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Pre-Shrinking is Essential
... which means... buy enough fabric to pre-shrink!
Ready-to-wear is usually sold ready-to-shrink, which is why you see so many Dry Clean Only tags on clothes in stores. It saves the manufacturer time and money if they don't preshrink then side-step responsibility for cleaning mistakes by the customer. Of course, YOU get to pay for dry cleaning for the life of the garment, too bad!
Surprise! Dry cleaning CAN shrink fabrics anyway, so you should still preshrink all your fabrics (including underlining and lining) before you cut.
In any event, why not treat yourself to a long, happy relationship with your new costume piece and take a little time to pre-shrink. The US Extension Service states that 3% shrinkage will cause a garment to shrink ONE SIZE. Some fabrics will shrink up to 10%! If YOU do the preshrinking, then you have the option of washing it or dry cleaning it!
Testing Problem Fabric
There ARE fabrics that are problematic when washed, especially if fragile or if you don't know how to dry them properly. I would be suspicious of ornamented or embroidered fabric as well. Wool, for instance is likely to both shrink AND felt. For fabrics whose reaction to washing is unknown, cut a 4-6" square (square with the selvages), finish the edges, and then wash and dry it the way you intend to handle it in the future.
- Hand-wash in cool water and air dry flat on a supported surface is commonly considered to be the gentlest way to clean. But make SURE you rinse well!
- Some fabrics dry stiff unless they are moved while drying. For these, tumble dry on cool or drying in the shade during a breeze can work well.
- Front loader machines are gentler on clothes than top loaders, because the top loader's agitator keeps reversing directions, which creates some drag on the clothes.
Take a look at your swatch. Like what you see and feel? Then it is time to pre-shrink the costume fabric.
How Much Extra Fabric Do I Need if I Preshrink?
- For synthetics, 5%. For natural fibers (cotton, rayon, silk, hemp) 10-15%. Do a Google search on the fabric fiber and get a feeling for what you are dealing with.
- Loosely-woven fabrics (like a gauze) will shrink more than normal fabrics.
- Most fabrics will shrink much more in length than in width.
- If you want a CLOSE estimate, preshrinking a swatch (see above in Testing Problem Fabric) comes in handy. After you cut the swatch, put a safety pin or stitch a small loop of ribbon on one of the edges that runs parallel to the selvage so that you will know which is the length and which is the width. Wash and dry it. Then use simple arithmetic to scale the shrinkage to the actual dimensions of the fabric.
- Assuming you start with a 6-inch square sample with two sides cut parallel to the selvage:
- Estimate lengthwise shrinkage per yard by multiplying whatever length was lost in the patch by 6. In short; if the patch shrank 1/2" lengthwise, then expect a 3-inch loss per yard. Which means: buy 39 inches of fabric for each yard of fabric needed.
- Estimate widthwise shrinkage by figuring the percent lost by the patch and applying that to the purchased fabric width. In short: if the 6" patch lost 1/2" of width, then it lost 8% (0.5 / 6) of the width during pre-shrinking. This means that a fabric width of 44" is going to lose 4" (44 * .08 and round up).
- A loss of length is almost always a problem that requires purchase of extra fabric or piecing scraps in inconspicuous places to eke out the fabric.
- A loss of width is often NOT a problem, but if the pattern layout is very precise or if you cannot visualize the impact of the shrinkage, then do a test layout. Piecing a scrap as needed is a viable option for most costume patterns.
How to Preshrink Natural Fibers
Most natural-fiber fabrics (silk, rayon, cotton, linen) are naturally washable. The Q & A article in the December 2013 Threads Magazine recommends being harder on your fabric yardage during the pretreating stage than you will be on the finished garments in order to avoid unpleasant surprises, and I agree. If you are confident that the fabric is washable, the article suggests washing in hot, rinsing in cold and tumble-drying in a warm dryer to "shock" the fabric and shrink it more than a washing in lukewarm water.
- If you plan on dyeing this fabric in a simmering water bath then -- no need to preshrink! The hot dye bath will do the preshrinking for you, no problem.
- If you are washing 3 or more yards of fabric, then I suggest you sew the fabric into a circle (raw ends together, use basting stitch) before you wash and dry it. This will GREATLY cut down on the amount of twisting that occurs during pre-shrinking and makes the yardage easier to handle...especially if there is a lot of it.
Maura Enright, Proprietor
Author: Maura Enright
©2013 by Maura Enright
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