How To Wash Cotton Fabric Before Sewing?

Starting a new sewing project is so much fun, right? You might have one or two unfinished ones, but this new one you have been planning for a long time. And you can’t wait to get to it. But before you start sewing your fabric, did you give it a good wash?

Ideally, you need to wash your fabric before you start sewing, especially when it is cotton. A natural fabric like cotton tends to shrink when washed. Thus, if you wash the cotton fabric before starting to work on it, you can be assured that the final products fit you properly.

So, read on to know all about how to wash cotton fabric before sewing.

How To Wash Cotton Fabric Before Sewing?

You need to account for both shrinking and fraying before washing cotton fabrics. So, first off, use zig zag stitches or a serger to deal with the fraying along the sides. Then, you can put the fabric in the washer on a gentle or hand-wash cycle to start washing. Alternatively, you can also soak and hand wash the fabric to account for the shrinkage. If you doubt that there is going to be color bleeding, it would help if you soak the cotton fabric beforehand.

As mentioned before, you need to wash and dry the fabric just as you plan to wash your finished garment. So, there are two steps to the entire process. Firstly, you need to find a way to ensure that the sides don’t fray. Secondly, you can go ahead with washing the cotton fabric.

Step 1: Prevent the cotton fabric from fraying

Although the selvedge doesn’t fray, the cut ends might. Here are a couple of options you can consider to reduce and prevent fraying:

  • Use the serger to fix the fabric edges
  • Put simple zig zag stitches right on the fabric edges
  • Serge or zig zag the cut end parts together to form a tube
  • Reduce fraying by using pinking shears. This works the best for the kind of fabrics that have a fine weave that does not fray too easily.
  • You can pre-fray the fabric. For that, pull out nearly one cm or 3/8 inch of the weft thread. Weft thread is the one that goes from selvedge to selvedge or from left to right. It forms almost a decorative frayed edge and that stops further fraying. You will notice this feature on the linen place mats and scarf ends.
  • If you do not want to let it fray, cut off the fraying edges after drying.

Start by washing a test swatch. When you cut a 4” or 10 cm square, it is easy to measure right after washing. When you finish the edges before washing, you get time to check the extent to which it shrinks and holds up in that washing machine.

  • Unfold the fabric right before putting it in the washer
  • Do not overcrowd the washer
  • Wash the similar colors together because there may be extra dye present in the new fabric to stain other fabrics.
  • It will help if you iron the pre-washed fabric right away, and have it cataloged in the fabric swatch library.

If you’re unsure about washing the fabric, read the instruction manual. Also, you can ask the shop from where you purchased the fabric for suggestions and tips. You can do a test swatch if you are in doubt.

Step 2: Specifics of washing different cotton fabrics

Lawn and voile do way better with a hand-wash or gentle cycle in the washing machine or even hand-washing is a good choice. A couple of minutes in your dryer before hanging dry would be a good idea.

Quilting weight cotton or broadcloth works fine in the washer and dryer. But make sure to check the temperature setting you want to use for your garment. In some cases, you might need to use a higher temperature to reduce future shrinkage.

Moving on, remember that flannel has a tendency to shrink. So, make sure to use a hot dryer and hot water while pre-treating. This way when the usual cooler laundry temps will not lead to more shrinkage of your garment.

Also, knits like to shrink. So, you need to handle the knits like flannel. Right after sewing the fabric, try to ensure that it is out of your dryer, barring a couple of minutes to remove excess moisture and wrinkles.

Why Is Pre-washing Cotton Fabric So Important?

There are two main reasons for you to wash your cotton fabric before sewing, and they are:

  • Pre-shrinking
  • Washing out chemicals and dirt from the production

Any fabric made from natural fibers is going to shrink upon washing. In fact, cotton fabrics usually shrink around five percent. A shrinkage of even ten percent is not unseen in the fabrics that are made using natural fibers. So, in case you do not wash the fabric before sewing but wash the final garment, expect the garment to not fit you properly.

In order to prevent this, you will have to wash and dry that fabric as you will wash and dry the sewed garment. So, when you are planning to do a hand wash, give that a good hand wash. And if you want to wash it in a washing machine, you can do that as well. Both are viable ways.

A bit of shrinkage might ease out when you wear the garment, but the shrinkage in length cannot be changed. Thus, it is a good idea to give the garment a pre-wash in case the garment has a fitted nature or when the size and fit really matters.

Another crucial reason to wash cotton fabric is to remove chemical sizing, clean away the dirt, and remove starch treatments and extra dye from the process of production. The treatments can make it a lot easier to deal with the fabric at the time of production. Also, washing out strengthens your yarn and softens the fabric.

When Should You Not Pre-Wash Any Fabric?

If it is the type of accessory that you would not need to wash in the machine, such as a shoulder bag or zippered pouch, you can do a bit of spot cleaning.

Also, certain fabrics and garments are dry clean only because they are more structured like a tailored jacket. In some cases, you can just steam your fabric before sewing and cutting simply by hovering the iron right above (but not on) the fabric. In fact, the stream also helps in pre-shrinking the fabric.

When To Pre-Wash The Fabric?

As a rule, you need to pre-wash all the fabric that comes home with you before it reaches your sewing room or stash. It will help to ensure that you do not forget to wash the fabric. So, any fabric that comes home has to directly go into the laundry.

Is It Okay To Use Detergent While Pre Washing The Fabric?

If you are pre washing the fabric in a washing machine, you’re probably thinking of using a good detergent. But don’t use excess detergent. Most sewists suggest using about a quarter of what one would usually use.

Primarily, you require warm water to preshrink the fabric. Though adding a bit of soap or light detergent will help to clean your fabric, it isn’t needed for shrinkage. Based on the fabric and color you’re pre-washing, you can also include a color catcher. Though it isn’t required, it surely does help. Prewashing is specifically helpful for the kind of clothes that tend to bleed easily.

In case you’re washing your fabric by hand, use just a small amount of soap because that normally helps to get a much better clean. However, it isn’t necessary and the choice is yours.

What Should You Do If You Forget To Prewash The Fabric?

There is nothing to worry if you do not remember to prewash the fabric. You can either pre-wash all of the fabric or none of it. This will keep things even and not have excess strain on your stitches.

When you’re especially worried about getting non-pre washed and pre washed fabrics mixed, just hand wash the fabrics in warm water. It helps to minimize the strain over the stitches.

Color bleeding is another issue you face when you don’t remember to prewash. In case you forget to prewash the fabric, at least hand wash or soak them afterward. It will help in preserving the colors, though it would be hard for fabrics with multiple bold colors.


Hello, I am Jessica Flores, and you are welcome to my website. I am a professional fashion designer and a seamstress. I always carried a passion for craftwork. My love for craft grew along with time. I have spent years researching and practicing in this field to gather colossal experience.

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