Care and Preparation of Fabric

This post stem from a post that I recently saw com up on one of the Facebook groups that I follow. The question was whether or not fabric should be washed before being cut.

The idea of not washing it and then I had to stop and consider: everyone is new at some point and not everyone has grown up sewing. To that end I’ve thought I would spit out my general practices for fabric care made from natural fibers such as wool, linen, and cotton.


First I have to address the need to wash fabric before cutting. New (or even new-to-you) fabric should always be washed on the hottest setting and dried the same to get all of the sizing out of the fabric.

Sizing? What’s that? The sizing substance is added to fabric before the weaving of the fabric to reduce fiber breakage during the process out. The sizing can also cause the fabric to be scratchy and stiff and no one likes that. In addition some fabrics have a tendency to shrink after washing (or de-sizing). The last thing anyone wants is to put time and effort in making something only to find out after the first wash that your clothing doesn’t fit.

Pre-shrunk fabric is not exempt. I’ve learned this one the hard way. Don’t assume that any preshrunk fabric is not going to shrink. NEVER ASSUME. It can come back to bite you.

What to Wash With

For the initial washing most any gentle detergent is fine. I happen to use Dreft (laundry soap for children) but anything without bleach is good. It does a great job at getting the sizing out and really is just a mental thing for me.

wash collageTo make natural fibers last longer though I do successive washes with an all-in-one shampoo and conditioner. I happen to have several half empty bottles of Aveeno baby wash/shampoo that I am using up. If you don’t have anything in the house you can pick from anything on the supermarket shelf. You even have your choice of scents.

Why shampoo? Shampoo is much more gentle than most laundry detergent, for one, and works just as well as detergent to get things clean. Secondly, because these are natural fibers, the combined conditioner makes the fabric softer, much nicer to the touch.

Stains and Problem Spots

Moth Balls: I have been gifted wool and linen before or have found them but they smell like moth balls. You want to use it but you can’t get past the smell. It’s okay! You can get rid of it.

  • 2 Parts vinegar to 1 part baking soda
  • Wash on the hottest setting
  • Wash one more time with soap.

If the smell persists do another hot wash with the soda and vinegar.

Grease: These stains can often be the toughest to take out. The bulk of the ones I  tend to have to deal with are cooking grease stains. Oil, fat, etcetra. There are a couple of things that work well.

  • Chalk – plain, white classroom chalk rubbed into the offending stain will remove the majority of things and it is gentle on fabric.
  • Dawn Dish soap – old school blue dawn dish soap is fantastic. They use it to remove oil from birds and animals caught in oil spills so getting grease out of clothing is easy as pie. I recommend putting several drops onto the stain, rubbing it in, and letting it sit for a bit for optimum results.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide & Dawn – For the toughest grease stains (and just about anything else) this is a miracle worker. 2 Parts hydrogen peroxide to 1 part dawn. The mix will turn white/clear which is normal. I keep it in a spray bottle for easy use. Before any use, test a small area where it won’t be noticed. I haven’t run into any reactions and the only thing I’ haven’t tested it on is silk. Pre-treat the stain and let sit for a while. For more severe stains let it sit overnight.

YellowingThis tends to happen with whites or near white garments. Usually it’s due to oils. Veils, barbettes, and other items that touch the face and armpits are prone to this. My solution?

  • Hydrogen Peroxide & Dawn – It’s better than Oxi Clean and I’ve had a lot of success in using this mix (see above) to bring my veils back to new.


Ironing is nearly as important as washing. There are times, when making up an early period dress, I can get away with taking the fabric out of the dryer as soon as the machine buzzes. However, this is definitely not best practice. Ironing the fabric before transferring your pattern ensures that your pattern will be true. If you have wrinkles in the fabric when you draft your pattern onto it, your pattern will be off. The more wrinkles, the more off your pattern will be. For a simple t-tunic this may not be a big deal. However, I would not recommend ignoring this step for fitted garments.


For now I think I’ve hit on all the major items. As I find more tricks and such I’ll post them here. If you have some tricks you’d like to share, make sure you post them below!


Categories: Fabric & Garment Care, General | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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