Beth Markel

To Pre-wash or not to pre-wash…that is the question

Posted on January 13, 2014 by Beth Markel

So, pre-washing… I’ve talked to quilters over the years and there are 2 schools of thought on pre-washing your fabric.  I pre-wash all fabrics that are introduced to their play-mates in my sewing room.  These fabrics are going to be life-long friends, so it’s important they get off on the right foot.  My very first quilt had hot-pink batik backing that bled through to the front white & green, which eventually I thought was quite lovely, but was definitely not in the original plan.  The funny thing about it is that I had pre-washed the pink backing.  Numerous times, in fact, since it was my first quilt and I didn’t actually know anything about batiks.  At that point I was just dutifully following my quilting teacher’s instructions.

School of thought – if you pre-wash you won’t have bleeding into other fabrics when you have a finished quilt.  In my case, the pink batik bled through anyway.  I have since discovered color fixatives.  Retayne for commercial fabrics and Synthropol for hand/tub dyed fabrics.

I also know numerous quilters who don’t pre-wash ANYTHING!  Nothing.  Not even blacks, browns, dark red (reds are notorious runners), dark greens, or dark blues.  First, some believe that because they are making art, the piece will never get washed, therefore the colors will never have a chance to run.  Others believe that once a piece is together, whether for the wall or for the bed, washing will make all the colors fade “evenly” and give it a ‘time-worn’ quality.  I’ve seen this practice turn really beautiful quilts into rather unremarkable pieces, as red spreads to gold and white, making them a pinkish hue, a little like throwing a red shirt in with all your whites and coming out with all-pink underwear.  I hate it when that happens!  And yes, I think it happens to everybody at some point.

School of thought – no need to pre-wash anything – everything will fade & shrink at the same time.

One of the primary reasons I pre-wash everything, is that so when I’m putting colors together, or making design decisions, then the colors I see will also be the colors in the final piece.  There are times when I want colors to fade into one another, blurring the lines or shapes of a piece.  There are other times, more often for me, that when I make a design decision, I want THOSE colors or THAT color in a specific place, for a specific reason.  I love the way a black or brown really grounds a piece, and the way white, bright yellow, or warm gold lifts a piece.  I love the way turquoise speaks politely to black, and black responds just as politely.  I love the way royal blue is opposite of tangerine on the color wheel, but I also love how they play nicely together, and when done correctly, they don’t yell at each other either.  Yelling fabrics tire the eyes.  Explore your preferences, and be open to trying or “auditioning” colors when working.  Good things will happen.

This is a piece that went through dozens and dozens of iterations, or fabric auditions, before I found the color combinations that were most pleasing to me.  In the end, I like it very much.

Riff on a Bull's Eye


Words from the word-herding this week include:

Transition                 power                        goals                          ideas              Bold

lovely                         lonely                         sad                             Quiet            extreme

people                       durable                     Forward                    history           calm

love                            Coffee                        lavender                   cerulean        azure

Luxury                       done                          golden                       precision       kite

Human element      survivor                    joyful                         angel              Live

Happy sewing and find inspiration every day!

Beth <(((><



Thea McCurry on March 23, 2014

thank You for the inspiration!

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