Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ask Candy: Washing Quilts without Bleeding

This week's question comes from Amy, of AmyLouWho.
Dear Candy,

I know you hand dye all of your fabrics. I was wondering if you could offer any suggestions to an amateur quilter like me on how to care for my fabrics (hand-dyed, batiks, or otherwise) so that I don't ruin my precious creations in the first wash. I would hate for some of my brights to run into my white or light colored borders and/or sashing.

Thanks! amylouwho
Amy, what a great question! My advice for you would to always pre-wash your fabrics and then test them for bleeding before you spend hours turning it a beautiful quilt. Properly dyed fabric should have all the non-attached dye particles washed out – the test for that is taking your wet fabric and ironing a bit of it dry between 2 white paper towels – if there’s no colors on the paper towels, the fabric is ready for drying and using. I test all my fabric this way. (In fact, I dyed the fabrics for this baby quilt a few blogging friends made for Amy's baby Maggie - isn't she just a sweetie? Amy's posts about all the folks who worked on the quilt here.)

HOWEVER! Sometimes you can't prewash fabric, hand dyed or otherwise. Even after I’ve tested it, washing the fabric may still cause a few more loose dye particles to be released, so don’t be alarmed…but I would suggest for the 1st few washes you make sure the quilt gets transferred to the dryer (for that lovely crinkly goodness) or spread flat relatively quickly (i.e. don’t leave it sitting damp in your washing machine for 3 days, ahem!) because if there were some loose dye particles hanging out they could transfer from a dark part of the quilt to a light part of the quilt with the prolonged sitting.

So, Amy sent me this question about a week and a half ago, and I sent her my answer a few days later. Well, she washed the quilt and sent me pictures - everything looks beautiful, no running anywhere, and mmm look at that crinkly goodness!

Adding vinegar or salt to the water will do absolutely nothing to help fabric bleeding. These are part of some dyeing processes (the vinegar for acid dyes used on wool, and the salt for immersion dyeing) - but the dyeing process should be complete before you get your hands on the fabric. (I hope this doesn't sound too snarky - but if anyone selling you fabric tells you to add vinegar or salt - well, they need to do a bit more research. You should keep looking for someone selling fabric that has been properly washed out).
If you've got a fabric that keeps bleeding and you really really want to use it, you could use a product called Retayne. It actually physically binds dye particles to the fiber, almost gluing it on. (It also reduces the lightfastness of the dye, so this is something to use as a last resort).
And if worst comes to worst and you do get some bleeding after washing a newly made quilt, it may be those last dye particles that need to leave, and it may have been caused by some transfer as the wet quilt sat scrunched up in your washing machine. Don't dry it - re-wash it, with lots of agitation and detergent, and those particles will probably wash away!
I hope you folks found this helpful. I'm so happy Amy was able to wash her quilt without fear! Go visit Amy, she's having a giveaway for an 80$ gift certificate from CSN stores that ends this Thursday.

Tune in next Tuesday - I'm working on a post on how to attach PDF's to your blog or website!

[Candy lives in California with her husband, 2 boys, and dog. Aside from being wife, mom, teacher, crafter, web guru and all around doer extraordinaire she manages her own business,Candied Fabrics. You can read her blog here.]


  1. Thanks Candy!!

    It looks even better now that it's washed! If that's possible. . .

  2. So much great information here, Candy! Thanks so much!!

  3. Thanks for the helpful information! I have always been told to use vinegar or salt on those brights (reds!). What about those commercial fabrics that do bleed? You can't tell if they will when you buy them.

  4. Thanks Linda & Amy!

    Laura - all this information goes for commercially dyed fabric as well, and it's one of the reasons to pre-wash and test all your fabric. This is one of the reasons that better fabric costs more money, because they take the time, energy and water to do a thorough washout of their fabric. (Of course, a lot of commercial fabric isn't dyed, but printed with ink/paint, which is something different...). You could use retayne on a commercial fabric that continues to bleed as well.

    Hope this answers your question!

    TTFN -Candy

  5. Good stuff to know, Candy, thanks - and I'm looking forward to the pdf tutorial!

  6. Very helpful information!!

    I just had a wall quilt with red fabric bleed onto the Kona white. I didn't let it dry and used the Shout Color Catcher Sheets to grab the dye. The quilt looked great and the sheet was pink. Do you have any idea how these sheets work? I am curious as to what chemical is used.


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