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January 18, 2014
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running reds

Hello all, Mary Ellen here.

Are you a pre-washer or not? This seems to be one of the BIG quilt questions that can separate a group of quilters into 2 camps pretty quickly. (Another one of those questions–Do you use steam when you press your seams? but that’s for another day) I am a pre-washer. I have had a few nasty surprises in my quilting career that took all the fun out of some projects. I almost had another one yesterday.

I finished a log cabin quilt to be used as a class sample. I had used some dressmaker’s chalk to mark a garland in the outer border. When I got the whole thing done and bound, I threw it in the washer to get the chalk out, and to give it that nice crinkly look a quilt made with 100% cotton batting will get. Yep, I had used a deep red in the center squares of the cabins and repeated it as the inner border. It had been pre-washed. It was a fabric from a major producer of high quality quilting fabric (no names to protect the “innocent”). And yep, you are ahead of me, it ran. I had washed it in cold water and the gentle cycle with a color catcher. Fortunately my quilting guardian angel had me look the quilt over before I threw it into the dryer. After saying a few choice words, I put it back into the washer with a second color catcher and ran it through the cycles again. This time the red came away from the surrounding fabrics (but the color catcher stayed white, don’t ask me how). Into the dryer it went, hopefully setting the red dye.

I will always be a pre-washer! But I have learned that it still doesn’t guarantee fool-proof results. I don’t understand how so many quilters can skip this step, trusting that since they paid a lot for the fabric that it will be fine.

Here’s a link to a Barbara Brackman story that gives a few hints for those stinker fabrics that bleed like mad.(click here)

Do you have a story about running reds, or a hint that we can use?


  1. Paula Foerder says:

    I wasn’t a pre-washer but then I started washing just the red fabrics. I didn’t like that the reds were washed and the other fabrics weren’t…so now I wash everything. And, Yes, I use steam to press seams

  2. Robi Witulski says:

    As a general rule, I am not a pre-washer. But, I do a rub test on anything I suspect, usually a red, or any hand-dyed fabrics. I rub them (dry) on a piece of white fabric. If there’s any transfer, I put the fabric into a bucket with a vinegar/water solution to set the dye, rinse a few times, then wash. By doing this, knock wood, I have never had a project ruined by color bleeding in fabrics. And, yes, like Paula, I, too, use steam to press!!

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