Preparing your fabric for Printing or Dyeing *BIG Tip Alert*

May 29, 2009

Post image for Preparing your fabric for Printing or Dyeing *BIG Tip Alert*

Don’t do this step and you risk RUINING your end product.

You may have never thought about this step but its’ absolutely crucial to a good finished product if you are dyeing or printing fabric. I have in the past tried to get away without doing this and sadly when it comes time to wash my product for the first time the pigment washes out in spots or fades unevenly. This is because all new fabric has been treated with sizing and finishes before it gets to you. You need to wash your fabric in order to get this sizing off otherwise it can and most likely will resist the pigment bond or cause your dyes to unevenly penetrate the fabric. There are two ways to get rid of the sizing in fabric, the official ‘right way’ and then the way that most of us do it. You can do it either way but the ‘right way’ usually requires a large studio where you have a access to large pot to wash the fabric in. I don’t, so I prepare my fabric in my washing machine.

You can buy ready to print fabric and some printers do but it costs more and generally only comes in white or natural colours. But if you don’t have a place to wash out your fabric or the time (and time is money!) then it’s another option. offers a dye ready fabric called KONA Ready Dye White at a decent price. So check that out as an option too.

The Right Way to Prepare your Fabric:
Boil material for 30-45 minutes in a solution containing 3 teaspoons Lissapol (soap) per 8 litres of water. Raise the temperature to 76 degrees celsius. (40 degrees maximum for silk and wool).
Remove the fabric from the bath and rinse carefully and dry. It’s a good idea to iron it out while it is still a bit damp.

My Way of Preparing My Fabric:
Wash in your washing machine in hot water with a detergent that is free from dyes, perfumes, and softeners. Repeat with one more washing then dry in your dryer. Removing fabric when it’s still a bit damp and press it.

BIG TIP: Sew the edges of your fabric before you wash it. You can use a a simple straight stitch. This will avoid massive fraying and tangling of your fabric. It can be quite a task to sew the edge of multiple meters of fabric but trust me it’s far better than trying to untangle 20m. of fabric.


Good luck and happy printing!

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

angie 05.29.09 at 9:53 am

Oh, have I been there with all the tangles! I have an overlock machine, so I try and overlock all the edges before washing. I do want to experiment with some PFD fabric soon, so hopefully I can skip that step.

Erica 05.29.09 at 12:54 pm

Nice post! Your blog is very helpful.
And is getting better… getting so much better all the time :)

admin 05.29.09 at 2:10 pm

Thanks! The blog is work in progress, of course. I appreciate the support and I’m glad to hear people are finding it useful!

Heather 05.29.09 at 3:16 pm

Thank you so much for this amazing website – I’ve been screen-printing for a while, but having never gone to art school, I often wonder how “other people” solve various problems. I finally found some answers today!

I do have 2 questions regarding pre-washing. I always pre-wash and iron, but ironing 15 yards of linen takes almost as long as printing and sewing the final product! I pre-wash to remove sizing and to pre-shrink because I sew the fabric into pillow covers, bags, etc. So my questions are:
1. Is there a faster way to iron? Do you use equipment like a dry-cleaner might have?
2. Do you happen to know how large manufacturers deal with this? I understand they can buy fabric prepared for printing (w/o sizing) but what about pre-shrinkage so that the sewn product doesn’t distort at the seams and around zippers when the consumer washes it?

admin 05.29.09 at 5:45 pm

Sadly, many large manufacturers don’t care too much about shrinkage so they don’t pre-shrink. They generally buy ready to print fabric or have it made with a converter who would also use ready to print. The ones that wash their own often have a large steam press- like in a dry cleaners. But I don’t and so I iron by hand. I try to take it out of the dryer when it’s slightly damp. Then if I have access to a big long table for printing i spread it out over that and iron it there. But since I have moved from my large studio I don’t have too much space. Sometimes I spread it out over a bed and iron it- that works pretty well or I use an ironing board but that takes a while. My goal is often just to get out most of the wrinkles and the moisture- then I iron the pieces just before I print them. Hope this helps. :)

Heather 05.29.09 at 8:13 pm

Interesting – Thanks so much for the info!

angie 05.30.09 at 9:42 pm

Heather do you wash all 15 yds at once, or do you cut it up into smaller pieces. Smaller pieces will wrinkle less. I usually don’t iron unless it is really wrinkled. When I pin to the table, I am able to pull a lot of wrinkles out. Hope that helps.

admin 05.31.09 at 6:59 pm

The only thing I have found was that if I don’t iron the wrinkles they reappear when the cloth is unpinned. Especially if I am using canvas. :)

angie 05.31.09 at 8:54 pm

Good tip about canvas. I’ve been using mostly twill, which seems to behave a little nicer.

Heather 06.01.09 at 2:58 pm

I don’t cut first because the shrinkage that happens in the wash makes it hard for me to guess/calculate what will be the right place to cut. (I do large designs that are centered on panels, rather than small repeating patterns.) I try to be really thrifty, especially when using expensive ground cloth, but thank you for the suggestion!

admin 06.02.09 at 8:51 am

That reminds me- I think it’s time I did a tutorial on how to price your printed fabric. Most people underestimate the cost. Stay tuned while I put together a costing check list for you guys.

angie 06.02.09 at 1:48 pm

A pricing tutorial would be great! Thanks.

breanne 07.16.09 at 12:58 am

hi! your blog is full of super helpful info – thanks for sharing. it’s always great to hear about process and techniques from another printer.

can’t wait to read the pricing tutorial – definitely something that i struggle with on a regular basis.

i’m also curious about discharge printing. have you found a paste that is less toxic than others? i’ve never printed using this method because everything i read and hear from others who have is that it is very, very toxic. thanks in advance!

fabric addict 09.28.09 at 10:54 am

Great to hear I’m not the only self-taught fabric painter out there. I agree with the comment that if you don’t iron out the folded creases they will be highlighted when painted. I found out the hard way while thinking I was after a random look anyway so, “How could a few wrinkles hurt?”. I got a solid line right down the middle of my beautiful landscape. Oh well! Maybe it will lead to a new leap of creativity when being sewn as a quilt.

You might try clipping the corners of the fabric at about a 45 degree angle when you prewash it. Just about 1/4″ is enough to prevent almost all the string tangles. I was dubious, but so far I’ve been pleased! You give up a little fabric, but you would anyway if you let it all tangle.

I, too, would love advice on pricing hand-painted fabric.

LivingWaters IAMByDesign 11.13.10 at 2:42 pm

I’m hoping to start a fabric printing business. This blog will definitely help me with tips for success. Thank you.

Betsy 12.16.10 at 3:05 pm

Have you tried fabric from Dharma Trading Company? If not, it has a large selection of PFD fabric at good prices that you might want to check out. If you are using enough fabric that it makes sense to buy by the bolt the price is even better. I’ve used cotton and silk from them for dyeing and screen printing with good results.

Crystal 08.03.11 at 12:31 am

hello, I have a big problem. I left my husbands navy blue work clothes outside for a few days (by mistake) and it got damaged by the sun. It looks as if someone poured bleach on it on some spots. Im sure I can dye it but the shirts have his work logo in white writing. How can I dye the clothes without dyeing the logo?

admin 08.03.11 at 6:31 am

I don’t know of any way to do that unless it is the kind of logo that is a patch sewn onto the uniform. If it is then remove it and sew it on afterwards.

Ashley 05.21.12 at 8:46 pm

Thank you for all of your advice, I’m currently working on an installation with a fellow artist, and we are focusing on the repeat design to create our imagery. Your site has been extremely helpful in the process.

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