We’ve all been there, bought that new garment home from the shops and thought to ourselves “is it really necessary to pre-wash this, I really want to wear it now!” And if you’re like me that applies to your fabric purchases, brand new fabric I want to cut and sew straight away but always remind myself pre-washing is an absolute must – and I will share with you why.
First up – when you buy new fabric and you wash it for the first time, it shrinks a little bit. If you are pre-washing fabric it is super important you follow the care instructions for the fabric, but also to wash it exactly how you will wash the garment. For this reason I occasionally pre-wash silks for some clients as I know they will wash the outfit. When I prewash for clients I do not use any detergent to avoid any skin allergies or unwanted smells and I always prewash cold – as I recommend cold wash for all regular washing (it’s better for the environment and will save you money too!)
But back to the pre-shrinking. Some fabrics can shrink as much as 10% – which can be the difference between something fitting and not fitting! The last thing you want is your new make to shrink to unwearable after the first wash!
Next up is making sure you don’t get any colour runs. This is especially important for bold and bright colours like reds, blues and blacks. You definitely don’t want your new make to be the item that ruins the rest of your wardrobe. Generally a good pre-wash does the trick but sometimes you might need the added help of a colour catcher sheet which you should be able to pick up at your local grocery store. They’ve definitely surprised me in how much dye has come out of new fabrics. This is also relevant for new clothes! You don’t want the dye from your new red shirt to rub off onto your favourite white bra (been there done that!) or your jeans to leave blue dye marks on your legs because you didn’t prewash them (also guilty).
Another very important reason to pre-wash is to wash out any excess chemicals in the fabric or garment. Fabrics and clothes are treated with chemicals to give them shine, prevent wrinkling and look more vibrant prior to purchase. It is especially important to wash these out if you have sensitive skin, but a good practice to get into anyway.
Somethings to note is that some of the chemicals applied to the fabrics help them to stay crisp and flat for production, making cutting and sewing easier. Most fashion brands do not pre-wash for this reason and a couple of others, including the cost and logistics of washing bolts and bolts of fabric!
You may not want to pre-wash fabrics such as wools and silk or if you are making an item that will not be washed, then there isn’t a need to either (ie a tote bag, zippered pouch or maybe a silk camisole).
My top tips for pre-washing are:
1. Wash it according to the care instructions but also how you would normally wash the garment – there is no need for detergent though as we are mostly talking shrinkage and rinsing of chemicals and dyes
2. Use a colour catcher and wash similar colours together – especially for darks, lights or bright bold colours.
3. If the fabric will fray easily, consider finishing the edge of it to stop it coming undone in the wash
4. Dry the fabric as you would the garment (ie line dry or tumble dry being sure to follow the care instructions of course!)