on July 20, 2018
  • I do not prewash. Some manufacturers include a slip of paper included with some bolts of fabric indicate it is not necessary to prewash.

    Kristie on July 20, 2018
  • I always prewash fabrics – even charm squares and layer cakes. I want to work with fresh, clean fabric.

    —Janet on July 20, 2018
  • I used to wash my fabrics but usually do not anymore.

    —Peggy on July 20, 2018
  • Four reasons Why I do NOT prewash: 1. I rarely make a quilt which will be used as bedding, so no worry about uneven shrinkage, 2. I like the feel of off the bolt fabric, 3. I dry my washing on a clothesline so dealing with a so-wrinkled fabric piece is extra work, and 4. most important, the machine washing process leads to badly frayed edges and I end up loosing a lot of fabric.

    —linda Klug on July 20, 2018
  • Other than pre-cuts, which I don’t wash, everything goes in the washing machine and dryer, just like Jo does it. I’ve been burned too many times by colors that run, even with premium fabrics.

    —Barbara K on July 20, 2018
  • I agree with every single thing Jo Morton said about prewashing, including her comment about precuts. I’ve used precuts twice—a jelly roll and a 10” layer cake—and was very unhappy with the results. The jelly roll quilt shrank in unattractive ways and the quilt with layer cake fabrics bled. No more precuts for me. And no matter how eager I am to start a project, I take the time to prewash my fabric.

    —Bette on July 20, 2018
  • Always unless precut.

    —Elese on July 20, 2018
  • All it takes is one time of fabric fading on your hard work project to convince you to prewash! Even a few drops of something on your finished project and the bleeding begins!

    —Deborah Fields on July 20, 2018
  • I ALWAYS preshrink my fabric! Had some cranberry colored fabric from a Top manufacturer that never stopped bleeding. Had I not prewashed, I would have ruined the finished product…
    Also, I am highly allergic to the fabric sizing.
    I wash as soon as I bring home, fold right out of the dryer, so it is ready to go when I am😍😗

    —Chrisi on July 20, 2018
  • since I make donation quilts for babies, I usually do prewash the fabrics…especially if I’m using red. I have fallen in love with color catcher sheets used in the wash cycle. If I have to wash a pre-cut…it’s washed gently by hand only to prevent raveling and fraying.

    —Teri N on July 20, 2018
  • I have never preached quilt fabrics but perhaps I should try. There are some really good points that No brought to my attention.

    —Lynne Marsh on July 20, 2018
  • I wash all of my fabrics now after finding out the chemicals were literally chewing up my hands. They were like raw meat. Not any more, back to washing all of the fabrics.

    kathy on July 20, 2018
  • I ALWAYS wash before it goes into my studio!! Even when I do that every now and again something happens. I recently made a Farmers Wife quilt with red, white black and grey. Fortunately I caught the red while making the blocks.. because it colour ran when I was doing the Steam Press.. I accidentally put to much water on three blocks and I let them sit on my ironing board to dry before putting them onto the design wall. I could not believe my eyes when I picked them up!!! I threw the fabric OUT!! I also put multiple colour catchers in the first wash!!!
    A couple Years ago I had trouble to but that time it was a FINISHED Dress! It was costly because it was for a friend. Grrr..
    For kits (I have finished several Row by row’s) I keep a set of Fabric bags just to put pieces in to wash. I have small and large sizes. Remove fabric when putting it into the dryer. Press if necessary when it comes out of the dryer. kits I always ck the fabrics are there that are indicated and size… If they are numbered fabrics I use a marker and Notate in the a corner seam allowance at that time….

    —Dorothy Holt on July 20, 2018
  • I think it is a matter of personal preference. Me I like the crisp feeling of the fabric. If the fabric has a "funny smell", yeah it gets washed. Smaller finished quilts will get washed, I like the way they puff up. It really depends on the person.

    —Sue Dague on July 20, 2018
  • I can never understand this argument, to me it seems simple, why risk having an accidental ‘colour run’ when it would be evident when pre-washing that there may be a problem with certain fabrics. I cannot see any reason why washing could present a problem, hence I always pre-wash.

    —Ann Ross-Smith on July 20, 2018
  • I’m guilty of not doing it all the time…especially with large amounts of yardage, but if possible I think it’s pribably better to prewash.

    —Pam on July 20, 2018
  • I’ve never prewashed but Jo’s comments made me rethink that.

    —Frances Claassens on July 20, 2018
  • I do not pre-wash my fabrics. Just not a process that I want to go through.

    —Renea Yarolim on July 20, 2018
  • I was a non-prewasher, because I like the "crinkly" look of the quilt after it’s been quilted and laundered. But I think Jo has changed my mind to her way of doing things; she presents her points very well! And I LOVE her quilts! And I DO use pre-cuts, so I will continue to not wash those.

    —Teri Gailey on July 20, 2018
  • I prewash all my fat eighths, fat quarters and yardage. I am allergic the sizing and some of the chemicals in the unwashed fabric, and being in a room with lots of unwashed fabric will eventually make me ill. Quilting is too much fun to be sick!

    Yes, my F8s and FQs are smaller after washing – oh well. I like scrap quilts and the shrinkage doesn’t matter for those.

    I wash like colors together, just in case something bleeds. And I read somewhere that putting over 5 yards in the dryer increased wrinkling. So I dry in smaller loads for about 15 or 20 minutes. Everything gets folded to fit in the storage area, and I press when I’m ready to use the fabric.

    —Sally A Atkinson on July 20, 2018
  • I don’t usually prewash unless I think the fabric might bleed. I will
    re-evaluate this because of some of the stories I have read in the comments!!!
    Thanks for all the information!

    —Patty Fallon on July 20, 2018
  • I usually don’t prewash unless I think the fabric might bleed. After reading all the different stories in the comments and Jo’s advice…..I may just start pre-washing!!!

    —Patty Fallon on July 20, 2018
  • Yay AND nay — because I never know if the yardage will be paired with a precut selection – that would be a definite nay! If, however, I am putting together a project with all yardage then yay I would prewash, if I can be patient :D!

    —Becky Schultz on July 20, 2018
  • I never have prewashed. However most if my stash has been packed for almost two years. Thinking I will have to change my ways, and prewash all of it.

    —Mary on July 20, 2018
  • I always prewash my quilting fabric yardage, for the same reasons that Jo does. When I am ready to start a project, I also starch the fabric and then iron before cutting-more accurate cutting.

    —Pamela D Miller on July 20, 2018
  • I do not prewash unless I’m recycling fabric. I do not however doubt the benefits of prewashing. I may decide to do it in the future.

    —Juanita R. Decquir on July 20, 2018
  • Yes, always. I’m not necessarily worried about the dyes, although every once in a while I am surprised, I just want all of the factory chemicals, dirt and dust out of the fabric. As Jo stated, it does seem to be easier to sew on too.

    —Beth Miller on July 20, 2018
  • I prewash and sometimes serge raw ends to prevent raveling. I wash suspected colors separately.
    Would love to receive the new book!

    Shirley Deyoe on July 20, 2018
  • I prewash my fabric and line dry it. Ironing it before stashing it give me face time with t so it imprints on me. That sets it in my mind for when I might use it later.

    —Alexia Jandourek on July 20, 2018
  • When fabric comes to my house, I serge the edges, wash, put on a fun movie, and iron. When I take out a piece and I see the serging, I know it’s ready to go!. If a fabric is going to do anything nasty–bleed or shrink–I want it do that before I put all the effort of piecing a quilt!

    —Mindy W. on July 20, 2018
  • I never prewash quilting fabric. I don’t like the feel of limp prewashed fabric and do not want to have to stiffen it up with starch. I have been quilting and teaching since 1976 and have no regrets.

    —cherry glazer on July 20, 2018
  • After creating a lovely red and White House quilt for Christmas one year (started after 9 at night on a Saturday) then quilting it and washing to get that “aged look” it bled horribly, and never was totally white again…lots of pink shadows. I vowed to never bring anything into the house before it was washed, even fat quarters get dipped and dunked, then dried, just in case they bleed. Colour Catchers or white face cloths show how much dye is released in the washing process. Not a problem to fold neatly after drying, then I press before I cut. Learned my lesson early in my quilting journey!

    —Jill McCaughey on July 20, 2018
  • I never prewash quilting cottons. I will wash flannel to be used for backs (I read to wash them one time more than the other fabrics have been washed, due to flannel’s propensity for shrinkage). I wash finished quilts in cold water and throw in 2 or 3 color catchers.

    —gina on July 20, 2018
  • I always,always,always prewash! I have been surprised by ugly bleeding dyes in the past. Even things you think will never need washing might need it someday. Case in point, a small hanging bought at a quilt show became sooty from a fire and was ruined when it was washed.

    —Linda Towers on July 20, 2018
  • I don’t usually pre-wash my fabrics as I like the feel of the fabrics right off the bolt. Most of my quilts are shared with family along with complete washing instructions and color catcher sheets.

    —Laurie Devers on July 20, 2018
  • Yes, I prewash all fabric that is not precuts. I just like to know it won’t shrink, bleed or ruin a finished product.

    —Karen on July 21, 2018
  • I don’t usually prewash fabric, but I just bought 4 colors of fabric to make a quilt for my grandson. There is light gray, dark gray, black, and one is a bold red. I decided yesterday to wash them. I don’t want to chance on the dyes bleeding. I plan to starch prior to ironing. I learned from starching the fabric before a specific project I did that it significantly reduces raveling. I hate when the quilt top has a zillion raveled strings on the back!

    —Judy Chastain on July 21, 2018
  • I prewash everything from fat quarters on up. I also don’t iron until I need the fabric. I will try the permanent press setting next time. Thanks for the tips!

    —Laura on July 21, 2018
  • I always prewash. Before I had a washer and dryer, I soaked fabric in a large pan and then hung on a line on my front porch. Joy to behold! Used Retayne at times. Since I have washer and dryer, I use soak/gentle cycle in washer. Fabric then goes in dryer for short time. I fold slightly damp fabric with the selvedges (sp?) at the top and hang them using skirt hangers to finish drying. Then they go onto plastic clothes hangers or cardboard drapery hangers. Only those pieces of fabric smaller then a fat quarter get folded and stacked by color. I love seeing my fabrics at a glance while they are on hangers on a rod. And I will be honest here, it creeps me out to handle new fabric from the store or a yard sale or wherever, before washing it. When I wash it, before and/or after, I know it is clean to go to family and friend recipients…no chemicals, no one sneezed on it in the factory or shop, etc. Giving up the nice feel of some new fabrics for the piece of mind is worth it to me.

    —Marta on July 21, 2018
  • My favorites from the photos are the Blueberry Muffins and Pineapple. I picked blueberries this morning and yet, I rather sew some!!

    —Marta on July 21, 2018
  • I always pre-wash my fabrics. Sometimes fabric shrinks and I don’t want puckers in my finished product and pre-washing takes out the sizing and makes the material much easier to handle. And, if the fabric colours run, this takes care of that so my reds don’t make my whites pink. If I have small pieces of fabric, I put them into those mesh bags used for delicates, and they stay put and get washed with everything else and I don’t have to hunt for them.

    —Betsy on July 21, 2018
  • No, I do not prewash my fabric.

    —Betsy P. on July 21, 2018
  • I have questions myself and I do it, mainly for colors bleeding. After all your work and then it is ruined by colors running. The second thing is to be sure you want the backing not to shrink and have a wonky looking quilt.

    —Althea Klosterman on July 21, 2018
  • YES vote for prewashing.

    Wash with color catchers, fold neatly, and shelve. Iron with spray sizing when I’m ready to use the fabric – when ironing prior to shelving I end up ironing twice. Stained color catchers convince me there is good reason to prewash. Many times there is a fair amount of skewing after a fabric is washed and I prefer to straighten before use.

    If I know I’ll be using precuts with particular yardage, then the yardage is not prewashed. Using unwashed precuts with prewashed yardage does cause concern – hoping for the best is all I can do when that situation arises.

    —luvmylogcabins on July 21, 2018
  • I am a relatively new quilter. I have not previously prewashed my fabric, but after reading this article I will be washing fabric for my next project tomorrow. Thank you for the article and, also, thank you to everyone who provided such helpful comments.

    —Janet W from AR on July 21, 2018

    —irene on July 22, 2018
  • I don’t usually wash my fabric except when I am using red fabric.

    —Margaret Dalmer on July 22, 2018
  • I always prewash.

    —Cindy K on July 22, 2018
  • I do believe in prewashing fabrics! Always do!

    —Eleanor Kay Hunzinger on July 24, 2018
  • I do prewash…same as Jo; cold water wash with regular laundry detergent and tumble dry. I don’t believe it the hot water thing….of course your dyes will bleed when using that method!!

    —Nancy on August 3, 2018
  • I have learned, albeit the hard way, to prewash fabric, especially batiks, for any yardage over a "fat eighth". I use cold water in the machine (gentle cycle) and if I notice bleeding of the color during the first wash, I rise it again. Using color capture sheets in the wash cycle may help. I partially dry the fabric piece on the sweater rack of my dryer- this is much better than regular drying wher the fabric tumbles around in the dryer and there is added loss of yardage because of fraying of threads on the cut ends of the fabric piece. If you do not have a sweater rack attachment for your dryer, just hang dry the fabric on a hanger or rack. I iron the piece after spraying wth spray starch before hanging it on a hanger (pant hanger). My fabric is ready to use after this.

    —Patsy on February 18, 2022

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