Preparation is one of the keys to successful sewing. You now have your new beautiful fabric and want to make that special project right now. So you just lay it out and cut right? The answer is no!!! When you buy fabric at the store or online, it usually doesn’t come ready to be sewn. Before you leave the fabric store, note whether the fabric is washable, dry-cleanable, whether it will shrink or if it is pre-shruken. Even if the information on the bolt says it has been preshrunk, you need to prepare you fabric.
In this post I am going to share with you what to do to your fabric before you cut. Yes, you have things to do even if the information on the bolt says the fabric has been pre-shrunk.
Which Way Is Up?
When you get your fabric home, make sure the right side of the fabric is obvious. If both sides of the fabric are similar in colour or texture, determine and mark the right side. Cotton and linen fabrics are generally folded with the right side facing out, however this is not always the case. Wool has the wrong side facing out. If you are having a hard time working out which is the right side, examine the fabric as most are more defined and clearer on the right side. If it is still not clear pick the side you prefer and mark it. I usually use safety pins with the pin on the right side. Remember to mark your ideal side once you have cut out the individual pattern pieces.
Preshrinking The Fabric
The first step is to preshrink the fabric. Again the information on the fabric care for your material is important; this is normally found on the bolt, but don’t be afraid to ask for help from the staff at the store. But it’s not just the fabric, everything that you are using in your project should be preshrunk including the zipper, lining and interfacing. It is important to preshrink everything before sewing so that the finished sewing project will not be damaged when it gets washed. Another thing to consider is that fabric does not always shrink the same way in all directions, so preshrinking will get rid of this issue.
TIP: To prevent fabrics unraveling while they are being preshrunk, you can serge or sew a zigzag stitch along the edge of the cut fabric before washing.
Once you have checked the care of your fabric, it is usually simple to preshrink fabric. For washable fabrics all you have to do is throw it in the laundry machine and run a cycle as you normally would. Wash the lining the same way. Preshrink notions and fusible interfaces in a sink filled with warm water and let them air dry or press them dry. Do not press the fusible interfacing. Instead, lay it out flat whilst drying to avoid wrinkles.
Wash each piece of fabric separately because the excess dye can stain other fabrics. If a piece of fabric is a very dark colour, brightly coloured, or red, you may want to pre-rinse it in the sink until the runoff water is clear, just as an added precaution.
To check for colourfastness, wash brightly colour fabric with a scrap of white cotton fabric. If the white scrap comes out of the washing machine with a tint of colour, wash the fabric again with a new white fabric scrap. If colour continues to run, add three tablespoons of vinegar to the wash water to help set the colour.
After the fabric has been washed, dry it in the dryer. It is best to remove the fabric before it is completely dry because it will make ironing it easier.
I’ve used several ways to preshrink dry-cleanable fabrics.
TIP: Whichever method you use, before you steam shrink, test a corner of the fabric to make sure it doesn’t water spot.
- Use a steam iron. Set the iron on the wool setting. This is probably the lowest setting before the steam turns off. Steam, don’t press. Hover the iron over the fabric instead of touching it to the fabric. Move the iron horizontally or vertically across the grain of the fabric. Do not go over it diagonally because this will distort the fabric. Distorted fabric will result in a distorted garment no matter how you cut it. Cover every inch of the fabric.
- Dampen the fabric or a press cloth and steam press directly on the press cloth over the wrong side of the fabric until its dry.
- Fold the fabric (like an accordion) and hang it on a plastic hanger in the shower. Fill the shower with steam. Let the fabric hang until it is dry. I sometimes find it hard to get enough steam in the bathroom so this is my least favoured method of preshrinking.
All fabric should be pressed once it has been preshrunk to eliminate the wrinkles and so that it will lay smoothly. This will help your sewing project turn out better and more accurate. Sometimes the manufacturer’s centre fold is still evident. Make sure you press it out.
Squaring The Fabric
Next step is to straighten the grain of the fabric before you use it for a sewing project. You usually start at one of the cute ends.
Fabric grain is the direction the threads run. The crosswise grain runs perpendicular to the selvage edge, whilst the lengthwise runs parallel with the selvage.
Its important for the lengthwise and the crosswise threads to meet at right angles or your project will twist or hang oddly. This is very important when you are sewing pants where the length of the seam will make the twisting quite prominent.
Straightening fabric grain is easy to do, but each type of fabric requires a different method. First, find the crosswise grain, which runs perpendicular to the selvage edge. Stripes and plaids are the easiest to find because of the print. Once you have determined the crosswise grain, use one of these three methods to straighten the grain depending on the type of fabric:
Cut Fabric Along A Print Line
If your fabric has a stripe woven into it along the crosswise grain, it is easy to just cut along the line that it creates. Many prints can be done in this fashion. Just check that the pattern is straight – i.e. that the patterns run parallel to the selvages of the fabric.
Pull A Thread
All you have to do is cut into one of the selvage edges and pull a thread from the crosswise grain like you are gathering thread until you reach the opposite selvage. You should be able to see the path of the thread in the weave, allowing you to cut along that line. Fabrics that are loosely woven are the perfect candidate for this method as the thread is easy to pull out. Cut the fabric along the pulled thread.
Note that it’s not always possible to remove the complete thread. In that case, pull on the thread and gather the fabric as much as possible. Carefully cut along the line of the taught thread. Keep repeating until you have cut the entire piece of fabric.
Tear The Fabric
Tightly woven fabrics can usually have their grain straightened by tearing. To do this, cut into the selvage edge (about 1-2cm) and rip the fabric crosswise to the other selvage edge. Working quickly is usually the best method. You will know right away if it is not going to tear. Yes this is why fabric stores and TV shows like Project Runway rip the fabric. – The fabric end is straightened.
Check The Grain
Once you have a straight edge, fold the fabric lengthways aligning the selvages. If the cut edge isn’t straight or the corners don’t have proper right angles the fabric is off-grain. This sometimes occurs because the manufacturer “pulled” the fabric out of line when they put it on the bolt. If it is only slightly off-grain pin the selvages together. Using a steam iron and starting at the selvages press the fabric towards the fold. If the fabric is completely off-grain, pull the fabric firmly diagonally (on the bias) in the direction it needs to be straightened.
Refold the fabric to check the ends are even.
Folding The Fabric
Once the fabric has been preshrunk, ironed, and straightened, it is almost ready for use. The last step is to fold it according to the directions on your pattern. Most fabrics require you to fold it with right sides together matching up the selvage edges, but this is not always the case.
Also, if you do not plan on using the fabric for a while, you’ll want to make sure it is folded up and stored neatly. This way you can avoid having to iron it again before using it on a sewing project. It will save you time, too. This is a great idea if you bought a lot of fabric at the same time. You can either fold it in the traditional squares, however if possible roll your material to avoid forming fold lines.
Preshrinking fabric and preparing it for sewing is the best way to ensure a project comes out looking great and doesn’t shrink or get damaged because of washing. Use the steps above to prepare your fabric for use.