When is it better to wash the quilts: before or after binding?
I wash all my quilts, after the quilting is done and before the binding is applied. I thought that all quilters do this but after a little research on Internet I came to the conclusion that this a controversial subject. So I will try to explain why I do this.
First of all, I wash all my quilts, no matter what kind of quilts they are (wall hangings, baby quilts or utilitarian quilts) or what I plan to do with them (I keep them for myself, or they are gifts or if I want to sell them).
Some techniques require you to wash the quilts anyway (like trapunto -you have to wash out the water soluble thread, or appliqué – wash out the marking lines). No matter the technique, I wash all my quilts. I can’t say one of my quilts is finished until it is perfectly clean.
Most of my quilts are heavily machine quilted. Even the hand pieced quilts were machine quilted.
So, why I wash my quilts before binding is applied?
Because the heavy machine quilting can distort the shape of a quilt. And while the distortion might not be visible at all when the quilting is done, you become aware of it when you wash the quilt for the first time.
The first washing can distort the quilt even if it is not heavily quilted.
After the washing is done and the quilt is still wet, it’s time for blocking- returning the quilt to its proper shape and size while laying flat to dry.
This is a very important step, especially for wall hangings. If the quilt has a perfect shape, it will hang nicely and straight on the wall.
Washing the quilt
- If the quilt is small to medium size, I wash it by hand- I just gently agitate it in water with detergent. I rinse it a few times and then I put it in the washing machine for a spinning cycle ( at 400 rotations/minute) to remove the excess water.
- For some quilts a quick hand washing is not enough (for example, applique quilts with pressed marking lines) and then I wash the quilt in the washing machine on gentle cycle.
- I also wash the big quilts in the washing machine, on gentle cycle.
I put the quilt in the washing machine, fill the machine with warm water then let the quilt soak for a few minutes. Only after that I add a little mild detergent, completely dissolved in a lot of water.
Blocking the quilt
- When the washing cycle is done, I gently remove the quilt from the machine (which much care to not distort it) and lay it on the clean (freshly washed) floor. I have a laminated floor (and no carpet).
- Then I gently smooth it into shape, starting from the center toward the edges. If you need help to flatten the quilt, you could gently steam press on the back.
- For my quilts with center design and large background around it, this is all I have to do.
- For other quilts we have to measure the quilt on the center and along the edges, making sure they have the same size and also check the corners for right angles. If the quilt is made out of blocks, then all the blocks must be straight and aligned.
- A foam board is very useful if you need to make adjustments- you just have to pin the quilt to hold it in the desired shape.
Drying the quilt
If I don’t dry the quilt on the board used for blocking, here is what I do:
- Once the quilt is nice and flat, I add a plastic sheet to protect the floor and a clean bed sheet on top of it. Then I lay the quilt on top of them and leave it there until it is completely dry.
- If your floor is covered with carpet, protect it the same way. You will be able to pin through the carpet to hold the quilt in place.
- If the quilt is small, I do all these steps on a table.
- If it is too big for my space, I hang it on a rod (or on a cardboard tube) to dry. This is the way I dried my best quilt ever – it kept the shape really nice (and that’s because most water was removed in the spinning cycle and the additional weight did not distort its shape).
|wet quilt hanging to dry|
Adding the binding
- Start adding the binding when the quilt is completely dry. It’s a big mistake to work with it sooner, if the quilt is still damp it will develop a lot of creases and you will have to wash it again – don’t ask how I know this!)
- You have to trim the edges according to the desired shape and size. Then it is ready for binding.
- Of course, you have to do this again on a clean floor!
- Find a way to stabilize the outside edges of the quilt top
If the quilting does not extend right out to the outer edges, baste along those edges. Or you could use a long zig zag stitch to “finish” the outer raw edges. This keeps the fabric from fraying too. Not anchoring at all the edges of the top to batting and backing and then washing is a mistake.
- Washer with agitator? Honestly, I don’t know what is this, I read you have to avoid it!
- I usually pre-wash the fabric for quilts and binding so I don’t worry about washing the quilt (I don’t worry about shrinkage and excess dye). If you did not pre-wash fabric, use dye catchers when you wash the quilt for the first time.
- Before washing
I trim the excess batting and backing to about 1″ away from the edge of the quilt top- this speeds up the drying process.
- When the quilt is FINISHED, I use a lint roller to clean the entire surface of the quilt.
So, with or without binding, a quilt suffers some grade of distortion when it is washed for the first time. And I think it is better to work out that distortion before adding binding. The binding would limit what you could do to solve the problems.
I washed my latest quilts (three or four) for the second time (I took them outside for photography and then I had to wash them again). The quilts kept the perfect shape after the second washing.
So this is how I wash my heavily quilted quilts. I don’t know if it is better or worse than other quilters do. But it works for me- every time!
What do you think? How do you wash your quilts?