Taking time to preshrink your fashion fabrics, notions, interfacings and linings is imperative before cutting out your garment. Like most other projects, preparation is the key to a professional end product. Though some fabrics may be labeled “needle ready” or “preshrunk,” the appropriate method of preshrinking is often recommended by the seasoned sew-er. Even if little or no shrinking occurs, most fabrics are infused with certain chemicals that occasionally cause allergic reactions in the wearer. Preshrinking often removes most or all of these agents.
This is also the time to check for color-fastness or “bleeding” by dipping a small swatch or corner of the fabric in water then blotting it between white paper towels. If any dye is visible, soak the fabric in a basin of cold water and one cup of salt (if the garment will be laundered in cold water) or hot water and one cup of vinegar (if laundering in hot water). There are also products available from fabric dye suppliers and sewing notion catalogs that can be added to enhance color-fastness. If the fabric is color-fast, save energy by adding it to your regular laundry, but take care to wash dark or bright colors separately the first time. If adding fabric softener, use a liquid instead of dryer sheets that can leave an oily residue on some fabrics, especially synthetic suede.
Check the fabric bolt or hang tag for cleaning instructions to be followed when preshrinking. Treat the fabric as you would the finished garment. If dry cleaning is the preferred method, a reputable dry cleaner can steam/shrink the yardage. You can also steam it yourself by holding an iron just above the fabric until the steam penetrates the fibers or by using a dampened press cloth on the wrong side as you steam. Wool can also be shrunk by laying it flat then covering it with a wet sheet or large piece of cotton fabric that has been saturated and wrung out until damp. The wool and cloth are gently pressed together as they are loosely folded over several times then placed in a plastic bag for a few hours to ensure the wool is moistened. After taking the fabrics out of the bag, remove the sheet or cotton and lay the wool flat to dry.
One hundred percent cottons will shrink considerably and may require more than one preshrinking. However, blends of 50/50 cotton/polyester have little or no shrinkage. Read care labels on all synthetic suede and leather as washing and dry cleaning vary. Silks and some synthetics will water-spot, so professional steaming is preferred. Raw silk can be washed but will become much softer with considerably more drape.
Non-fusible interfacings can be preshrunk using the same method as the fashion fabric, then pressed to eliminate wrinkles. Fusible interfacings must be soaked in cool water for 10-15 minutes, blotted in a towel to remove excess water, then laid flat. Hanging the interfacing to dry could result in it stretching. Never place fusibles in the dryer as this could ruin the interfacing as well as damage the dryer. Smaller items such as zippers and trims can be placed in a lingerie bag before preshrinking. Since it’s difficult to decipher the right from wrong side of some fabrics, use a small safely pin or other marking in the selvage to determine what is correct.
Preshrinking is essential when sewing garments, but not recommended when using decorator fabrics for window treatments, etc. These fabrics have a special finish and are generally not meant to be laundered.