Preshrinking Fabric for Sewing

Many people argue that preshrinking isn't necessary. They argue until they run across a garment they made without preshrinking the fabric and are devastated the first time they put that garment through the laundry. To me, it is well worth the time to preshrink the fabric, so I know the item won't shrink when I wash it. I also had one fabric that I returned, with the fabric supplier arguing the whole way because the fold line in a dark green cotton fabric washed out leaving a white line down the center of the fabric. I'm very glad I hadn't put time and energy into constructing a garment or quilt with that fabric.

  • 01 of 09

    Know Your Fiber Content!

    Fabric Bolt End Information
    Fiber Information on the Bolt End Label. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    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 guide you to the way to launder (and preshrink) the fabric.

    Use your cell phone to take a picture of the bolt end with the fabric. Once you get home, download the picture and start a fabric library on your computer or a memory stick, so you save the information. 

    If your cell phone isn't handy use a notepad to make a note of what the fiber content is for that fabric. Tuck the note in the folded fabric so it will stay with the fabric.

    Use the method on the bolt end for anything you will be sewing as a gift. You will not have control over how the gift recipient will handle laundering the garment.

    If you are using the 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 wash the fabric before you make anything with the fabric. If you use high heat on everything you put in the dryer, use high heat to dry the fabric.

    If a fabric is labeled as dry clean only, dry clean it to preshrink it! Many people will hand wash or wash in cold water, something that says dry clean only. If you are going to launder the fabric, use that same method on the fabric before you construct something with the fabric. 

  • 02 of 09

    Preparing the Fabric

    Seam Finish Samples
    A Variety of Seam Finishes. Debbie Colgrove

    If your fabric is one which will unravel or fray, add a seam finish to the cut edges, so you end up with all the fabric and no mess in the washer and dryer. In most cases serging or adding a zigzag finish to the cut, an edge is ample.

  • 03 of 09

    Cotton Fabric

    Bolt End Care Information
    Fabric Care Information on the End of the Bolt. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Cotton fabric is a natural fiber, and it will shrink. Many cotton fabrics will be marked as pre-washed. I would not trust a label that says the fabric is "preshrunk" or "pre-washed." Wash and dry the fabric so that you know the shrinking is done before you sew a garment. The laundering information is on the label that is on the end of the bolt of fabric.

    • 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 doubt 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. Don't take a chance! This is the type of fabric that I had the dyes wash out from the fold in the fabric.
    • Broad Cloth is a heavier weight than quilting fabric but should be preshrunk to prevent it shrinking when you are done with your project.
    • Voile or Lawnusually requires a gentle machine setting or hand washing. I will usually put this type of fabric in the dryer for a few minutes to remove the wrinkles that washing creates and then I line dry the item... so I do the same when I preshrink the fabric.
  • 04 of 09

    Linen Fabric

    Line Fabric Samples
    Linen Fabric Samples. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Linen is a natural finer and 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 form shrinking, was this fabric in hot water and machine dry it before you create anything with the fabric.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Wool Fabric

    Felted Wool Fabric
    Felted Wool Fabric. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Wool fabric is made from natural fibers and may be blended with other fibers. All most all are labeled "Dry Clean Only," and you are wise to do just that! I do not take any chances, and I send the fabric to the dry cleaner before I make anything with the fabric. 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 to the cleaners, try your washing method on a measured sample of the fabric to test the shrinking. In other words, cut a 5" sample of the fabric and finish the edges of the sample. Measure the sample with the finished edges. Once your preshrinking method is done, measure your sample and make sure you still like the feel of the fabric before you preshrink the entire piece of fabric.

  • 06 of 09


    Silk Fabric
    Silk Blouse. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    Everyone loves the luxurious feel of silk, and many laundering processes are acceptable. This is another fabric that I recommend the "sample method" that I described for wool fabric.

  • 07 of 09

    Polyester, Fleece and Man Made Fibers

    Polyester, Fleece and Vinyl Coated Fabric
    Polyester, Fleece and Vinyl Coated Fabric. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to

    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 and change the feel and hang of the fabric. The way the fabric is woven is also apt to change in the laundry, so I recommend you preshrink these fibers as I do all fabric before you put your time and energy into sewing a project that might never be the same after you launder the item.

  • 08 of 09

    Interfacing, Trims and Stabilizers

    Interfacing Collection
    A Collection of Interfacings. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed

    Anything that is 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 can not use fusible options if they have not been pre-washed or preshrunk because the finishes in the fabric from the manufacturer prevent them from fusing to the fabric.

    When in doubt preshrink a sample as described in the wool fabric method. Hand washing and line drying are best if you have any doubt, but I usually do not preshrink fusible interfacing. If you know a stabilizer is going to shrink up in a sewn project, and preshrink it, press the stabilizer before you use it.

     I always preshrink bias tape and almost all trims. Placing the items in a small garment bag keeps them from becoming tangled in the laundry.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Felt, Burlap

    Burlap and Felt Fabric Photo
    Felt and Burlap. Deborah Colgrove. Licensed to

    The only fabric I do not preshrink is felt because I usually use it for a craft project that won't be washed. If I were going to make a costume, I would soak the felt in cold water and blot the water with a towel and then line dry the felt. If the costume needs to be laundered, gently hand was the finished costume. The felt will lose it's finishing in the water so you may need spray sizing or spray starch when you make the item.

    If I am using Burlap in something like a Halloween costume I will preshrink it in cold water and line dry it to maintain as much of the original "feel" of the fibers as possible. I do not preshrink Burlap as soon as it comes in the house in case I will be using it to make a bulletin board that I want the fabric to shrink when I am done constructing the bulletin board.