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Mrs Bowden’s top tip – to wash or not to wash?

Mrs Bowden’s top tip – to wash or not to wash?

Mrs Bowden’s top tip – to wash or not to wash?   That really is the question.

Felixstowe Sewing School


To prewash or not to prewash……that is the question!
An extremely frequent question I get asked in my Dressmaking classes is ‘should I wash this fabric before I use it?’.

This is a ‘how long is a piece of string?’kind of question but I will attempt to offer some advice on the topic.

Pre-washing fabric prior to use is to prevent unexpected shrinkage or colour bleed once the product has been made up.  Some fabrics are more susceptible to this as follows (not an exhaustive list by any stretch).

Vintage cottons
Vintage linens and crepes (silk or wool)
Pure wool and wool mix
Fabrics with a very open weave – think of a Chanel jacket which are often wool/wool mixes
Fabrics that have been hand dyed and/or printedIf you are using these fabrics I would suggest you launder them in the manner you would were they a finished garment.  For example, denim would normally be washed in a machine, a silk dress would be hand washed or dry cleaned etc.
You also need to think about how you are going to care for the product once it is made.  For example, if you are making a bag with additional non-washable components; leather straps say, you may think that you will only sponge clean or take it to a Dry Cleaners for ‘washing’.  In which case it’s probably not necessary for you to pre-wash the fabric.
If you are going to make a garment or item that requires heavy machine washing it may be prudent for you to pre-wash it to avoid the disappointment of making it up then finding the product is ruined once it’s been through the washing machine.
I am presently working on a dress using an original piece of Marine blue  rayon crepe from the 1930s/40s. I haven’t pre-washed it as I will be taking it to the dry cleaners for laundering once complete.  However, I am also working on a pure wool coat and did take that fabric to the Dry Cleaners before cutting it to get it PRE-SHRUNK as it is a pure wool and prone to this kind of behaviour.  The cleaners put the length of fabric through the dry cleaning process for me and cutting commenced!
One of the delights of working with cloth is the pristine nature of it; crispness, clarity, no tangling threads at the edges, it makes accurate cutting more likely and the fabric is easier to work with and handle as it will have a much smoother,flatter surface.

By washing fabric you gain the knowledge of how it will behave but lose the quality of a new length of cloth.  It would be very unlikely for a new cotton poplin to shrink in the wash and indeed many fabric manufacturers state that their fabrics are colour fast and pre-shrunk so it’s worth checking this with the retailer.

I do hope this has helped.

in stitches,

Mrs Bowden x

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