Hey! Wash Where You’re Going!

Make Do and Mend — a New Generation
Canada Cups — Unwired Tour

To pre-wash or not to pre-wash? This question comes up almost daily in beginner sewing forums and chat groups. Everybody’s looking for a definitive answer that will close the case for good. So here I come to tell you: Wash where you’re going!

A good general rule of thumb is to do with it whatever it will go through in its lifetime. If it’s going to become a hobo bag that gets tossed in the laundry, wash it. If it’s going to get treated with Scotchguard and never ever come in contact with water, don’t prewash. If the garment is going to be dry cleaned, take the fabric to the cleaners. If you expect a teenager to wear it until it’s covered in grime and doodles then toss it in the trash, just go ahead and toss it in the trash… oh wait! No, I mean, maybe just pre-wash it because it will be the only time it gets washed.

But then you have all the exceptions…

Reasons to pre-wash:

  • Allergies and sensitivities, yours as you’re sewing, or the customer’s. The sizing (liquid treatment) they put on new fabrics can wreak havoc with some people’s sinuses and skin.
  • The ick factor. Where did the fabric come from? How was it stored? What else has been lying on it?
  • Colour transfer. Indigo denim will rub off on other clothes and furniture if it isn’t pre-washed thoroughly. So will some of the hand-dyed exotic fabric. (I once bought a cute little cross-body bag from some village artisans in Vietnam. I came home with every article of clothing stained with a diagonal green stripe across my chest.)
  • Preshrinking. It’s tragic indeed when you carefully make your garment or accessory, only to wear it once. Almost as cataclysmic as the time the new king-sized duvet cover became a queen.

Reasons not to pre-wash:

  • You need the sizing to keep the fabric from becoming a Slip’n’Slide. Sometimes your satiny soft goodness can be unmanageable on the cutting board and machine, so it helps to leave the sizing in until you’re done working with it.
  • You’re working with leather or one of its variations. (Do not ask me how I know!)
  • Your washing machine is broken.
  • Sheep shrink. But you can still have them dry cleaned. And if you’ve ever hand-washed a sheep…
  • Laziness. (I haven’t confirmed this, but I heard it’s a valid reason. One that’s usually followed by regret.)

Personally, I won’t work with any fabric I can’t wash*. I love doing laundry. Good times.



Marsha Law Sig2

PS. I’m interested in hearing other reasons not to pre-wash. Do you have any?

* Exceptions include leather (oops!) and cork.



Make Do and Mend — a New Generation
Canada Cups — Unwired Tour


  1. I usually pre-wash everything, but did think of one exception. Bra laces, duoplex and power net aren’t washed before making a bra. I was told not to wash them first, and never have.

    Your comment, ‘just throw it out’ made me laugh. Yes. Wash it. It really is very likely it will the only wash it gets.

  2. In my house, everything gets washed. The ick factor, the allergy factor, the shrinky dink factor. The super soft slippery fabric get washed, then starched.
    Used to own a crinoline, and a toddler. Was told to never ever wash the crinoline. But it’s amazing how quick a toddler can make things dirty! So every Couple of months the crinoline went into a pillow case and into the washer on a gentle cycle. When it was done, I took it out of the pillow case and used a spray bottle and liquid starch and sprayed the crinoline until saturated. Placed that in the dryer on an air setting and ran the dryer until it was fluffy yet stiff. The crinoline and the dryer both lol

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