Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Preparing Fabric for Use

I didn't want to leave it too long without putting up a post, but I've not quite recovered from the weekend yet, so I thought I'd copy across a post I did recently for an upcoming garb workshop. This one is regarding fabric preparation, but I'll post the others here too.

When it comes to preparing your fabric, any time can be soon enough to start. But the question you may be asking yourself is, does my fabric need to be prewashed? Well, that depends. Some hold to a straight "yes, fabric should always be washed", but what about that expensive silk brocade, or metallic trim that can't see water for the sake of protecting it from tarnishing? Here's the approach I take:

Fabric should be washed on the basis of what it's going be to used for. Linens or wools that are destined for day garb that's going to end up seeing work in the kitchens, treking though muddy event sites or all sorts of crafting are going to be the workhorses of your wardrobe. These are going to need washing and lots of it to remove stains, so these fabrics should alsolutely be pre-washed, on as high a heat as possible. These days, when I buy large amounts of linen, the first thing I do when I get them home is prewash them, and then the fabric sits ready until it's needed.

I don't prewash all of my linen though. The linen used to line my brocade skirt with wasn't prewashed as I don't anticipate needing to expose that skirt to water, and similarly, the linen used as a base for my linen carboard was used straight off the bolt, as it were. Those were special examples though. So this is something to consider on a case by case basis.

When it comes to finer fabrics, such as silks and brocades, pre-washing may not be a good idea at all. Some silks stain when exposed to washing, and while water-marked silk was a desired look for some in some areas in the 15th and 16th centuries, chances are your washing machine won't co-operate by giving you a nice even pattern to work with. So again, this is a case by case basis. Silk stays probably won't see water as stays are rarely washed, but if you wanted to use silk for a chemise or shirt or similar items that will definitely have soap in their future, then pre-wash a small sample first to make sure it's safe to wash the entire piece.

All this was nicely summed up by a couple of people who posted on the group to say, you're basically not looking to give the fabric any special treatment; rather you want to treat the fabric as it will be treated during it's lifetime. It may be tempting to hot wash a wool to shrink it as much as it's going to be shrunk, but if the fabric is going to be embroidered, it's not going to see that treatment when worn.

If in doubt, wash a sample. And if you're still in doubt, please feel free to drop me an message to ask.


  1. I have two words- rat poop. I have been educated by ladies who work with the fabrics that there is no way to prevent it from getting on the fabrics in transit from factory to store. I wash everything now.

  2. Which is of course a fair point. During my own time in a fabric shop all our bolts arrived plastic wrapped, and I have seen some fabrics ruined by improper washing or handling. The point I'm trying to make above is just to be careful in your chosen preparation methods.