While not all projects you make with fabric will ever be washed, if you’re someone who wants to make your own clothes – which will of course need washing! – it’s a very good idea to preshrink fabric and the reasons for this are two fold:
- Fabrics have sizing which helps the fabric look and feel crisp, but this sizing also makes it harder for anything adhesive – like fusible interfacing! – to ‘stick’ to the fabric. Washing fabric removes this!
- Many fabrics will actually shrink on their first wash which means that if the fabric has not been pre washed, the shrinkage amount will affect the final garment!
If you’re ready to learn how to preshrink fabric without washing, you’re in the right place – and read through to the end if you change your mind and want to try pre washing fabric instead as I’ve got quite a few tips to help!
Which Fabrics Should Be Pre Shrunk?
When it comes to the different types of fabrics, there are some that will experience no shrinkage when washed for the first time and so require no pre-shrinking before sewing – but there are many more that will benefit from a quick wash in your washing machine!
Fabrics made from natural fibres should always be preshrunk whereas you can be a little less strict when it comes to fabrics made from synthetic or man made fibres.
If you don’t know the difference, learn all about man made, natural and synthetic fibres here!
Cotton is a natural fiber and is renowned for how much it can shrink when washed for the first time, which means that any cotton clothes that you make without preshrinking will result in garments that will not fit as intended.
Whether the cotton you have is woven or knitted, it will need preshrinking!
Another natural fibre, linen can also shrink when washed. Depending on the garment you intend to sew from linen, you should preshrink it according to how it will be laundered once sewn.
If you’ll be washing it at home, then preshrink it by hand washing it, and then hang to drip dry. If it will be dry cleaned, you should use your steam iron to pre shrink it!
Silk is a natural fibre from animals – silkworms – and although the fibre itself doesn’t shrink, fabrics made from silk fibres do, and they will need preshrinking before sewing.
The advice for silk is similar to that for linen. Decide if you will dry clean or wash at home, and then pre-shrink accordingly!
Wool is a staple fibre coming from sheep or goats. If it needs pre-shrinking, you should only use steam and a damp pressing cloth. This is how I was taught to pre-shrink wool for my tailoring projects at fashion school!
And of course we need to talk about woven fabrics vs knit fabrics when it comes to preshrinking!
Do Knit Fabrics Shrink?
Yes! Knit fabrics are more likely to shrink than woven fabrics when washed because of how they are constructed! When you pre-wash both natural and synthetic knits, you’ll notice some curling taking place on the fabric edges, so you may want to use your serger to overlock the raw fabric edge to limit this.
How Do You Preshrink Fabric By Hand?
If you do not have a washer or dryer and need to preshrink your fabric by hand, the simplest way is to fill a bath tub (or a large container if you do not have a tub) with water at the same temperature that you’d be washing your garment in!
Then, agitate both the fabric and the water so that the water really penetrates the fibres. Remove and hang to dry, making sure that the hanging method is suitable for the fabric type!
Can You Preshrink Fabric With An Iron?
Absolutely! In fact this is the method that I was taught by the technicians at my fashion school.
To preshrink fabric with an iron, you’ll need a steam iron. For finer fabrics like silk, you’ll also want a pressing cloth.
Lay your fabric on your pressing table / ironing board – a wool ironing mat like the one above also works well! – and hover the iron over it. The iron should not touch the fabric. Press the button to generate the steam so that it is ‘steaming’ the fabric below.
Make sure to do this for the whole piece of fabric for consistent pre-shrinking!
7 Tips For Pre Shrinking When Washing Fabrics
If you are happy to pre shrink your fabric by washing it, then I put together these tips so that you get the best results!
- Make a 1/4 inch / cm diagnoal clip on each corner of the fabric before washing – this will work wonders to limit any unravelling of threads on woven fabrics!
- Alternatively, you can use a serger or overlocker to enclose the cut ends before washing to prevent fraying.
- Another option it to use pinking shears to pink the cut edges of fabric before popping in the washing machine. (Learn more about how pinking shears work here!)
- Was any denims separately to prevent the excess dye ruining other fabrics that you’re washing.
- If you’re prewashing fabric that is a much longer length, fold it up to a size that is manageable for you and then use large safety pins to keep it folded while washing and drying!
- Carefully hand wash delicate fabrics.
- Avoid using fabric softener when pre washing as this can also affect how fusible interfacings will stick to your fabric.
As you can see, preshrinking your fabric before cutting and sewing is a very important stage of the clothes making process. Hopefully, the above tips will help you preshrink your fabric without washing!
Learn about the different types of fabrics that you can use to make your own clothes! I also have a great guide on how cotton fabric is made as well as the difference between natural, man made and synthetic fibres!
Eve Tokens (aka The Creative Curator) is a fashion designer, creative pattern cutter and sewing pattern designer.
Eve graduated with a 2:1 in Fashion Design from the University of The Creative Arts in the UK, has a BTEC diploma in Creative Pattern Cutting, a Foundation Degree in Art & Design from Wimbledon College of Art and gained extensive experience in the fashion industry by interning and freelancing for London based fashion brands – Hardy Amies, Roland Mouret, Peter Pilotto and others.
As well as running her own small sustainable fashion brand, Eve has more than 25 years experience sewing and making clothes for herself and family members.