How To Prepare Fabric Before Sewing: 5 Simple Steps

As an expert sewer, I’ve learned that properly preparing fabric is the foundation for any successful project. From preventing shrinkage to ensuring accurate cutting, taking the time to follow these crucial steps can make all the difference. 

In this comprehensive guide about How To Prepare Fabric Before Sewing, I’ll share my tried-and-true methods for getting fabric ready for the sewing machine, ensuring your creations turn out beautifully every time.

Why Prepare Fabric Before Sewing?

You might be tempted to skip straight to cutting and sewing with your brand-new fabric but trust me, that’s a recipe for disaster. Failing to prepare your fabric can lead to:

  • Shrinkage after the first wash, ruining the fit of your garment
  • Colors running or bleeding, leaving unsightly stains
  • Distorted grain lines, causing twisting and puckering

By taking a few extra steps upfront, you’ll save yourself a world of frustration and end up with professional-looking results.

Step 1: Pre-Washing Fabric

The first and most crucial step is pre-washing your fabric. This process serves two main purposes:

  1. Allowing the fabric to shrink before cutting and sewing, preventing future shrinkage.
  2. Removing excess dyes and chemicals from the manufacturing process.

Here’s How I pre-wash fabric:

  • Check the seller’s instructions for recommended settings. If none are provided, wash the fabric the same way you plan to wash the finished item.
  • Unfold the fabric completely before washing to ensure thorough cleaning.
  • (Optional) Finish the cut edges with a zig-zag stitch or serger to prevent fraying.
  • Use a color catcher if washing printed fabrics with white portions.
  • Wash similar colors together to avoid color bleeding.
  • (Optional) Add a mild detergent for a deeper clean.


  • When quilting, many skip pre-washing to maintain fabric crispness.
  • For “dry clean only” fabrics, steam them with an iron or take them to the dry cleaner.

Step 2: Drying the Fabric

After pre-washing, you’ll need to dry your fabric thoroughly before proceeding. You have two options:

  • Line drying: Hang the fabric on a clothesline or drying rack.
  • Tumble drying: Use your clothes dryer for added shrinkage prevention.

Tumble Drying Tips:

  • Follow the seller’s instructions or use your regular clothing settings.
  • Tumble drying is ideal for pre-shrinking fabric before cutting.
  • Ignore warnings against tumble drying, as someone may accidentally dry your finished item.

Step 3: Treating “Dry Clean Only” Fabrics

For fabrics labeled “dry clean only,” you have a few options:

  • Steam with an iron to pre-shrink the fabric.
  • Take the fabric to a dry cleaner for professional treatment.
  • Skip pre-treatment if the fabric is unlikely to shrink.

Alternatively, you can test a small swatch by washing and drying it, measuring for shrinkage before proceeding with the full yardage.

Step 4: Ironing and Grain Line Check

With your fabric clean and dry, it’s time to iron out any wrinkles and check the grain lines.

Ironing Tips:

  • Set the iron temperature according to the fabric type.
  • Use steam or a spray bottle for stubborn wrinkles.
  • Protect delicate fabrics with a 100% cotton pressing cloth.

Checking Grain Lines:

  • Fabric grain refers to the direction of the woven threads.
  • Distorted grain lines can cause twisting and hanging issues.
  • To check, fold the fabric in half along the selvage edges. If it forms a bubble, the grain is distorted.

Fixing Distorted Grain:

  • Pull the fabric along the opposite diagonal to re-square it.
  • Press with an iron and allow it to cool flat.

Step 5: Cutting and Sewing

With your fabric properly prepared, you’re now ready to cut out your pattern pieces and start sewing! Here are a few final tips:

  • Follow pattern instructions carefully for layout and cutting.
  • Use weights or pattern weights to hold the fabric in place while cutting.
  • Consider using a rotary cutter and self-healing mat for precision.
  • Sew a test swatch first to check tension and stitch quality.

Bonus Tips for Fabric Preparation

Over the years, I’ve picked up a few extra tricks to ensure seamless sewing:

  • Store fabrics properly, away from direct sunlight and moisture, until ready to use.
  • Pre-wash trims like lace, ribbon, or bias tape if they’ll be washed with the finished item.
  • Check for fabric flaws or defects before cutting and sewing.
  • Keep a sewing notebook to record fabric details, pre-treatment methods, and project notes.

Conclusion How To Prepare Fabric Before Sewing

Preparing fabric might seem like an extra hassle, but trust me, it’s worth every minute. By taking the time to pre-wash, dry, iron, and check the grain lines, you’ll be setting yourself up for sewing success. Your projects will fit better, look more professional, and stand the test of time (and washing machine cycles!). So embrace these crucial steps, and enjoy the satisfaction of creating beautiful, long-lasting garments and home decor pieces.

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