A few weeks ago I wrote about cotton and linen but I would be remiss if I didn’t write about the fabric preparation. Fortunately, most cottons and linens do not require special pre-treatment. A quick test for shrinkage and ironing preferences may be all you need to do. But there are times when pre-treatment is a little more involved and extensive, and you will need to analyze and observe your fabric carefully to learn all you can before proceeding to layout and cutting.
Your concern is the care of your garment’s fabric, both before and after construction. Your experiments with your fabric should mimic the care it will later receive. Are you making a pair of linen pants that you want to be able to machine wash and dry? Are you making a fitted cotton pique jacket, with lots of inner structure that will only ever be dry cleaned? Or are you making a handkerchief linen blouse that you will probably hand wash and line dry? A little groundwork now will avoid surprises later—a dramatic change in the fabric’s hand, bleeding from excess dye, or worst of all, shrinkage.
You may decide not to pre-treat your fabric at all, allowing whatever finishes it has on it when you buy it to remain. Or you may prefer to wash it in cold water. But heat and moisture are such important tools when working with cotton and linen that I like to expose my fabric to them from the start to gauge its reaction.
Submerging the fabric in warm-to-hot water with a little detergent will encourage it to shrink—and the detergent will help remove excess dye. Fabric can change dramatically after being washed. Now is the time to know if you need to change construction plans. You may even find that the fabric has changed so much that it is no longer suitable for what you had in mind. And shrinkage may be severe.
Washing the fabric will also remove any sizing or resins that may have been applied to the fabric during finishing processes. If not removed, these coatings can cause puckering, skipped stitches, and uneven stitching linens.
So here’s the bottom line-get to know your fabric before you spend time making a garment. It’s just makes good sense.