I hear lot about the importance of pre-washing fabric before making a dress to get the shrinking out of it.

But what if you want to make a stole, i.e. sew a border, embroider (in my case, I wish to make a phulkari)

Honestly, would any of you pre-wash fabric? Did anyone in any culture say 50, 100, 100 etc years ago pre-wash fabric before embroidering it?

In particular, I purchased this one, 3 yards.

Please advise

  • 3
    I suspect the difference is 100 years ago the weaver would wash the cloth as part of the finishing. Nowadays with machines weaving the cloth, and all the added chemicals, it falls to the purchaser to shrink the fabric. – SAM A Sep 17 '19 at 5:41
  • Fifty years ago was 1969. Unless seamstresses in the 60s and 70s were using nothing but polyester, they were pre-shrinking their fabrics. – Allison C Sep 17 '19 at 14:56
  • @SAMA mechanized textile production started in the 19th century, well over 100 years ago – Allison C Sep 17 '19 at 15:37

To wash or not to wash ... it depends on the materials you want to combine.

If you want to stitch a cotton yarn onto a cotton fabric, both react very similar to being washed: they shrink by roughly 5% in length (in extreme cases up to 10%). If you want to stitch a different yarn (maybe silk, acrylic or wool) they might react very different to the same treament. You should factor these changes into the planning of your embroidery project.

In embroidery, each individual stitch is relatively short. It shouldn't be much of a difference if the fabric shrinks by 5% but the yarn doesn't. It will be a little loose and incorporated objects like beads might pull strands looser than others. But overall the finished piece should still look alright.

If, on the other hand, the yarn shrinks more than the fabric, the result will be very unshapely. A stitched border might curl or pull in areas. Big motifs in the center of the fabric will pull areas together and deform the whole fabric. The more stitching there is on the fabric, the stronger this deformation gets.

As a rule of thumb, I suggest using a yarn that does not shrink. If you're not sure how much your yarn and fabric shrink, cut a small piece of fabric off, embroider a small motif on it, then measure it's size before and after washing and see if it deforms.

You should see the efford for the preparations in relation to the effort for the actual execution. If embroidering takes several weeks, maybe months, saving a single day for testing the shrinkage of your fabric and yarn can have catastrophal consequences after all these weeks. For something as work-intense as a phulkari, I would go out of my way and pre-wash the fabric and (if possible) the yarn as well.

  • The yarn is Polyester. I will test on a sample before working on this monumental project. – Marium Sep 17 '19 at 18:54

Many times I wash my fabrics not for shrinkage issues, but to get sizing out of the fabric. My skin reacts to many chemicals used in the fabric creation process and I want them removed before I have to spend much time handling the cloth, or wearing it.

Also, if the dye in the cloth is going to run, I want to know BEFORE I start sewing/embroidering! Then I can treat it to remove excess dye and set what is left. If left unwashed, it might even rub off onto your hands & hoop & surroundings while embroidering, and color your embroidery threads too. I will usually rinse it alone by hand in a tub, to see how it reacts. If I do use detergent, I use Eucalan no-rinse delicate wash. (I like the lavender scent - I hate perfumey stuff but this is just a nice hint of scent)

If it's material that isn't easily washed (silks etc), it depends on the project and what I will have to do with it. I definitely hang silk to let it air out and stretch/relax a bit, to see how it drapes.

Quilters are a bit different ... many sew up a quilt first, then wash it, in order to get a certain look & feel in the finished product. Others wash first. Others never wash!

I will often wrap my embroidery hoops with ribbon in order to ensure they don't get stained by the fabric (which could then transfer to whatever fabric I use in my next project!) or by dirt/oil from my hands. The ribbon can be easily replaced between projects. This also means your hoops won't snag on your fabric, and you won't leave such harsh hoop-marks to iron out.

  • Your chosen fabric is 100% cotton, and a dark blue to boot, which may contain some indigo that is famous for bleeding. I agree with @SueC, I would prewash this particular fabric. Then give it a good press. That said, if I worked for days on a heavily embroidered work of art, I am not sure I would ever “wash” it per say. The abrasion of a washing action could be very disruptive to your prescious embroidery. You might consider dry cleaning it as you would an embroidered or beaded evening gown,.. – Laurent R. Nov 7 '19 at 12:47

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