Friday, June 2, 2023

The Perils of Not Prewashing / Beauties Pageant 218

When I first started quilting I was a diligent prewasher. Eventually, though, I came to see prewashing fabric as a waste of water and time, and let it fall by the wayside. And honestly, I prefer sewing with fabric right off the bolt—I like the feel of quilting cotton with the sizing from the manufacturer still in it. 

In general, my no-prewashing policy works well for me, but there have been some significant hiccups. One story, from 2016, is documented here. Another happened last fall, when I was washing the Extra X, pictured below.

It’s hard to see in the photographs, but the Extra X quilt, bled substantially. This wasn’t terribly shocking: The fabrics are all creams and blacks, but I was too excited to start sewing and couldn’t be bothered to wash the fabric first. And because I intended to submit the project to QuiltCon, I wanted to block it before binding it. I put it in a bathtub with mild soap, plenty of cool water, and some Shout Color Catchers, agitating it with my hands and rinsing it in the bathroom before I put it in the washer for a spin.

Alas, color catchers were no match for this quilt.

I quickly discovered that some of the blacks had bled. Additional bathtub washings in hot water (the seemingly antithetical solution to bad bleeding) improved the issues with the black dyes but caused red fabric on the back to bleed. Friends, it was a hot mess and one that likely could have been avoided if I had prewashed.

Since this experience, I’ve returned to prewashing the fabrics that are most likely to bleed. And instead of simply submerging them in soapy water, rinsing them, and running them through my dryer, I dug out an old bottle of Retayne, a color fixative, to address the issue of bleeding before it begins.

All of this brings me to the story of Big Star, the flimsy at the top of this post. It and the Extra X contain many of the same black fabrics, so the likelihood that it will bleed are high. So what should I do? Do I treat it with Retayne now? Do I quilt it and then treat it with Retayne? Do I quilt it and then try to wash it with a different method? (I could follow Vicki Welsh’s advice and submerge the finished quilt in a tub of hot water for hours and hours. Read her process here.)

The Extra X was always going to live with me. It is about my younger son and, despite its flaws, is special to me. I do want to gift this second quilt, however, and I can’t in good faith give away a quilt that will cause someone problems like those I experienced with the Extra X. Any advice on how to proceed?

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  1. Your quilt is lovely! I would go ahead and soak Extra X now, changing the water many times. In my experience, just soaking and rinsing will do the job. I no longer use retayne because I don't think it really works. It's soaking and changing the water that will gets the bleeding out, at least for me it does.

  2. What a pretty quilt to have such trouble possibly lurking! Vicki Welsh is the expert and once saved a red quilt for me. I would go ahead and wash it now using her process. Stitch a line 1/8th inch all around the quilt to prevent popping seams, then follw her directions. It works! Then you can quilt it and know that it will be okay. Also, if you like the crisp new feel of fabric, I use Magic Sizing, which still only costs about a dollar. Good luck! And be sure to tell us what happens.

  3. Alas, so much strife would be avoided if one didn’t love the way a quilt looks the moment it’s finished, pre-first-wash. Yet we love what we love and it doesn’t always make life easier. Bigger lessons are hidden here, I suspect. I’m fortunate in that I don’t mind the crinkle, I don’t sweat the bleeding, and I know that further wear and tear will make me love any quilt ever more. I started quilting as a prewasher until I realized how much time I was obligated to spend at the ironing board. Then, true to form, there were several years of folding stash in such a way as to signal whether something had been washed. Then, as it happens, I found it simply didn’t matter…to me.

  4. I have had two bad dye bleed disasters, and both times Vicki Welsh's method of using Dawn liquid dish detergent in a bathtub full of water saved the day. The first time I discovered red fabric bleeding I was still at the block stage so I soaked them in a dish pan full of hot water and Dawn, changing the water repeatedly until it was clear water instead of red Kool-Aid. No more problems. The second time, I discovered that my dark blue and black Spoonflower printed backing fabric wasn't color fast and it bled through to spoil yellow and pale green fabrics on the front of my quilt. That time, I had to soak with the Dawn dishwashing liquid in my bathtub and kept changing the water and adding more Dawn until it was clear bathwater. Both times were nightmares, but both times I was able to rinse away all of the loose dye particles with the bathwater and ended up with a quilt that had no "blood stains" and was no longer going to bleed in subsequent washings. What I do now: I test for dye bleeding by snipping off a small swatch, like 1-2" square of each fabric that I'm going to be using in the quilt. I set up a bunch of clear water glasses on top of white paper towels, one glass for each fabric swatch, and then I pour boiling water over the fabric swatch in each glass. I am never going to wash a finished quilt in boiling hot water; this is my stress test to determine whether I have a bleeder. Any fabric that might bleed in a quilt is going to turn that glass of water into Easter egg dye or Kool-Aid, and then I know that I have to prewash that particular fabric and then do my hot water test again after washing. If the fabric keeps coloring the water even after prewashing, I don't use it in the quilt, but most fabrics behave after prewashing. As for Retayne, I've heard from a quilt teacher (can't remember which one) that the manufacturer of Retayne does not recommend using their product to address bleeding commercially dyed fabrics because Retayne was designed to be used for setting hand dyed fabrics. They say that many different chemicals are used in commercially dyed fabrics and that there is a potential for Retayne to react adversely if used with fabrics that were printed in commercial settings and treated with additional sizing and other chemical finishes. But as you know, many quilters use it that way anyway. ;-). If you do decide to address the dye bleed with your quilt top prior to quilting it, I'm here to tell you that you CAN do it successfully, it will just be a pain to press it afterwards and get your seam allowances nice and neat on the backside. If you do the Vicki Welsh method by hand, in a bathtub, your seam allowances won't fray to nothing like they might in a washing machine. I'll bet you can still get that dye bleed out of your finished Extra X quilt with Vicki's method, too. Shout Color Catchers capture some of the loose dye particles in the wash water, allowing other dye particles to redeposit on other areas of your quilt. I stopped using Color Catchers when I realized that most of what they are catching would have rinsed away anyway. The Dawn dishwashing liquid works by preventing any of those loose dye particles from redepositing and sticking themselves to any part of the quilt so they ALL get rinsed away, and it's just a matter of rinsing the quilt enough times to get all of the loose dye particles to shed from the quilt. Good luck!

  5. When you wash, consider using cool water to start. If I'm particularly worried about bleeding (because I do not prewash), I'll use synthrapol for the soap and several color catchers. If it bleeds a lot, I'll keep rewashing (with synthrapol added each time) until the color catchers don't seem really stained. Then I'll bump up to warmer water and repeat...

  6. Yikes! What a beauty! I have no advice. I hope someone else does.

  7. Hi Michelle, what a pain. I have no advice to give. I always pre-wash but still had a red fabric bleed when I washed the finished quilt! Best of luck.

  8. I am with Yvonne - No prewashing and I use Synthrapol if I see bleeding when it comes out of the washing machine. I just rewash and it has fixed any problem I have had.

  9. I always, always, always, pre-wash fabrics, and will for the rest of my life. And in spite of being a pre-washer, I've experienced the heartache of having fabric in two quilts bleed, even after being pre-washed. I'm especially careful with Kaufman Kona solids (which I rarely use anymore) because one time a particular aqua solid bled so badly that color stained the inside of my dryer! I still have proof of it! The possibility that fabric will bleed terrifies me.

  10. I might try it in the washing machine with a half dozen color wash sheets once or twice and then do the "stop the bleed" process. It works. I had one with a redish pink over-dyed fabric and it bled like a stuck pig. I changed that water a lot in the beginning but finally it stopped. I do prewash, as I have had at least two disasters and wash before I give bed quilts away so I have the problem....allowing a 48-72 hour window so I can play in the tub in the worst case. Just plan the time and have something else you really enjoy doing in-between!


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