Washing and caring for your fabric and handmade clothes

How to wash fabric is something we get asked a lot about - and quite rightly! Knowing how to look after your precious fabric purchases and handmade clothes is a really important consideration when dressmaking.

In my Youtube video I’m talking about prewashing, from what I know as a retailer about the fabrics we sell and also my own personal experiences from all the different fabrics and garments I’ve washed over the years.

Check out the video below, or read on for quick reference summary notes for future projects!

Prewashing (and drying and ironing)

  • When you think about what a fabric goes through in a washing machine it is quite an ordeal. Soaking wet, rubbed up with soap and spun round and round and round and round! It’s no wonder washing can change a fabric and that’s why it's so important to think about prewashing before you cut out your fabric.
  • For my own personal sewing projects, on the whole I do prewash fabric. Sometimes it’s more important that others and I’ll go into more detail on that below.
  • Always remember to fully open out your fabric before prewashing if it’s come from a bolt of fabric and been folded in half.
  • At home I typically wash my clothes at 40 degrees (sometimes 30 degrees), with 4 rinses on a 1200 spin cycle and that takes about an hour and a half in my machine. I tumble dry quite a lot of things, but not everything (again I’ll go into more detail below). If I think I can get away with it, I will prewash my fabrics like this so that they are much easier to fit into my normal weekly laundry routine once I have made the garment. If the fabric needs to be hand washed on a cooler cycle, I know I’m much less likely to wear it as the effort to handwash it too much on a regular basis (for me anyway!)
  • Try to see actually washing the fabric as only the first of three steps in pre-washing a fabric. How you dry it and iron it will also have an effect on the fabric. For example, hanging a jersey fabric out on a washing line will likely stretch it out of shape which can mean what you cut out is stretched and ultimately, the garment you make will be stretched out too, or not sit right after subsequent washes.
  • Ironing is the last stage and quite often fabrics will typically come out wrinkled after washing and drying. Ironing properly will make your fabric nice and flat, which will make what you cut out much more accurate – so having a good steam iron and padded ironing board is really important (https://guthrie-ghani.co.uk/bl...).

Types of fabric and how to care for them

The following guidelines are based on my own experiences and judgement. If you are ever not sure, just test wash a small section of the fabric first. Washing machines can vary, as can fabrics, water hardness and detergent, so see the information in this blog post as suggestions, not rules.

Cotton Lawn

Prewash – I do just in case of any slight shrinkage. As the thread count on cotton lawn tends to be very high though you probably could get away without prewashing.

Washing suggestion –
40 degrees, 4 rinses, 1200 spin

Drying –
air dry on a washing line, clothes horse or on a hanger

Ironing – cotton setting so pretty hot with lots of steam and maybe an extra spray of water from my spray bottle if there are any persistent wrinkles (the added water helps to relax the fibres)

What’s normal?
In my experience, cotton lawn doesn’t usually shrink

Double gauze

Prewash – The two very fine delicate layers that make double gauze are commonly a looser weave and therefore can fray more than normal. I would prewash and finish off the cut edges (usually with an overlocker) to prevent excessive fraying during the washing cycle.

Washing suggestion –
40 degrees, 4 rinses, 1200 spin

– air dry on a clothes horse or washing line

– cotton setting with plenty steam, though be careful not to over press so that you keep the textured nature of the fabric.

What’s normal?
May shrink a little due to the looser weave but I’ve found they often get softer and softer with washing. The fabric will probably also crinkle up after each wash, but can easily be re-pressed flat.

For more information on working with double gauze see my separate blog post here.

Viscose/rayon (or linen mixes)

Prewash – I generally prewash viscose fabrics to remove any shrinkage.

Washing suggestion
– 40 degrees, 4 rinses, 1200 spin (It’s generally best to wash at a cooler temperature to prolong the life of the fabric but I have to admit to forgetting sometimes and bunging it in with a normal load and its fine)

Drying –
air dry for sure!

Ironing –
a bit cooler than a cotton setting, bit of steam but usually the heat on its own is fine

What’s normal? I often find that when you first take them out and the fabrics are still wet, they can almost feel a bit stiff or crispy. I’ve been worried in the past, but as soon as they are dry and ironed the floatyness comes back and all is fine!


Prewash – Yes, it's very important to prewash linen as it will shrink sometimes up to 10%

Washing suggestion –
30 degrees, 4 rinses, 1200 spin

– I would personally air dry

Ironing –
hot iron, plenty of steam and an extra spritz from the water bottle to help to remove creases.

What’s normal?
The weave can sometimes become a little bit denser, might feel stiff when it's wet but will relax once it's dry and ironed. Linen tends to get softer with each wash.


Prewash – Jacquards can be made of many different fibres, so whether to prewash your jacquard depends a little on what the fabric is made from. If your fabric is made from mostly naturally derived fibres (such as cotton or viscose) then I’d recommend prewashing to help remove any shrinkage. If your fabric has a high polyester content though you could probably get away without prewashing.

Washing suggestion
– 30 degrees, 2 rinses, 1200 spin.

– air dry

– iron using medium heat and plenty of steam.

What’s normal?
Sometimes jacquards can crinkle up a little after washing, but will return to normal once pressed.


Prewash – YES YES YES! Please don’t skip this with jersey fabric especially. It will shrink. If it's viscose or a mix, 30 degrees is better, but I have to admit, I push it to 40 most of the time so it can be added to my normal weekly washes.

Washing suggestion –
30/40 degrees, 4 rinses, 1200 spin

Drying –
dry as flat as possible after prewashing to prevent the fabric getting stretched. You can also tumble dry, though be aware that tumble drying can reduce the life and body of your fabric fairly quickly if used on a regular basis.

Ironing – warm/hot iron with steam. Ironing will also help it to relax out.

What’s normal?
Between 10-15% shrinkage can be common. I’ve found that sometimes fabric can decrease in length but increase in width. Often patterns recommend more fabric than is needed but if you are concerned or want to add length to a garment then get more.


Prewash – Yes, denim has a tendency to shrink along the length. Remember to unfold it fully before putting in the washing machine.

Washing suggestion –
40 degrees, 4 rinses, 1200 spin – make sure you wash your finished garment inside out

Drying –
air dry

– hot iron with lots of steam

What’s normal? Denim will fade and wear – to what extent will vary from denim to denim. This fading helps to give your garment that classic denim character though. You can see an example of this fading on our Cone Mill denim.

Denim will usually shrink a little, though this tends to be more vertically that horizontally.


Prewash – Yes, as corduroy is usually made from cotton it can shrink a little on the first wash. Make sure to unfold the fabric fully and use a lower spin setting to help prevent creases. Taking the fabric out of the machine as soon as the cycle has finished will also help with this.

Washing suggestion – 30 or 40 degrees, 2 rinses, 800 spin. Don’t wash with garments that shed a lot of fluff or lint - this will stick to the corduroy! Turn your finished garments inside out before washing.

Drying – air dry

Ironing – iron on the reverse using medium heat and plenty of steam. Don’t iron on the right side as this can damage the wales.

What’s normal? Corduroy can shrink a small amount on the first wash, but I generally find the feel and behaviour of the fabric does not change much.


I’m talking more about coating type wools here.

Prewash –
For me, generally not. Some people will roll it up in a damp towel and then leave to dry, I’ve also heard of tumble drying it with a damp cloth or towel to kind of steam it. You could consider dry cleaning it, but I would probably dry clean a smaller section of the fabric first to check that the integrity and colour vibrancy of fabric is not affected.

If your washing machine has a wool setting then you could also test wash a small section on a low heat to see how the fabric comes out, making sure to use a suitable wool detergent.

Garment washing – I've found that my wool coats need minimal attention when it comes to washing. Wool naturally repels odours and stains so tend to just spot clean them if necessary and hang outside to air from time to time remove any smells.

Ironing –
Before cutting into your wool, I would iron on hot with plenty of steam. This will help to remove any shrinkage. Using a pressing cloth will help minimise a sheen appearing on your fabric especially if it contains some synthetic fibres.

What’s normal?
Wool does shrink when washed, but the amount will vary depending on how it's washed. If you were to accidentally wash pure wool on a regular washing machine cycle with standard detergent then you would find it would shrink a lot and would basically felt and get very tight/contracted/firm. This is why it's important to use caution when washing wool.

Silks and delicate

Prewash – Yes, I would hand wash delicate fabrics like silk, lace or fine embroidered fabrics.

Suggested washing –
A very gentle handwash with lukewarm water and silk detergent is best. Immerse the fabric in water and very gently agitate it for a few minutes before rinsing. Gently squeeze out the excess water - you could even layer it between some towels and compress it to gently remove the water before hanging it up to air dry.

If your washing machine has a hand wash function you could test wash a small piece first to see how it behaves. Go for a 30 degree or lower temperature on as short a spin cycle as possible and remove it from the machine as soon as it’s done.

Drying –
air dry

Ironing –
use a low setting and where possible stick with pressing on the back of the fabric with a pressing cloth. For silks, it can help to iron when slightly damp from prewashing to remove creases.

What’s normal?
It's important to take care when washing delicate fabrics so as not to damage them. Silk in particular can be damaged by the heat and agitation of a normal machine wash, which can lead to the loss of the fabric's sheen and softness.

Silk can sometimes shrink when washed, but I haven't generally found this to happen when using a cool hand-wash.

To read more about sewing with silk visit my blog post here.

More posts

Lauren's Top Sewing Tips

Lauren's Top Tips for pressing and ironing

for a lovely finish on your dressmaking projects