The most visited place on this whole website is the page of instructions for dealing with bleeding quilts. I get lots of emails from people telling me that these instructions saved their quilts. I know of three grandchildren who received pristine quilts for Christmas after their Grandmothers dealt with bleeding that seemed to ruin their special Christmas gifts.
That makes me feel good but we can avoid all of that drama if we will treat our fabric before we ever sew with it.
The key lesson that I learned through testing is that the fabric needs a long time exposed to water for it to let go of all of the excess dye and water exposure is cumulative. Three 15 minute washes is equivalent to a 45 minute soak. When we pre-wash fabric we are only giving the fabric about 15 minutes of exposure. I learned that reds generally need 8 - 12 hours soaking to release all of the excess dye and blues take even longer. A batik turquoise will still bleed dye even after 48 hours. That would be a lot of wasted water and electricity for repeated washing when a couple of soaking will do.
Some commercial fabrics don't bleed at all but you never know which ones do until you soak them. It has nothing to do with Wal-Mart vs Quilt Shop fabric. As an example, I've bought Benartex fabric one year that bled and a related line the next year that didn't. Given that all of this fabric is printed overseas I just don't believe that anyone has any real control over those processes anymore. I soak EVERY commercial fabric that I buy and I soak all of my hand dyed fabrics before you ever purchase them.
Yesterday I soaked 10 yards of some new fabric that I bought. After an hour of soaking the water was still quite clear but I left it overnight. This is what I found this morning. Imagine if I had sewn the fabric into a quilt with light colors. It might not have bled in the first couple of washings but eventually all of this dye would have released and ruined my quilt. I emptied the washer, filled it again and let it soak a few more hours to make sure it was done. Now I can use it confidently in any quilt.
Soaking process for new fabric: Be sure to use a tub that can hold a lot of water. HE washers will not do the job. You need a large volume of water and soap. Hot water will make the process happen faster and Dawn dish soap (any of them) is the best soap to use. Use enough soap to get a good suds. That amount depends on the hardness of your water. When the water turns dark, drain the tub and start the process again. You are done when the water remains clear.
Let's not leave this post with just an ugly washing machine photo. Here's my applique quilt coming together. I've got 2 more corners to add and then a green outer boarder. Then I'll finally be able to draft up the outer border.
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I'm Vicki Welsh and I've been making things as long as I can remember. I used to be a garment maker but transitioned to quilts about 20 years ago. Currently I'm into fabric dyeing, quilting, Zentangle, fabric postcards, fused glass and mosaic. I document my adventures here.