Pre-shrinking: how to pre wash fabric without fraying: THE EASY WAY!


To consider to preshrink your fabric before you get into any of the cutting and sewing is certainly a smart idea. In this article, you have preshrinking basics plus you’ll learn how to pre-wash fabric without fraying.

I know how it feels when you’ve just learned that you have to pre-shrink the brand new fabric you purchased before you do any of the cutting and sewing. We think well. It’s perfect, it’s brand new why bother with the hassle, right?

After I passed the first hurdle to accept the idea to preshrink I  just allowed myself to trust in the process and go ahead. So once I did then, I quickly learned that actually, it really is worth the effort.

I found that there are three main reasons for doing it, which is why I now think preshrinking your fabrics is worth it.

Pre-shrinking How to pre wash fabric without fraying

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3 VALID reasons for why we should pre-wash fabrics as dressmakers

There are three reasons why I consider pre-washing my fabric before sewing. And I think once you learn this, you will agree why the reasons are valid:

#1. To prevent the final garment from shrinking.

I have been there, done it before. In my early days of clothes sewing with not much knowledge about fabrics, I made clothes that were designed to be close fitting and, sewing them up without prewashing the fabric I usually got one good wear out of them. So it was only the initial first wear that I got out of it then after the first wash the dress had shrunk making it look like it’s a size too small for me- Not a good look.

#2. Avoid any colour running to other garments in the same wash.

Life happens, and sometimes we’re not so focused about the washing that’s waiting to get dealt with. Then as it happens, it’s also likely that we may forget to give that one-time worn handmade garment that little extra attention for its first wash and end up bung-in it all together with other clothes in a pile. Then. Ow dear! Colour has transferred to the other garments. Not happen-in, I say!

#3. To help you predetermine whether fabric drape will change.

Sometimes we buy ordinary fabric like cotton. What initially leads us to buy that particular fabric is the look and feel of the slight stiffness it has to it.

We come home and give the fabric a wash and dry. Once it dries, we realize that there’s something off. Something is missing in that it’s not appealing to us in the way it did before the wash.

The stiffness was what appealed for us to buy it. But now you will see the fabric has changed.

Now it’s not as stiff, and it falls softly. That sounds nice but not if you had brought the fabric with the vision in mind to make a pair of crisp looking Capri pants or something?

So, in a way, it’s a good thing that you found out before cutting into it. Now you can change the plan and maybe use the fabric for a different garment.

What are the steps involved in pre-washing?

Now that you know of all the good reasons to give in to preshrinking your brand new fabric, it’s time I lay out the steps involved for a smooth prewash process. So, here’s a brief of the way I do it:

  1. Precautionary measure #1: Colour run swatch test
  2. Preventive measure #2: Fix the fraying edge
  3. Wash
  4. Dry
  5. Press [finish]

Precautionary measure #1: Colour run swatch test

The best way to deal with dye run is to be prepared for it from the start. How do you do that?

Well, you will have to cut out a small swatch. A square of around 3” by 3” off from your fabric.

Take a small bowl of some sort and fill it up with water drop that piece into it and leave it to soak for around about 30 minutes. If that color is a leaker meaning; if the color runs, then this indicates that you’ll have to wash and Color Fix that fabric separately.

If it’s not a ‘leaker’ then hooray- one less job to do!

How to colour fix to prevent future colour run

If the colour on that fabric turns out to be a leaker then here’s what to do:

In your bowl/sink whichever is preferred you would add the water for washing your fabric and to that water add a ½ cup of Iodized Salt.

Pro tip: If your fabric is a bright red (for example) with white printed bits of pattern on it then, make sure to put a color catcher in as well, because you don’t want the red running onto the white areas turning them pink.

Preventive measure #2: Fix the fraying edge

What can happen with frayed fabric in the wash

To consider stopping the fabric from fraying in the prewash phase is a wise idea. Here’s why. You might find that after washing the fabric, you’ve ended up with the frayed edge thread strings all tangled up together. Which also can distort the fabric grain. (I know this may sound confusing to you if you’re a beginner but know this much that the fabric is kinda-messed-up!) Although you can fix fabric grain distortion, it is, however, wiser to avoid it from happening in the first place. As it is just another added step to problem solve so, better avoided.

fabric fraying in wash

So, how to pre wash fabric without fraying?

It’s the way I do it and find that it’s the most efficient and straightforward. All you do is take the raw edges of the fabric and just as you would hem something (well, basically, it is hemming!) You baste stitch and hem the raw edge.

To do the basting stitch what you do is set your machine stitch length on the widest setting to form a basting stitch (wide straight stitches). Make sure to snip the stitching thread as close to the fabric as possible. Otherwise, that thread will then end up pulling- kinda annoying really. Then you’re done and ready to wash!

The washing

Take a snap of the fabric care info

If you are like me who finds it quite stressful when it comes down to fabric care and all that jazz then for you my friend a good place to start is while you’re still in the shop buying the material. When you’re buying at the shops, take a snap with your phone camera of the fabric care info which you’ll find fixed on the end of the bolt. That way you’ll have it there to reference back to when you’re unsure how to care for it when you get home.

To machine wash or to wash by hand?

machine wash fabrics

A great place to start is to ask yourself this one question.

Ask yourself, “what is it that I plan to make out of this fabric?”.

Usually, I find that by asking myself this as a dressmaker, I can narrow down to a definite answer. Because what happens is that I will buy some material with the intent to make an outfit as casual wear. We know how casuals get worn and treated, right?

With casuals, they generally get worn more, therefore, need more washes. Which might mean for some of us that we throw it into the washing machine with the rest of our daily wear. Then, on the other hand, we have the occasional wear; that get worn less. I would treat them delicately and may not even wash it instead, would be dry clean it.

One thing to note about Dry Clean Only fabrics is that it doesn’t mean it won’t shrink. Saying even though it’s a Dry Clean Only fabric it still is prone to shrinkage so; you might as well dry clean at the pre-shrink stage to allow it to shrink.

So that’s how I determine whether to machine wash or hand wash my fabrics.

To use or to not use a detergent?

detergent pre washing

I wouldn’t use any detergent because really if you think about it, we add detergent to our wash to clean and eliminate soiling and odor and all that good stuff! Whereas in this case, we don’t have any of that. So, I would say if you want to add something, then add shampoo.

And while you’re at it try and use some shampoo and not any conditioner or shampoos for colored hair.

Wash by hand

You can wash by hand in the best way suitable to you. If you like using a bowl, then that’s fine likewise you can even do it in the sink. So the choice is yours.

Fill the bowl/sink up with the adequate amount of cold water, and if that fabric is a leaker, then I’d add in the iodized salt also if you have white pattern prints then I’d add a color catcher in too. Then with all that and fabric soaked in, leave to soak for about 30minutes. After that, you may throw away the collected color stained water and rinse as many times until the water runs clean. Wring it gently just enough so excess water escapes. Then line dry or if you have one- machine dry. Once dry you may now press it.

Machine wash

To machine wash, I don’t like the idea of putting the whole machine on to wash the one fabric. Luckily what happens with me is that I tend to buy fabric in bulk once a year when I go shopping in London. Then when I come home, I do my swatch test with all the fabrics and whichever one’s dye runs I’ de wash that separately. The rest I bung in together into the machine. That way I’m not washing only the one item.

The other idea is that if you have other clothes that are waiting to go into the wash, then you can add it into that all together. Remember though, wash with like colors and textiles together.

Finally, here’s what to do, you’d put the fabrics in the machine and just as you would normally; add the relative amount of detergent. Then, set to wash on the delicate cycle.


line dry fabrics

Depending on the way you would usually dry your clothes whether it’s by machine drying or line drying you can do it as preferable to you.

It’s best to use the method you would go by normally when drying your clothes to save you from any surprises later.

Pressing and finish

pressing fabric

Pressing is pretty simple. Remember though, if you basted the raw edge of the fabric then be sure to remove the stitch. After you remove the stitch, then the raw edge will also need to be pressed.

Now, here’s where the picture you took at the store of the fabric care label will come handy. It’ll tell you about how to press that particular fabric properly.

In general for the beginners out there who will most likely be handling cotton materials for you, I can assure you that you may press it with steam on the ‘Cottons’ setting.

Press away, making sure all the creases come out so that you can have a smooth and crease free piece of fabric all ready to cut out.

…And that’s the preshrinking complete!


Don’t be overwhelmed by the idea of preshrinking fabric because once you do it a few times then like myself you will find that it’s all about the preventive measures when you want to have a smooth preshrinking task to complete.

Just to recap, the preventive measures being:

  1. Colour run swatch test.
  2. How to pre-wash fabric without fraying.

Now that your fabric is all ready to cut out; are you clear on what to do next? (The next step is getting the fabric laid out correctly to cut)

If not, read my post on how to lay out pattern pieces onto the fabric which should help you with that.

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