When I was 14, I fell in love with the weirdest fabric. Kind of a psychedelic black and white checkerboard. Something awesome! 😁 I hastened to buy some. Then I made myself a nice pair of wide pants. Which I proudly wore. And I obviously ended up washing it ...
And it lost 2 inches in length. 😱
If you don't want what happened to 14-year-old-me, to happen to you, keep on reading.
Because, you can't just buy a fabric, go home and cut in it. Well, you can, but chances are that you'll have bad surprises eventually…
So, how (and why) do we prepare your fabric before sewing it?
In general, the best way to prepare your fabric is to wash it.
Small note: There are some exceptions. I will come back to that.
The main reasons to wash your fabric before starting your project :
📌 It's better to loosen up your warp thread before starting to work with your fabric.
Most fabrics are created on a loom, right? On this loom, you have the warp thread and the weft thread. The warp thread (your grainline) is the thread installed on the loom. And it's super stretched out. The weft thread passes from one side to the other (in a shuttle) crossing the warp threads.
Your store bought fabric is larger ... but the principle is the same ...
📌 There are also some fibers which tend to shrink when washed. Cotton is the most intense. And the first wash is always the worst.
That's why we do a first wash to start with.
In my pants story, I hadn't washed my fabric (apparently I was in too much of a hurry to wear my new weird fabric). It was made in cotton. And that's why I lost so much leg length after washing.
📌 And then, you also got the fabric's finishes. Products put on fabrics to keep them beautiful on the shelves (a bit like waxes on fruit at the grocery store...). This is the case with poly-cottons (or permapress). You know, the cheap fabric (like $ 2.50), offered in a rainbow of colors… There's a finish on that. Once washed, the fabric softens a bit.
If you want the real fabric's texture, it's better to wash it first hand.
📌 Finally, there's also the question of color. Especially for bright or really dark dyes. It's always best to let your fabric shed its excess dye during a first wash, to make sure it won't stain… on your fingers, in your machine, on the other clothes that will share space with it in the washer or your drawers.
Personally, if possible, I run my fabric in the washer AND dryer. This way, I know I made it shrink as small as possible (because heat often makes fibers shrink). And that's also because I don't like letting fabrics air dry. It takes too long, and I'm lazy ...
There are always a few exceptions :
📌 Be careful, there are some fabrics you don't want to put in the dryer, though. This is the case with wool, silk, and other delicate stuff. Those fibers are just capricious and demand a more delicate wash, and usually no dryer at all.
📌 And then there are also some fabrics that have finishes or coatings, which you don't want to lose… This is the case with taffeta. If you wash your taffeta, it will get super soft (and that's rarely the goal when using taffeta).
A little trick: wash your fabric as you would wash your garment ...
If you're buying denim, you're probably going to make pants (or something pretty casual ) that will end up in the wash regularly. Put it all in the washer and dryer.
On the other hand, if we come back to taffeta, chances are that you plan to do something more fancy that you would send to the cleaner
"But what if I can't wash my fabric?"
You can just iron your fabric well with steam.
The main thing to remember is that your washer and dryer can alter your fabric. So, you might as well alter it before working with it, so you'll avoid any unpleasant surprises.
When in doubt, you can always put a piece of your fabric in the washer to check out how it will come out (buy a little 20cm more to make some tests).
To finish my story of psychedelic pants ... I made a kind of fake cuff in black fabric to add the missing lenght, and I was able to wear my pants for a very long time (much to the despair of my father, who thought I wore funny stuff when I was a teenager…).Remember to prepare your fabric well the next time you do a project. And then, if you have a bad surprise, remember my black and white checkered pants and tell yourself that there must be something you can do to fix your mistake.
while waiting… Keep on crafting!