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Before You Sew, Knit, Crochet, or Quilt
Fabric and Yarn Preparation
by C.W. Carvalho
Certified Crochet Instructor, Certified Knitting Instructor, Certified Master Knitter

Preparing Fabric for Sewing or Quilting

Pre-washing and straightening fabric before sewing is a very important step to prevent shrinkage in a garment or quilt and affects the “drape” of a garment. Pre-washing removes the sizing added to fabrics in the milling process and helps to align the fabric grains. Pre-washing also shrinks fabric and pre-washing removes any excess fabric dyes.

fabric before

Before pre-washing, straighten the ends of the fabric by either tearing across the grain or by pulling a thread across the grain. On fabrics that will tear, simply clip the selvedge and tear the fabric across the width of the fabric. Overcast the ends with a zigzag or serger before washing. On fabrics that will not tear, such as a soft or loosely woven fabric,  wool, or heavy denim,

clip the selvedge and gently pull a crosswise thread to the other selvedge. Cut along the pulled thread. On a woven plaid, cut along a crosswise thread at the edge of a plaid line. Overcast the ends with a zigzag or serger before washing.

before stretch

To re-align the grain, fabric may need to be stretched into place. Place damp fabric on a grain board and align the lengthwise (weft) and crosswise (weft) threads at 90-degrees angles by stretching the fabric into place. Allow the fabric to dry or press.

Setting Dyes

If the colorfastness of a fabric or yarn is questionable, soaking it in a bucket of cold water with a handful of salt before washing them for the first time. Hot water and vinegar can also be used in place of the salt and water on fabrics or yarn that can be laundered in hot water.

Author’s Note: I ’ve had natural dyes run when washed – check your labels and test for color fastness. To test for colorfastness, dip a piece of yarn or fabric in water, lay it out on a white paper towel to dry. If color transfers to the paper towel, the yarn or fabric will bleed. To color set a fabric or yarn, soak it in water with either salt or vinegar – I’ve had success with both.

Preparing Yarn for Knitting or Crocheting

Most yarn manufacturers are careful about not putting a yarn on the market that will shrink. However, some yarns do shrink due to their fiber content. To save knitting or crocheting time, I now pre-shrink yarns as I pre-shrink all fabrics that are sewn. To do this, form yarn hanks using an umbrella swift, wash it in the manner the sweater will be washed, let it dry, and then re-skein it on a ball winder. This will also help prevent future color bleeding. If the yarn is questionable about bleeding, I will soak it in either salt water or vinegar water and then wash it. This method can also be used to re-use yarn.

Yarn Swift

To make yarn hanks, set up an umbrella swift (see drawing at left) and attach yarn end to the swift spokes. Turn the swift, winding the yarn onto the swift spokes. At the end of the yarn, loosely tie together the two yarn ends. With scrap yarn, tie around the yarn hank in 3 or 4 places. Remove yarn hank from the swift.

Launder yarn hank and dry. Place the dry yarn hank back onto the swift. Cut of the securing scrap yarn pieces and untie the two ends. Place one yarn end onto a ball winder  (see drawing at lower left) and wind yarn into a ball.

Ball Winder

If a swift is not available, form a hank by place two chairs back-to-back and wrap the yarn around the backs of the chairs. If a ball winder is not available, yarn may be wrapped by hand into balls.

copyright © MM, C.W. Carvalho. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This material is not for sale or reproductions without the written consent of the author. Do not copy or post to another web site.