(Today's article is a contribution by our quilting community member.)
Does Your Fabric Bleed?
Even if you purchase first quality quilting fabric there is still a chance that deeper colored fabrics will contain excess dye. That excess dye will bleed onto other areas of the quilt when the quilt is first washed. This is especially noticeable when a very deep color is placed next to a very light color such as a red and white quilt.
Bleeding fabric is one of the issues present that necessitates pre-washing fabric. If you wash fabric before you cut it you will be aware of which fabrics bleed and which ones don't. I have found that deep pink or red fabrics bleed excessively, also dark blue and black fabric. It may be certain dyes are needed for these colors or these colors simply need a lot of dye in order for the fabrics to be the correct color.
What you can do to prevent bleeding
There is a product available called Shout Color Catcher. It "absorbs and traps loose dyes to help keep colors vibrant". They are small sheets that can be tossed in the wash and rinse cycle to trap and absorb dyes. They are safe to go though the dryer. The sheets are only good for one use and should be discarded. A box of 24 Shout Color Catcher sheets is available in the laundry section of your grocery store approximately four dollars.
A similar product is called "Dye Magnet". Both of these products are similar although we have found the Shout Color Catcher to be more readily available in some areas than the Dye Magnet.
Recently, I have had two different red and black printed cuts of fabric bleed extensively. I simply placed the new fabric in a basin of warm water with a small amount of liquid laundry detergent. Within two minutes the water was the color of black cherry gelatin. I continued to rinse this fabric in fresh soapy water. I put it through at least ten water baths in the basin before the water ran "clear" so I could rinse and dry the fabric. The same process was repeated with the second piece of fabric. The actual color in the fabric is still very strong so it did not loose needed dye, it simply lost excess dye. If I had not pre-washed this fabric the white fabrics in my red, black, and white quilt would have turned pink.
There is a product available at the quilt store that can be used to contain bleeding and dye migration in cotton quilting fabrics. One if them is Synthrapol. Synthrapol is used to suspend and carry excess dye from the cotton fiber. It removes unfixed or unattached dye and keeps it from redepositing on other areas of fabric. Synthrapol recommends that you use this product to remove excess dyes from quilt fabric. It works similarly to Color Catcher.
I made a red and white quilt. Even though I had pre-washed the fabric, there was still some excess red dye that migrated to the white areas. I could wash the quilt again using Synthrapol. It would take away the migrating excess red dye and keep your white areas from being pink. I did use the Color Catcher product and it worked fine. The Color Catcher sheet turned light pink and the pink color was gone from the white areas.
I pre-wash all fabric and backing before cutting and one of the main reasons is pre-washing insures colorfastness. If a fabric bleeds too much it can be treated with one of the above products or it can be discarded before using it in a quilt. Choosing to eliminate a fabric might be a good decision rather than worrying about possible dye migration later when the quilt is finished and laundered. After a fabric is sewn in a quilt it can easily bleed onto other fabrics.
How I handle my new fabric
I wash all my fabric before it enters my quilting studio. When I purchase new fabric, I take it to the laundry room where I have a pinking rotary cutter, mat and ruler available. I trim all cut edges with the pinking blade. This keeps a lot of those strings from forming along the cut edge of the fabric.
I always pre-test dark fabrics in a small basin of water for bleeding. Fabrics in the red family tend to bleed the most, followed by black and other very dark fabrics. Once I see a fabric is not bleeding, I place them in the washing machine on a gentle cycle and cool water. I always wash dark fabrics separate from light fabrics.
If I plan to press my new fabrics, I dry them in the dryer on low until slightly damp. Then press them as needed. If I don't dry more than 5-6 yards of fabric at one time they come out of the dryer with less wrinkles. If I am not planning to press them, I leave them in the dryer until they are completely dry. I seldom press the larger pieces until I am ready to cut them.
If the fabric pieces are very small such as fat quarters or fat eighths, my favorite method is to clip them to a pants hanger. Swish them in a basin of warm soapy water. Then I hang them to drip dry. They are smooth and nice and are not twisted or tangled. I almost always press my fat quarters and fat eights but if I wash them by hand they are not extremely wrinkled.
Always make sure your fabric is completely dry before putting it in any type of storage container. I usually leave mine out on the table for several days to be sure. Then I add it to my stash.
Washing fabric before using will insure that you will know which ones are bleeders and can treat them accordingly saving you a lot inconvenience when laundering later.
When washing long runs of fabric, if you will accordian fold fabric into 1/2 or 3/4 yd length, then safety pin the selvedge edges every 5-6 inches then wash it. Take hold of the selvegee pinned edge and snap the fabric to straighten, then put in dryer. When it comes from dryer, give it another shake. It dries almost as smooth as when it came from the store. Just clipping off each corner at the selvedge keeps the raveling to a minimum and for those of us who do not wash everything, it is an easy way to know if the fabric has been washed or not. I read this someplace and have done it this way for many years. It works beautifully.