How to Preshrink Fabric for Sewing

Many think it is not necessary to preshrink fabric, but most change their minds after a garment they made without preshrinking first goes through the laundry. It's worth the time to preshrink your fabric before sewing to avoid any mishaps after your garment is made. Preshrinking fabric will also let you know how it holds up to being laundered.

  • 01 of 08

    Know Your Fiber Content

    fabric washing tag
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    Read the end of the bolt when you purchase fabric—most bolts will also describe the best way to launder the fabric. Knowing the fiber content will help you decide upon the best way to launder and preshrink the fabric.

    Use your phone to take a picture of the bolt end with the fabric so you don't forget any of the information once you get home. 

    When you are using a fabric for something for yourself, use the laundering method you will use when the garment is finished. If you are going to use warm water to wash the garment, use warm water to preshrink the fabric before you make anything with it. Do you use high heat on everything you put in the dryer? Then use high heat to dry the fabric. Even if a fabric is labeled as dry clean only, dry clean it to preshrink it.

    When sewing for a gift, be sure to provide the recipient with washing instructions.

  • 02 of 08

    Prepare the Fabric

    Red and blue jeans close up of zipper and stitching

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    If your fabric is one which will unravel or fray, add a seam finish to the cut edges so you don't end up with a mess in the washer and dryer. In most cases, serging or adding a zigzag finish to the cut edge is all you need

  • 03 of 08

    Cotton

    Woman cutting fabric

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    Cotton fabric is a natural fiber, so it will shrink. Many cotton fabrics will be marked as pre-washed but may still shrink after washing. Wash and dry the fabric so you know for sure that the shrinking is done before you sew a garment. 

    • Flannel is known to shrink. Use hot water and a hot dryer to obtain the maximum shrinking during the preshrinking process. Repeat the process if you have any inkling that the fabric may shrink even more.
    • Quilting weight cotton is readily available in most fabric stores and the quality of these fabrics varies widely, so don't take any chances. Dyes often wash out from the fold in the fabric.
    • Broadcloth is a heavier weight than quilting fabric but should be preshrunk to prevent it from shrinking when you are done with your project.
    • Voile or lawn usually requires a gentle machine setting or hand-washing. Put this type of fabric in the dryer for a few minutes to remove the wrinkles that washing creates before line-drying it.
  • 04 of 08

    Linen

    Rolls of linen, close-up

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    Linen is a natural fiber that tends to shrink in the laundry. The fibers also soften after they have been washed, so for the finished "feel" of the fabric and to prevent a project from shrinking, wash it in hot water and machine dry it before you create anything with it.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Wool

    Detail shot of wool material

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    Wool fabric is made from natural fibers and may also be blended with other fibers. Almost all of them are labeled "dry clean only" and you are wise to do just that. Using "easy care" rather than "clean and press" is usually less expensive and gets the job done.

    If you never go the dry cleaners and know you will not take the finished item there, try your preferred washing method on a measured sample of the fabric to test the shrinking. In other words, cut a 5-inch sample of the fabric and finish the edges. Measure the sample with the finished edges. Once it has been washed and dried, measure your sample again to see how the size compares after shrinking and make sure you still like the feel of the fabric before you preshrink the entire piece.

  • 06 of 08

    Silk

    Iridescent fabric

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    Many laundering processes are acceptable for using on silk. Using the sample method described for wool fabric is recommended here.

  • 07 of 08

    Polyester, Fleece, and Man-Made Fibers

    polyester fabric

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    Many will argue that polyester, fleece, and man-made fibers don't shrink. Even if they don't shrink, they may contain finishes that wash out or change the feel and hang of the fabric. The way the fabric is woven is also apt to change in the laundry, so preshrinking is still advised.

  • 08 of 08

    Interfacing, Trims, and Stabilizers

    sewing trims

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    Anything sewn into the garment is going to be subjected to laundering. Things like fusible interfacing cannot be washed and dried without damaging the fusible option of the interfacing. Many fabrics and trims cannot use fusible options if they have not been pre-washed or preshrunk because the finishes in the fabric prevent it from fusing.

    When in doubt, preshrink a sample as described in the wool fabric method. Hand-washing and line-drying are best if you have any doubts. If you know a stabilizer is going to shrink in a sewn project, preshrink it and press the stabilizer before you use it.

    It's also a good idea to preshrink bias tape and almost all trims. Placing the items in a small garment bag keeps them from becoming tangled in the laundry.