[vintage laundry ad, courtesy of drewzel on Flickr. Click to see it large!]There are some sewing topics that are much scarier than others, and I would say that preshrinking fabric has a pretty high fear factor. Many sewists (including me!) fret about this issue. And why wouldn't we? Inadequate pre-treating of a fabric can lead to mishaps down the road that make garments unwearable due to shrinkage or fabric damage. But I also think we probably give this topic more worry than it's due. I recently received two e-mails in a row on this topic, so I thought that was a sign I should do a post on the matter.
I don't claim to be an expert, but I have done my research and I can tell you what I do. And then I hope you'll share your tips, too!
For these purposes, I've put fabric into three categories.
1. Washable fabrics, like cotton. This one is easy! Just throw the fabric in the wash as you would the finished garment.
- I serge the ends of the length of fabric so they don't ravel in the wash, but you can also zigzag or pink them.
- Be cautious of prints that may run, and wash them in cold water.
- More fabrics are machine washable than you may think. For instance, I always wash silk habutai and rayon Ambiance lining. I make slips out of these fabrics, and just throw them in the washing machine.
- A sure-fire way to preshrink wool is to take it to your drycleaners and have them steam press it. Make sure that you specify NO CREASES. Obviously, the downside of this is the cost. In my opinion, it's worth it for large pieces of fabric. I had 5 yards of wool/cashmere flannel for my coat steam pressed, and it came to $15.
- For smaller pieces of wool that you'd like to treat on your own, I recommend Carolyn's method of preshrinking. Check out her invaluable post here!
- Wool crepe shrinks like the dickens, so that's the one fabric I'm especially careful with. With other wool weaves, you'll probably be fine just steam pressing it on your own. Use a silk organza press cloth, a spray bottle of water, and lots of steam.
- Be careful about submerging wool fabric into water! I did this once and it was a disaster. My pattern pieces were already cut out, and I accidentally left a mark on one with a too-hot iron. In a not-so-genius move, I tried to hand wash the piece in hot water. Oy! The whole thing shrunk up and took on a felted quality.
- A question: has anyone tried Eucalan wool wash? I've heard that it's an option for wool fabrics. Please share your experience if you have!
- Just because something isn't machine washable doesn't mean you have to dry clean it. I actually hand wash a lot of my blouses and dresses using a gentle detergent or even baby shampoo. Test this on a swatch of fabric first, as immersing fabric in water may change the hand of it.
- Don't wash or dryclean too often. I'll be honest: I don't actually dryclean my dresses and such very often. I wear deodorant and let them air out between uses. That's sufficient for me!
P.S. Only slightly on-topic: have you ever seen this Sarah Haskins video about laundry? It's a must-watch. "Laundry: it's the woman's drug of choice."