Monday, August 29, 2011

Pretreating Fabric

Another sewing post.  How predictable of me!  So this covers the ever elusive "can I wash it" question we all ask about our home sewn garments.  The answer is, did you wash the fabric before you sewed?

The answer to that question makes a huge difference in whether or not you can wash the finished garment.  Fabric sold off the bolt isn't like fabric sold as a shirt or a skirt or a towel.  It comes pretty much straight from the mill as is.  So, if it is a bright color or a cotton, you can imagine what could happen!  Also, there are sometimes waxes, chemicals, or other things in the fabric either naturally occurring in the fibers or that are used during manufacture.  Also, it has not been pre shrunk.  This is really the biggie.  Fabrics can shrink more in one direction than the other leaving you with a warped garment.  Needless to say, this is bad.

Of course there are other considerations to make as well.  Does the fabric pill, shed, fray, or do something else totally undesirable in the wash?  (Note: you can find out whether it exhibits this undesirable behavior before you put in the effort of making something awesome if you wash the fabric first.)  You may want to think twice before washing it if the fabric is very delicate or proned to fraying.  If you bind the edges with a serger or if you enclose them in a french seam, that can help, but it may not keep very frazzled fabrics in check forever.  Delicate fabrics may handle hand washing, but just like certain bras and panties, etc in our lives, some stuff just doesn't go in the wash.  Period!  Also, some fabric types should never be washed, like leather.  Some can be washed but with care, and not dried in a dryer, such as wool blends or cotton if you are worried about shrinkage.

Another thing to think about is thread choice.  If you are sewing on silk, use silk thread, not cotton.  You want the thread to behave the same way as the fabric will during washings and other treatments (for example if you want to dye the item later).

Another note: The care instructions on the bolt are helpful, but even more so is the fiber content.  Sometimes, as with ready to wear garments, the manufacturers err on the side of caution and say you cannot wash something totally washable.  My favorite example is polyester satin.  It is TOTALLY washable and I have done so many times.  But if you told someone that their fancy evening dress was washable, they would look at you funny.  I even machine washed a wedding dress once.  Came out JUST FINE!!!  So, instead of trusting the label, trust your knowledge of how fibers behave.  A quick google search can do wonders if you are unsure.

Generally speaking, machine sewing a garment makes it sturdy enough to withstand the washer, so most handmade stuff will fare just fine.  The stitching will usually hold up great (although with extended wear it will need repairs just as any ready to wear clothes would), assuming you don't use a super long stitch length! :-)

Bottom line:  If you prewash/dry all your fabric as you plan to treat the finished garment, you should be okay.  If you are using something with a dark pigment, a fabric you worry will shrink, or something with a strong chemical smell or feel to it, feel free to wash it twice.  It will only protect your final product!

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