Preparing your fabric

Sometimes it’s necessary to prepare your fabric before you cut it. There are a number of reasons why you may need to do this – for example to reduce the risk of shrinking your finished garment, or to lose any unfixed dye. Unless the description for your fabric indicates otherwise, it’s best to assume that your fabric will not have been pre-washed or otherwise prepared for use in dressmaking. Often it will have – but we won’t necessarily know, so you’ll need to take the appropriate steps yourself. We are always happy to do a test wash as explained in the section Fabric care – looking after your fabric – however this will apply to samples and not purchased lengths. If your fabric is a blend of two or more fibres, then assume that you’ll need to combine the instructions for the most delicate fibre content, with those for any fibres likely to shrink or lose dye. If in doubt, then please just contact us for further information. Once your fabric has been used to construct your garment, follow the guidance given in Fabric care – looking after your fabric.

Cottons, Viscose (Rayon)

Cotton and viscose fabrics, particularly densely-woven fabrics (e.g. drills and twills, including denims) may be prone to shrinkage. We recommend that you wash these fabrics prior to cutting and fitting, according to the appropriate instructions in Fabric care – looking after your fabric. In addition, heavily dyed fabrics may lose dye in initial washes and so should be washed separately from differently-coloured fabrics.

Linens (including linen mixes)

We recommend that you wash linen or fabrics with a linen content prior to cutting, in order to ensure that the usual initial shrinkage experienced with linen-based fabrics can be eliminated prior to garment construction. We suggest a 30º or 40º machine wash or a hand wash, followed by a steam iron when almost dry. Theoretically this will result in anything from a 2-3% to as much as 10% shrinkage although we’ve never seen anything more than the lower end of this scale when we’ve wash-tested a fabric. We suggest you finish the raw edges of your linen before you wash in order to prevent fraying, either with an overlock or a zig-zag stitch. If you have a pair of pinking shears then using them to clip the edges of your fabric is another way of reducing fraying prior to washing.

Wools (including wool mixes)

We suggest that any wool fabric should be pre-shrunk before use in order to contract the fibres prior to cutting and fitting. The easiest way to do this is to use a steam iron on the lowest steam setting to press the fabric. Use the wrong side of the fabric and if necessary, use a pressing cloth to minimise any damage to the surface finish of the wool. If you have successfully wash-tested the fabric then you should also be able to machine-wash your cloth on the ‘Wools’ setting on your washing machine – although at no more than 30º. Don’t wring the fabric dry – lay it as flat as you can on a large airer and let it air dry. Don’t tumble dry the fabric – the purpose of pre-washing it is to reduce the risk of future shrinkage – not to turn it into felt, which is what you risk doing in a drier. If you have washed your wool, then press with a cool iron on the wrong side when not quite dry, then leave to air properly.


If you are working with heavier and pure silks then you may expect up to 10% shrinkage, as with linens – although usually it is much less. For this reason, and to reduce the risk of dye loss later, it is advisable to pre-wash silk fabrics before use. We recommend using a mild non-biological detergent in lukewarm water since this will also remove any manufacturing finish which may remain on the surface of the fabric. As you can see from the sample below, we think we lost perhaps 2%-3% of fabric size when we hand-washed this 20cm sample of silk noil. Silk fabric care - pre-shrinkingAfter washing then please – no wringing – silk fibres can be damaged when wet. You can remove excess water by folding and rolling in a towel – then drape over a clothes horse or hang very carefully. As usual, we tend to steer clear of tumble driers and wouldn’t recommend their use in fabric preparation. You might find, as we did, that fabrics can be liable to fraying when being prepared. As with linens, we’d suggest you finish the raw edges of your silk before washing in order to prevent this. Once pre-washed, heavier silks will respond well to a good press on the wrong side with a gently steaming iron. If it’s a finer silk, then use a cooler setting and you probably won’t need the steam.

Polyester, Acrylic & Acetate

You shouldn’t need to wash these types of fabric since they will not usually shrink unless blended with other fabrics (e.g. wools). However very occasionally you may find that there is a temporary surface finish that you may prefer to remove prior to working with the fabric. In this case, wash according to the appropriate instructions in Fabric care – looking after your fabric.
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