“My Fabric Did What?”

In my March 28th blog I shared that I was making a flannel baby changing pad cover for my niece in Germany.  Well, the cover fit so I purchased more flannel online and proceeded to prepare it for making more covers.  Now, I am a long-time garment sewer and learned very early the importance of pre-laundering any fabric I intended to make into a garment.  I know there are many of you who rarely pre-wash your fabric, either because it is not customary for the sewing you do or because it just takes too much time, but I wanted to share with you the facts of what happened to me so you may have cause for pause on your next project.

A large variety of fabrics come to the consumer with a finish on them.  This is a mill practice of coating the fabric with some type of sizing product or a starch of some kind, but it is applied to the fabric to give that fabric a more substantial “hand” (how the fabric feels and drapes) and to catch the consumers’ eye in the store.  A limp fabric is rarely appealing and the manufacturers know this, so does that make the finish applied to fabric a marketing tool?  Hmmmmm.  Anyway, when you pre-launder a fabric, you get the true look and feel of the fabric.  You also get its true size.  I ordered 2 yards of each of three flannels and received 2 yards + 1 inch of each.  I also ordered 3 yards of terry cloth and received 3 yards + 1 inch.

These are the fabrics I ordered, pictured before laundering. Each of the flannels on the right were 2 yards, 1 inch and the terry cloth on the left was 3 yards, 1 inch.

Before I washed them, I serged the raw edges on either end of each cut of fabric so I wouldn’t lose anything to fraying in the wash.

As long as your thread is color fast, it doesn’t matter what color you use to overcast the raw edges before laundering. I use the serger because it is faster than the sewing machine. It’s the LAZY method of sewing!

I then washed all the fabrics together in warm water with a cold water rinse followed by time in the dryer until all the fabric was completely dry.  (I needed to empty the dryer filter every 10-15 minutes and it was completely full each time!)  Now the reveal….each of the fabrics lost 4 inches of length during the pre-wash process!  (That’s about 1/8 yard).  I started with 2 yards + 1 inch of each of the flannels and ended up with 1 yard and 33 inches.  The terry cloth also lost 4 inches, but did so over 3 yards, not 2.  What does this mean?  For me it means if the finished product will be laundered after it is completed, anytime during its lifetime, I will pre-launder the fabric in the way it will be laundered in the future.  Also, I always buy more fabric than I think I will need just in case the fabric gets substantially smaller in the pre-wash process.  By the way, fabric rarely shrinks on the crosswise grain.  If the fabric is going to shrink it will do so along the lengthwise grain, so those pants you own with the waistband that shrank: probably not a laundry issue!  Happy Sewing!