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Given large pieces of freshly purchased fabric, how should I wash/dry them before using them to create things?

Every book, article, and other piece of advice I've heard is to always wash your fabric before cutting/sewing. I personally only use natural fabrics (usually cotton, rayon, linen), and look at what the care instructions are for the given fabrics online.

However, I've often had the cut ends of the fabric unravel and get tangled up to turn the large uncut piece into a ball of wet mess. The selvage is normally just fine.

How do I prevent this?

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    How large are you talking and what sort of fabric... what usage? This is really, really broad right now. Silk, wool, poly-cotton, cotton... all have different preparations.... some probably shouldn't be washed first because they have sizing in them to help stiffen them and make them easier to sew... – Catija May 9 '16 at 18:40
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    Yes, please edit this with some additional details so that people can give the answers you need! – user24 May 9 '16 at 19:51
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To prevent fraying, use a z-stitch (zig-zag stitch) with a standard sewing machine or serge the ends of the fabric before you wash it.

I've recently read a lot of guides about washing fabric before sewing and, while they often disagree about whether washing is necessary or not - generally depending on the type of fabric and the end use, the one thing they pretty much universally agree on if you are washing fabric, is that if you want to prevent fraying, stitch the cut ends. Some sites don't seem to be bothered by fraying and recommend simply cutting the strings off afterwards but this seems like a great way to get your fabric tied up in knots.

One guide notes to consider the weave tightness:

First, remember that fabrics will fray depending on how tightly they are woven. Loosely woven fabrics like Linen and some cottons can fray a 1/2 inch or so. But some cottons and polyesters with a tighter weave might only frizz out on the ends. And knit fabrics won’t fray at all.

Other common notes are:

  • wash the fabric in large pieces rather than small ones as the small pieces can be sucked into the machine's agitator
  • wash the fabric in the same method you plan to wash the garment - so (as an example) if you're planning to dry clean your wool, dry clean the fabric rather than machine washing it.

As a note, with all methods, your results may vary. This quilting site has a forum with a topic where many quilters are discussing preventing fraying and the results are mixed.

Different methods mentioned include clipping the corners, using pinking shears, sewing/serging, and simply not doing anything at all because fraying is inevitable... so the top suggestion is to always make sure you have extra fabric to allow for losing an inch or two to fraying.

Here are a few of the comments I thought seemed helpful:

auntpiggylpn: I also tried the "Clip the Corners" method and my fabrics still frayed, didn't seem to be any less or more than if I did nothing to the edges. This was also LQS type fabric. I tried the pinking shears trick and it didn't stop the fraying. I've also sewed along the edges prior to washing but it still frayed. Some fabrics don't fray at all and then some others I will loose at least an inch off the total cut. I ALWAYS was in cold on a delicate cycle and only put in the dryer until damp them iron. sorry, I don't have any positive answers for you!!

MaryAnnMc: I agree, everything I've tried still frays. But I've decided to stick with pinking: it does cut down on the fraying considerably, and I can always tell which fabrics in my stash have been washed. that alone is a good reason.

M.I.Late:I also just let it fray and just rip off the threads. When I wash fabric, I open it all the way up. I find that some manufacturers don't get it rolled on the bolt completely straight. So, I open it up completely, wash and dry it, refold it so there are no diagonal waves when held selvage to selvage, (I usually lose 1-2 inches here - but it has been as much as 3.) Then I trim it with the rotary cutter and iron it and it gets either used then or stashed for future use.

bearisgray: I finally learned to either serge the raw edge or overcast the raw edge with a long, narrow zigzag stitch before washing. I lose - at the most - about 1/8 inch of fabric when I zigzag the edges - none when I overcast if I remove the stitching.

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  • I've found that washing and drying smaller lengths of fabric reduces twisting and wrinkling and makes the whole process a lot easier. Depending on my projects, I cut my new fabric into 2 or 3 yd pieces and wash/dry and iron if it's cotton. I fold the fabric "inside out" so it doesn't fade. Then my fabric stash is all ready to go whenever I need it. I have no real problems with unraveling with the 100% cotton fabrics I use, if I do end up with loose threads, I clip them when I iron. If I did have problems with unraveling, I'd pink the raw edges before I spent time sewing/serging the ends. – user1798 Mar 21 '17 at 16:11
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It is best to wash every fabric you use in the same method you would use to wash it after you use it. You don't want to spend time making something that shrinks to unusable proportions after cleaning it. If you never intend to wash it, don't bother. If your going to need to dry clean it dry-clean it first.

If you are going to dry-clean it you should do a loose zig-zag stitch over the ends.

For stuff that you will wash later that home, clip each corner at a 45 degree angle (just cut the corners off the fabric, I usually clip about 2 inches) then toss it into the laundry with a few clean towels that have been washed so many times that there is no chance the colour will run.

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  • When you say to clip the corner, how much? – Eris May 16 '16 at 17:29
  • about 2 inches is what I normally take – Sky May 16 '16 at 20:07
  • Good answer. An added point about the importance of drycleaning a fabric before cutting just as you would a washable fabric. There is some level of water in the dry cleaning solution so this is good practice to insure against shrinkage after sewing. – user1798 Mar 21 '17 at 15:49
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I was searching for the article that shows you how to wash bolts of fabric without fraying or getting all tangled up. It involved folding a certain way and then pinning the ends with safety pins.

I did do it before and it worked really well but I can't find the article now. Recently when I just tried to guess what i did the first time, it worked out well. What I did was, open up the bolt with selvedges on each side. Then folded it up accordion-style, then fold to have selvedges meet. Then pinned the Selvage edges together with safety pins..I washed and dried the "package". Voila, minimal fraying and no twisting. I then sprayed with my faux Best Press and pressed. Nice!!! But I'm still looking for the original article.

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    Can you revise and clarify this? I'm having a hard time understanding how putting safety pins in the selvedges will prevent the cut edges from fraying. – Allison C Aug 20 '19 at 3:57

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