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Does quilting really stabilize fabrics that shrink?

Does quilting really stabilize fabrics that shrink?

Old 05-20-2017, 12:56 PM
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Default Does quilting really stabilize fabrics that shrink?

Has anyone ever done a test? Or measured their items before and after washing them?

I have considered doing a test with fabrics that I know shrink - with warm and natural batting -
but - so far - I have not done so.

The fabrics I was considering were Michael Miller's black - and the Legacy muslin from Jo-Ann fabrics -
and using 20 inch squares.

Then - cutting and washing one square of each as a test to see if they are still shrinking and which way the shrinkage is more - assemble the other sandwiches with unwashed fabrics and batting.

Then tie one units each "type" in the center, one with just an x from corner to corner, one with quilting spaced 5 inches apart, and one with quilting spaced 2 inches apart.

Wash gently in hot water - and dry gently - then measure the results.


Until I see the results of a test something like this - I will remain skeptical.

20 inch squares would be large enough to "see" if there is any change - and also an easy number to work with if there is any change.
Attached Thumbnails test.jpg  
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Old 05-20-2017, 01:22 PM
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I saw a test done by Harriet Hargrave when I took one of her classes. She purposely made a flannel quilt out of unwashed flannel fabrics in her shop, quilted it, bound it, measured it, washed it, and measured again. It was basically the same size as when she started (minus the 2% or so expected shrinkage of the batting). She passed the quilt around in class, so I had a chance to handle it and look at it closely. All of the flannel blocks looked fine. She said she did this to prove to people that fabrics did not have to be washed before quilting, and she chose flannels because they are so notorious for massive shrinking problems. At that time, she used Hobbs 80/20 in all of her quilts. The quilt itself shrank exactly the way Hobbs 80/20 shrinks; just a little softness and crinkling.

After that class, I stopped pre-washing my fabrics. I am not prolific, but I have made several large quilts with un-prewashed fabrics in them that have been laundered in hot water at laundromats. I admit that I machine FMQ more closely than most people; for some reason, I get kind of giddy when FMQing on my Voyager set up and get mesmerized with adding loops and swirls to the quilts. Anyway, none of the fabrics (some of unknown origin from kits) shrank more than the batting shrank.

I do think that, if using un-prewashed fabric, it's important that the quilting lines not be more than 4" apart or so. Harriet's flannel quilt had FMQ quilting lines not more than 2" apart, as I recall. (This class was many years ago, and my memory is not the world's greatest, so this is my best guess recall.)

I never saw a need to replicate Harriet Hargrave's test quilt by pre-measuring and post-measuring my quilts after laundering. However, it's clear from looking at them that all of the fabrics shrank only as much as the batting shrank.

Edit: Perhaps I should add that Harriet Hargrave's flannel test quilt was lap size. That size would be easier to measure accurately pre-wash and post-wash than the queen sized quilts I have made. That's my excuse, anyway.

Last edited by Prism99; 05-20-2017 at 01:26 PM.
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Old 05-20-2017, 01:34 PM
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this is interesting. thanks for sharing. but i wash for a couple of other reasons as well... bleeding, and removing chemicals that sometimes irritate me when working with them
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Old 05-20-2017, 03:47 PM
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i don't prewash because i am too lazy to have to iron them after washing and drying. My only exception would be if i came across a fabric that i had concerns about bleeding. But, even then, i test a sample first. LOL!!
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Old 05-21-2017, 08:27 AM
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The only time I prewash is if the fabric is smelly. So far, I've had no problems, but I tend to quilt my pieces fairly closely. I also always throw in some color catchers for the first few washings and haven't had any problems with bleeding, though the color catchers usually have quite a bit of color on them, particularly when I use black or red fabrics.

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Old 05-21-2017, 08:47 AM
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You'd have to take into consideration that dense quilting draws up the fabric somewhat so your 20 inch squares might measure a bit smaller after quilting and before washing.
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Old 05-21-2017, 12:56 PM
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I should mention that there are a few times I do prewash.

If I am adding a bias binding, I highly recommend prewashing the fabric for shrinkage. Because the bias of the binding fabric is running unquilted along the edge of the quilt, it can shrink and distort the edges a lot. How do I know this? Don't ask! I had sewn the binding on with a dense decorative stitch, so it would have been difficult to remove. If I still had this quilt, I would re-wet it, block it to dry (stretching the bias binding to be as it should be), then quilt all over the binding so it would no longer have those long, unquilted lengths of bias fabric on the edge. I normally use straight-of-grain binding, and have never had a problem with unwashed bindings cut on the straight-of-grain. It's only bias bindings I will now prewash.

If I were sensitive to the chemicals in fabrics, I would definitely prewash.

If making a tied quilt, I would definitely prewash all of the fabrics. Ties do not bind fabric to batting continuously the way lines of quilting do, so fabric would still have a chance to shrink noticeably between ties.

As for bleeding, if I am suspicious about a fabric, I will test a square by dropping it into water, letting it soak, then laying it on a paper towel to dry. I don't worry about mild bleeding, but I don't want to have to deal with a really bad bleeder. A bad bleeder I would prewash and re-test to make sure it isn't going to keep bleeding. I wash my finished quilts at the laundromat in their largest front-loader with hot water and Synthrapol. This seems to take care of any bleeds for me.

Last edited by Prism99; 05-21-2017 at 01:01 PM.
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Old 05-21-2017, 01:56 PM
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Originally Posted by Prism99 View Post
I saw a test done by Harriet Hargrave when I took one of her classes. She purposely made a flannel quilt out of unwashed flannel fabrics in her shop, quilted it, bound it, measured it, washed it, and measured again. It was basically the same size as when she started (minus the 2% or so expected shrinkage of the batting). She passed the quilt around in class, so I had a chance to handle it and look at it closely. All of the flannel blocks looked fine. She said she did this to prove to people that fabrics did not have to be washed before quilting, and she chose flannels because they are so notorious for massive shrinking problems. At that time, she used Hobbs 80/20 in all of her quilts. The quilt itself shrank exactly the way Hobbs 80/20 shrinks; just a little softness and crinkling.

After that class, I stopped pre-washing my fabrics. I am not prolific, but I have made several large quilts with un-prewashed fabrics in them that have been laundered in hot water at laundromats. I admit that I machine FMQ more closely than most people; for some reason, I get kind of giddy when FMQing on my Voyager set up and get mesmerized with adding loops and swirls to the quilts. Anyway, none of the fabrics (some of unknown origin from kits) shrank more than the batting shrank.

I do think that, if using un-prewashed fabric, it's important that the quilting lines not be more than 4" apart or so. Harriet's flannel quilt had FMQ quilting lines not more than 2" apart, as I recall. (This class was many years ago, and my memory is not the world's greatest, so this is my best guess recall.)

I never saw a need to replicate Harriet Hargrave's test quilt by pre-measuring and post-measuring my quilts after laundering. However, it's clear from looking at them that all of the fabrics shrank only as much as the batting shrank.

Edit: Perhaps I should add that Harriet Hargrave's flannel test quilt was lap size. That size would be easier to measure accurately pre-wash and post-wash than the queen sized quilts I have made. That's my excuse, anyway.
That is so interesting, Prims99! Thanks for sharing. I generally wash my fabrics first, especially if I picked them up from thrift stores, but brand new yardage I am too lazy or impatient! I quilt my quilts pretty closely too. I think it makes them last longer.
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Old 05-22-2017, 04:37 AM
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I always prewash my fabrics. I never iron them until I am ready to use the fabric. I am never surprised with shrinkage or fabrics bleeding. I also wash to remove the chemicals from the fabrics, because they do bother my hands.
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Old 05-22-2017, 08:10 AM
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I am still debating about how to do this test - this inquiring mind wants to know for itself!

I think if I use a long stitch for the quilting - so I can remove it later - it will still hold the layers enough -

As far as flannels shrinking - I have found that they do not all shrink - and the ones that do shrink, sometimes do so at different rates. The one that did not shrink - it was a 60 inch wide chamois type flannel - it might have shrunk about 1/4 inch in width, and it might have shrunk about 1/4 inch in length (per yard). I was surprised.

I am thinking a 10 inch square might be large enough - although a 20 inch square would probably give a more accurate result.

I think the words "shrink, shrank, shrunk, shrunken" sound funny. Some words just do, to me.

Last edited by bearisgray; 05-22-2017 at 08:14 AM.
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