Top Tip: Washing your Swatches

We all know that pre washing our fabric meterage is a good idea if not pretty much essential. It takes care of any shrinkage that may occur before we make our garments because, lets face it, the last thing we want is to go to all the trouble of crafting the perfect garment; only to find that the first time we wash it it shrinks! Gah! Been there! BUT, do you pre wash your swatches people? Like, before you even decide to buy that fabric?

top tip - washing fabric swatches

The reason I ask is that  I have taken to doing just that.  I don’t know if I am alone in this, so chime in because I’d love to know! But here is my reasoning. When a fabric is produced there will sometimes be a “finish” or “coating” applied to the fabric at the production stage. This coating  is often temporary and designed to protect the fabric whilst it is on the bolt, and during transit etc. Upon washing, the coating dissolves and this can subtly, and sometimes dramatically, change the way the fabric feels and behaves.

Well, I want to know that before I decide if a fabric is right for a project. I also want to know how much a fabric creases, how much the colour runs and how much it picks up fluff during the washing process. Because depending on the answer to those questions, I am either going to wear my finished garment. Or I’m not.  I have a set of rules for a garment to make into regular rotation in my wardrobe. I have to be able to machine wash it and hang it to dry and have the majority of creases drop out without having to iron it. If a fabric does crease excessively then I think twice about buying it. If I like it enough, I might elect to make a simpler garment where ironing won’t be too much of an issue. But I have to really like it. I’m firmly in the “life’s too short” camp when it comes to day to day ironing.  Fluff magnetism (yeah I gave it a name) is also a deal breaker. I have a pair of black jersey harem pants that I love but never wear outside the house because the fabric attracts dust and fluff like a demon and it looks like my legs have dandruff! Not cool! Life is also too short to defluff a garment every time you want to wear it. So it follows quite simply, that I’m not going to choose to make my garment from a fabric that doesn’t meet those tip - washing fabric swatches

So, here is what I have taken to doing in an effort to find these things out before I get to the meterage, or worse, the finished garment stage! When the swatches arrive, I cut off the section containing the fabric details and set them aside. The remainder….goes in the wash with my laundry! Any little surprises about how a fabric responds to my “laundry lifestyle” are then out in the open and I can decide if that fabric is really right for my garment AND my lifestyle!

(and just in case you ask, because yes, those fabrics are gorgeous, they are these and these 😉 )

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  1. kddomingue February 15, 2016

    I guess I’m a glutton for punishment because I wash all my yardage when I get home with it. I serge the cut edges to prevent excessive fraying and then pop it in the wash. On a positive note, when I’m ready to use it, I can jump right into my project without having to wait for it to go through a wash and dry cycle! I also do the squeeze test before I even THINK about bringing a fabric to the cutting counter. If I wad up a handful of a fabric for a minute and then shake it out and it looks badly wrinkled in the store then I know a trip through the washer and dryer is not going to make for an unwrinkled garmet!

    • Portia Lawrie February 15, 2016

      Oooh I do the same as soon as my fabric arrives! (I get most of my fabric online so sadly the scrunch test is a moot point for me) Straight into the washing machine so it’s ready asap. Doesn’t hit my shelves until it’s been prepped. So I guess that makes us both gluttons , lol!

  2. /anne... February 16, 2016

    Fabric samples here in Australia tend to be a thin strip, too small to wash; not only that, most of the fabric shops I go to only have limited stock of each fabric – if I bought a sample, I’d risk that they had run out by the next time I got there. I also try not to shop too often, as the travel time eats into sewing time. My last fabric shopping trip to two shops near each other was a roughly 100km round trip, and this was all in the Melbourne metropolitan area!

    So yes, I risk buying something that may not work, but I prewash to determine if it’s worth my time; if not, it goes into the test fabric pile 🙂

    • Portia Lawrie February 16, 2016

      Ah! Yes I can see that! I should probably clarify that I do this when I shop for fabric online, as I don’t have access to any physical fabric stores.

    • Portia Lawrie February 16, 2016

      Sounds perfectly reasonable to me Anne! On the rare occasion that I physically go fabric shopping (Nothing locally) I adopt much the same approach! For online shopping I order swatches though 🙂

  3. FW February 16, 2016

    Re the fluff magnetism (good description) I had the same thing with a thin black ‘linen’. I got round it by a quick rub with a dryer sheet – leaves a microscopic coat of silicon, brings the static right down.

    I never use dryer sheets in the dryer, but they’re awfully useful in the wardrobe 🙂

    • Portia Lawrie February 16, 2016

      Is it terrible that I’m too lazy to even do that, lol?! I may try it though, thanks! I think the “science” bit of your explanation may have sold me. 😉 Px


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