In theory, all fabrics can be washed or laundered. However, it is practical to develop a system for handling fabrics as you buy them. In describing fabrics, I give loose recommendations for caring for each fabric posted. First and foremost, use common sense, intuition and experience. I do not use dry cleaning. If you do, consider sending the fabric to the cleaner's to be steamed, or give it a good steaming yourself.
- My system is to pre-treat/pre-shrink the fabric before it goes into the stash.
- I wash the fabric alone (not with other laundry), on delicate with cold water, and I have a front loading machine. Then, depending on the fabric, I air dry or put in the dryer on gentle.
- If I have any doubts about tossing it in the washer/dryer, I first cut a strip about 4-6" wide across the width of the fabric, cut that in half lengthwise and put both in the washing machine. One piece goes in the dryer, the other is air dried. Then I compare and make a final decision.
- I never put my hand made clothes in the dryer. Period.
- Detergent or not? I do add detergent when pre-treating, it aids in removing residual fabric finishes.
When Katherine chooses a fabric (especially knits), she tosses them in the washer/dryer using Express Wash and Normal dry. Almost always. Keeps things simple. When she was producing limited production clothing she worked out the percentage of shrinkage on a particular linen fabric. Then she sewed up a group of dresses WITHOUT pre-shrinking and after the sewing was done, tossed them in the washer/dryer to shrink to fit and give the fabric a soft washed effect. Mind you she didn't do this again as it was too complicated. Katherine occasionally washes and dries wool coatings or knits to 'felt' them for special projects but she doesn't do this as a general rule. Once a garment is made it is washed by hand or on the 'Delicate' cycle and air dried.
- If you have a top loading machine, it could result in a different outcome than a front loader.
- Test a swatch before tossing the entire cut into the washer/drier - see Marcy's system above
- The safest bet is to hand launder (dip in cool water), and air dry.
- Some fabrics like silk organza or wool coating don't respond well to laundering unless you want a more limp, wrinkled or shrunk up version of the original.
- Most new fabrics will shrink the greatest amount in the first washing/drying.
- Dark colors can fade and look old before their time if put in the dryer. For this reason, I might put a black knit in the washer/dryer before sewing, but hand launder or machine wash gentle and air dry after sewing.
- Pure white fabrics may have more residual shrinkage after the first laundering because they have never been dyed, so you might want to wash/dry white fabrics 2 or even 3 times before sewing.
- Not all washing machines will have the same results. A customer returned a fabric because it had gotten funky when she washed it. I took a cut of the same fabric and put it in my washer/dryer with no change at all. Pre-treating fabric in a front loader vs a top loader can cause quite different results. Another good reason to test a swatch first.
- Often I get questions about whether a wool or wool blend fabric will felt or not. Again, the only way to be sure is to make a test. Back in the day, I could be sure that tossing a cut of 100% wool jersey would result in substantial shrinkage, but many of today's wools are blended with other fibers or have been treated against shrinkage.
- Test. Test. Test.... Then Play, Play, Play.