Pre-Washing Your Fabrics? Just Simply Don't.

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I've debated for a long time whether or not to write this post.  I know it's against the grain and can potentially upset a few people.  But, when I started Fresh Press Patterns, I promised myself I'd share all that I know of the fashion industry and it's production process with any home sewing creative that wished to read my story.

And, guess what?  There is no pre-washing of fabrics in the fashion industry.  Zero, none, nada.  Allow me to explain....

My very first job in the fashion industry was Quality Assurance.  One of my "glamorous" job tasks was to test fabrics.  During the design process of the new collection, as the pattern makers were developing patterns from the designer sketches, my job was to test the new fabrics of the season for shrinkage, piling and crocking (dye coming off the fabric with rubbing/friction).  

I would cut 1mx1m squares, sew a 50cmx50cm crosshairs in the centre of the fabric, march  to the other end of the building where all the pressing took place and subjected my sample to some impressive heat.  Then, I'd let my samples rest before I took measurements of the crosshairs and calculated the percentage of shrinkage for width and length.  This information was passed onto the pattern makers who would them increase the pattern width or length to accommodate the shrinkage.  For example, if a particular fabric shrunk 4% in length, they added 4% to the hem of the garment.  

Yes, I know what you're think, "I don't want to do these calculations and make adjustments on my home patterns Joanna!" And I hear you!

Lets talk about shrinkage then.  Keep in mind, I am speaking from my personal experience and observation and not scientific data.

From what I've learned over the years is that shrinkage, or rather over stretching of the fabric (sounds counter intuitive, doesn't it?), for the most part, is caused by human handling.  It occurs when the fabric is moved off production and is rolled onto bolts for transportation.  Some of these bolts can have upwards of 50 meters of fabric on them. Sometimes more.  If the fabric is rolled too tightly onto the bolt, the second that fabric receives heat and steam, it will "relax" back to it's original form...and that's what we call shrinkage.

Some of the worst shrinkage occurs in fabrics that already have stretch in them.  They're trickier to handle thus more likely to be over stretched.

So how do you get rid of shrinkage without pre-washing the fabric or adjusting the patterns?  

Crank up the heat!  That's right...all you need is your iron.  I like to crank the heat on mine, turn on the steam (but not too much steam) and lay my fabric out, single layer, on the pressing board.  Then, hovering the iron oh so close to the fabric, I let the steam and the heat do its' thing.  If it's a natural fibre, I lightly glide the iron over the fabric.  It I'm working with a synthetic, I hover very closely to the fabric but try not to touch it as the high heat can melt the fabric.  And voila! Once you've worked your way through the entire piece, let the fabric rest/cool on a flat surface and you're ready to cut!

I hope you try it and if you do I'd like to hear about it.  I promise you, it will free up your time and get you sewing faster.  And after all, isn't that the ultimate goal?

Happy sewing!




  • I don’t usually comment on blogs but just wanted to add my experiences of pre-washing or not. Like the other sewists who have commented I wash most fabric to allow for shrinkage, change in hand and cleanliness/dye removal but occasionally I will steam a smaller piece of fabric. I don’t want to take the gamble of calculating shrinkage for each fabric and potentially waste my money, time and effort creating a garment that changes after washing. I think many people are dissapointed in a purchased garment after they have washed it. Shrinkage and change of hand can change a garment immensely and I resent paying good money for a garment that is in effect “false advertising”. I once bought an expensive dress that I wore once to a wedding, washed as directed, then couldn’t wear again due to shrinkage. Other times I have bought a garment that turns into a limp rag that needs starched to look anything like it did in the shop. I will continue to pre-wash and I wish the garment industry would do more to ensure the products they produce are fit for purpose.

  • Hello, found your site via Pattern Review this morning and enjoying visiting. I’m with Pam and in the prewash camp. I’m a weaver and a handwoven isn’t considered finished until it’s wet finished. And while commercial fabrics have been thru lots of water and steam, as you point out it’s how they’re handled later. Besides dirt, poop and excess dyes I also want to see the hand of that fabric; especially sized fabrics- it may be so limp after washing that it’s better suited to handkerchiefs than a shirt. While it takes extra time I want my time sewing a garment to be rewarded in the end with something to wear with pleasure and conservation of resources is important too so I don’t want to be adding something to the rag bin just because I didn’t do my preps.

    Liese Sadler
  • It is scary to not pre-wash, I will experiment with steaming my next t-shirt fabric. I bought some wonderful fabric in Paris and did pre-wash it – it shrank from 100cm to 75cm. I’m not sure I have the knowledge to adjust my pattern to allow for this amount of shrinkage.

  • Interesting viewpoint. There’ve been many times I wished I could just use my fabrics. Especially knits. In fact I recently read a blog post where the writer said she doesn’t prewash her knits, just calculates for shrinkage., I tried it this summer with some linen knit. Made a simple top with cut on cap sleeves, cut it purposely a bit too long, and ended up with something I could hardly tuck into my highwaisted skirt….. So now I’m back to normal, pre-washing everything including woven wool:). I want to be able to wash my clothes if necessary.

  • OTOH….I’ve worked in various positions in the textile and garment industry for over 45 years, and have had jobs from pulling fabric out of dingy warehouses, or rolls that have been laying piled on top of one another for years at a Jobber’s cramped district space, to designing/sewing dozens of $400 shirts each week in my own shop, using the most pristine bespoke fabrics. And I pre-wash. For 3 reasons, shrinkage being of lesser importance. I pre-wash to get any unseen dirt, pulverized mouse poop dust, stinky sizing, and excess dye out of the fabric before I work with it. Wearing rubber gloves to keep excess indigo from turning my hands (and cutting table, and machine bed) blue is not my idea of enjoyable sewing. Usually I just rinse and dry. For wool…I tumble the yardage in my dryer with a few old hot damp towels for 15-20 minutes—steaming the yardage thoroughly. Both processes are faster (for me) than steaming yards of fabric with a hovering iron, and at the same time leaves any dirt, dust and other potential “invisible uglies” down the drain or in the lint trap. The last reason is that water often changes the hand of textiles, and after my rinse/dry I know what my garment will look like after laundering and even if the fabric is well-suited for the garment I plan to make from it . ~This is just one 60+ year old woman’s experience/opinion… no disrespect intended, we all do what works for us.~


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