Get set - Fabric Prep

One of the most common questions quilters ask is:  "Do you pre-wash your fabrics?"

My answer:  A resounding Yes!!! 

Fabric straight off the bolt is full of chemicals!  Ask anyone who works in a quilt or fabric store all day what their hands smell and feel like at the end of the day and most likely you'll get an earful and a wrinkled up nose! 

I like to wash my fabrics for several reasons:

  • First, to rid them of the aforementioned chemicals and stink. 
  • Second, to make sure that I discover any over-dyed fabrics that may bleed before I put them in a quilt (and not after!).
  • Third, if the fabrics shrink, I'd rather have them shrink now then after quilting and washing.  I prefer my fabrics to lay flat in my quilts and not have the "puckered" look. 
  • Last, but not least - I like to starch my fabrics and it's just not a good idea to add starch on top of existing sizing and lord knows what else.

When I started quilting, I had the good fortune of taking workshops with some award winning quilters.  Truthfully, I never did complete any of the projects, but my main purpose was to learn their techniques and tips for making their amazing blue-ribbon quilts.

It was from Elsie M. Campbell, that I learned that one of the secrets to precision cutting and sewing started with starching your fabric!  Working with starched fabric is more like working with a crisp piece of scrapbooking paper.  It's easier to cut, line up and handle.  You can create a sharp crease with just your finger and bias edges don't stretch as easily.

So here's how I do it:

I wash my fabrics (like colors together) in the washing machine with (yes!) my regular laundry detergent.  You don't need much.  Then I let them air dry.  I happen to have a 2nd floor bannister that I drape them over.  Less wrinkles that way!  (Everyone in the house knows when Mom is starting a new quilt!)

I purchased a clean empty spray bottle and a bottle of liquid starch from the grocery store.  I like a mixture of approx. 60% water/ 40% starch - but you can play with the ratio that's right for you.  You can make marks on the bottle so you know how much to add of each.  We have well water, so I like to use purchased distilled water.  That way there is no chance of rust in the water.

I lay an old sheet over the ironong surface to catch the overspray.  You may want to put something on the floor also.  Then I place the fabric, wrong side up on the ironing surface and spray my mixture evenly across all of the fabric, section at a time.  Then I fold it wrong sides together and smooth it so that the starch gets evenly distributed.  Then I let it dry. 

Next step:  Iron the fabric.  Ideally, I try to iron before it becomes completely dry - but it doesn't really matter.  I iron the fabric on the right side.  Generally, if the fabric is almost (or all) dry - I get very little, if any, residue on my iron.  However, be sure to check your iron from time to time and carefully clean off the residue if necessary.  If the fabric has completely dried, I will use steam to make it easier.

The fabric will be stiff and may shrink up a little.  You may want to iron again with a dry iron just before cutting. 

Elsie had also recommended not starching more than you needed because of the possibility of attracting bugs while the fabric was stored.  I have followed her advice on this and not have had any problems, even with leftover starched fabric.   This may depend heavily on where you live or how/where you store your fabrics.  

Not sure?  Give it a try with a fat quarter or two. 

If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to contact me at


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