quilting samples with pre-washed and unwashed fabrics

Quilting test swatches with pre-washed and unwashed fabrics

What’s the difference between quilting with pre-washed fabrics and fabrics straight from the bolt? Should I use cotton or polyester thread? As the quilt “final exam” project from School of Sewing approaches, I wanted to run some tests to get a better idea of what kind of outcomes to expect with these different variables.

I was pretty sure I’d like the effect of non pre-washing the fabrics, because those would have a larger chance of getting more crinkly, which is my preference. The fabrics for my actual quilt will be a combination of quilting cottons, linen/cotton blends, and chambray, and from what I’ve read it’s smart to pre-wash linens and linen blends because they tend to shrink more and can pull apart at the seams. The primary motivation of this test was to see whether I’d like the look of pre-washed fabrics once they’ve been quilted and finished.

I put together 4 samples to quilt, bind, wash, and dry with a combination of pre-washed and unwashed 100% cotton fabrics, pieced and quilted cotton and polyester threads. The samples were washed and dried on the cotton/normal settings (warm water + medium heat). Needle used was a Sharp 75/11, thread tension 3.25, piecing stitch length 2.0 and quilting stitch length 2.5.

Swatch A Swatch B* Swatch C Swatch D
Quilt top pre-washed not pre-washed pre-washed not pre-washed
Quilt backing pre-washed pre-washed not pre-washed not pre-washed
Thread (for piecing and quilting) Gütermann 50 weight natural cotton (white) Gütermann 50 weight natural cotton (white) Gütermann Mara 100 polyester (dark grey) Gütermann Mara 100 polyester (dark grey)
Binding pre-washed not pre-washed pre-washed not pre-washed
Size before washing and drying 7 9/16″ x 4 1/8″ 7 7/16″ x 4 1/4″ 10″ x 4 1/4″ 7 3/8″ x 4 3/8″
Size after washing and drying 7 1/4″ x 4″ 7 1/8″ x 4 1/16″ 9 1/2″ x 4 1/4″ 7″ x 4 1/8″

*I used Pellon NB-96 Natural Cotton Batting for all samples, but for Swatch B it was a bad bolt and was too thin. I didn’t realize this was possible! Lesson learned.

Results

I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of the samples got nice and crinkly, even the pre-washed fabrics. This was a relief because I’ll be pre-washing my quilt project fabrics since I’m using a few different kinds of fabrics together.

quilting samples with pre-washed and unwashed fabrics

The backs and fronts of each of the quilting samples. From top: A, B, C, D

Swatch A front

Swatch A front

Swatch A back

Swatch A back

Swatch B front

Swatch B front

Swatch B back

Swatch B back

Swatch C front

Swatch C front

Swatch C back

Swatch C back

Swatch D front

Swatch D front

Swatch D back

Swatch D back

Each of the samples did shrink some after washing, even those that used pre-washed fabrics. I attribute this to the batting shrinking and pulling everything together. Swatch B, with the unusually thin batting, has a much subtler quilting effect on the top and is flatter than the others.

I like the look of the cotton thread, and would like to try a 40 weight for quilting and keep the 50 weight for piecing. The hard part will be deciding what color thread to use for my quilt! I like the look of the light and dark threads…

 

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