Do you finish raw edges before pre-washing?

Finishing edges before pre-washing 1

When I first started sewing a few years ago, I read somewhere that you should always finish the raw edges of new fabric before tossing it in the wash.  Of course, I totally ignored this and proceeded to deal with the huge tangles of thread that would form in the washer and strangle, mangle, and distort my precious fabric.  WHY I ignored this very simple piece of advice is beyond me.  What can I say?  I’m hopelessly stubborn!

Finishing edges before pre-washing 2

About six months ago, I finally decided to give this whole “finishing the edges” thing a try.  I used a wide and long zig-zag stitch on my sewing machine to wrap up the edges of my wovens, tying the ends in knots to secure them.  Once I got my serger, I switched to serging the edges but continue to knot the ends.

And you know what?  IT WORKS BEAUTIFULLY.  Who knew??  🙂  No longer do I have to get out my scissors and surgically remove the huge knots of thread from my freshly washed fabrics, nor do I have to worry about the threads wrapping so tightly around the fabric in the wash that they actually hinder the washing process.  It only takes a few minutes to zip the raw edges through the serger, and I save myself so much drama and aggravation.  I am shaking my head at my former, stubborn self.  🙂

New fabric from Gather Here sidewalk saleThe fabrics you’re seeing are newly purchased from the semi-annual sidewalk sale at Gather Here, my local fabric shop.  There’s something about a good sale that completely annihilates my usual discerning shopping habits – it’s quite amazing, actually!  I surprise myself with the fabric choices I make when price is no longer an issue.  Behold: I totally strayed from my color palette and bought a bunch of cheery springtime prints.  The 4 on the left are cotton voiles and quilting cottons, and the deep print on the right is one of the new Art Gallery rayons.  I’ve never worked with this rayon and am excited to give it a try.  I’m picturing loose tops and floaty skirts for all 5 fabrics.  Yay!

In other news, I have a finished floral Archer to show you, but due to various maladies that I’ve been dealing with this week, I’m not quite photoshoot-ready.  Suffice it to say that this week hasn’t been the greatest, but at least I have a pretty new pile of fabric to enjoy, pre-washed and free of knots and tangles.  🙂

So tell me, do you finish the raw edges of your new fabrics before pre-washing, or do you happily deal with the thread tangles?

42 thoughts on “Do you finish raw edges before pre-washing?

  1. I go one step further and sew or serge the two cut ends together so the fabric is sewn into a tube. This doesn’t take any longer than finishing each edge separately, and it keeps the fabric from twisting up into a rope in the washer and dryer. It also keeps denim from getting permanent creases near the cut edges, so you have less wasted fabric. I wish I’d discovered this trick years ago!

  2. I for sure serge the ends of woven fabrics! The fraying and tangling was too frustrating the one time I did it for me to ever want to do that again. I only serge my knits when they are light weight and roll at the ends like jersey. Things like ponte and fleece I don’t bother with serging the ends, I just wash them as they are.

    I can’t wait to see the tops and skirts you make with your new fabrics!

    • Sarah, clearly you are a much more sane person than I am, having learned this lesson after only one wash. 🙂 I also don’t bother to finish the edges of fabrics that don’t fray, but I like Leila’s idea above about serging the edges together to prevent (or at least reduce) distortion. I always find that the corners of cut jersey stretch out no matter how gently I wash it!

  3. I’d serged the wovens most likely to fray horrifically. However I most often just pop the fabric into a laundry wash bag (small pieces into a lingerie bag) & put it through the wash. I find the fabric doesn’t get tangled up or fray excessively using a wash bag.

    • What a great idea, Lizzy – thanks for sharing! I’m so glad I asked this question because I’m getting all sorts of great tips. 🙂 It’s funny the little things that don’t often get talked about but make a big difference in your day-to-day sewing.

  4. I have never tried sewing the edges, but I think I have to now! I like the idea of sewing the ends together, too. Gorgeous fabric, by the way.

    • Thanks Lisa, I hope I don’t regret my impulse buys. 🙂 I think once you start finishing the edges, you don’t go back. I’ll definitely be serging both ends together on my next fabric purchase – I’m really curious to try this!

  5. Swings and roundabouts for me – I don’t own a washer, so I pre-wash fabric in the bath, by hand. It’s a pain to do, but a nice side-effect is that the fabric has nothing to catch on and the amount of twisting is under my control, and so the edges don’t suffer much at all.

    • Hand washing is definitely a lot more gentle than the machine. I actually think hand washing new fabric is pretty relaxing. 🙂 I’ll often pre-pre-wash my fabric by hand in a tub of hot water before throwing it in the wash – just a little extra insurance against shrinkage later. I don’t own a washer either and have to pay for laundry, so my fabric washing often waits until I accumulate a full load.

  6. When I started sewing, I used to finish the edges with a zig zag but after a while I got lazy and stoped doing that. Lately I have started putting them in fabric bags that close with a rope and once used a pillowcase for a heavyweight fabric that didn’t fit in my bags.
    I totally understand what you mean with the fabric choice in relation to price, when I buy a relatively expensive fabric I take into consideration many factors while in cheaper ones I feel free to chose whatever I like no matter if it goes with other garments I have or if it is work appropriate or whatever else usually restricts my choice.

    • Great tip! It looks like you’re not the only one who uses bags to wash fabric. I like the idea of physically separating the fabric from the rest of the wash, too. The more protection for our precious fabrics, the better. 🙂

    • Great idea, and so quick! I don’t have pinking shears but have been meaning to invest in some for ages. Now I have another good reason to get some!

  7. I never heard the tip about finishing raw edges before pre-washing. I have always just put my fabric into a bag & then tossed the whole thing into the washer. I like your tip better! While my fabrics’ raw edges don’t gum up my washer, I’m left with all those stringy frays to trim before folding & storing it.
    I really like the fabrics you chose & look forward to seeing what you do with them!

    • Thanks Jan! All I need is some time off work to focus on my sewing, LOL. 🙂 I bet the combination of finishing the edges and using a wash bag would be great for the fabric – no mess, and protection from the rest of the laundry. I want to try this!

  8. OK, OK…..I’ll do it from now on! LOL You see, every time I throw my latest acquisition into the machine for pre-washing I think to myself “I really should overlock those edges first” but, & only Heaven knows why, I don’t! And yes, then I have a fraying mess to sort out at the end! I like to think I’m an otherwise sensible woman…maybe this is my idea of living on the edge? 🙂 My sister always overlocks just before washing & she says this not only prevents the mess but later on allows her to see at a glance which fabrics have been washed or not.

    Your new fabrics look lovely by the way! Yay!

    • Thanks Kathy, I can’t wait to sew them up! All I can say about your story is that I did the exact same thing for years, with no reasonable explanation! Clearly your sister is more logical than we are, LOL. 🙂 I like the idea of using the finished edge to distinguish which fabrics have been pre-washed. My stash is tiny / non-existent, so I don’t really have this problem (yet). One day!

  9. When I buy new fabric, I finsh the raw edges and wash it. Later when search something in my stash (which is growing and growing in a mysterious way 🙂 ) than I can see, because the edge, if the fabric is pre-washed.

    • Great idea, Tutti! Kathy’s sister (from the above comment) seems to have the same system as you, and I really like the idea of quickly being able to tell which fabrics have been washed and are ready to sew.

  10. I always finish the edges for wovens. I discovered this the hard way by digging out a massive clump of entangled threads from two pieces. Life is too short to be dealing with that kind of mess! I like the tube tip from Lelia and will definitely give that a go.

    • Haha, yes, life is too short for a tangled mess! I don’t know why I dealt with this for so long – temporary insanity maybe? 🙂 I hope Leila’s tip works for you – I can’t wait to try it myself.

  11. Nope, never! Seeing how the untreated raw edge behaves in the washer is part of learning how it will behave as a garment. Glad you enjoyed the sidewalk sale — I’m on an unofficial fabric fast, but between Gather Here’s sidewalk sale and Fabricmart’s 45% off the whole site sale, this weekend was tempting!!!

    PS: You got a fabric I already have: the peach colored one, second from the right. 🙂 Twinsies!

    • Haha Ebi, you are living on the edge (literally)! I think you make a really good point though – it’s definitely a great way to see how the fabric behaves and to start thinking about what kind of garment would be best for it. Good job sticking to your fabric fast. It takes a will of steel to resist a good sale, I think. 🙂 Do you have a project in mind for the peach print? I’ve seen it sewn up into some beautiful garments online.

      • Hah! Love a good pun. 🙂 Sales are the enemy of self-restraint but after you get through a few good ones, it becomes easier.

        I’d intended to make a boxy crop top, and pair it with a gathered skirt, for a spring look in a different silhouette than I normally wear. It’s a bit crisp for that, though, so it may become something more tailored.

        • Yeah, I’m wondering if my floaty top idea is going to work in this cotton. It’s voile, but still. I bet a more fitted crop top would be great! I have yet to try wearing or sewing one, but it is on my mind for this summer. 🙂

    • Same here, the tangles used to drive me crazy! It seems like a lot of people just wash their fabric in a bag, and that seems to tame the tangles without the extra time needed to finish the edges.

  12. I will serge the edges of my fabric…but only if the serger happens to be out and set up. I don’t have a dedicated sewing area, so odds are generally not in my favor in that department. I don’t have a problem with massive tangles, but I have a really great machine that doesn’t have a central agitator, so my fabric doesn’t get twisted and knotted about. I rarely have more than a few small scraggles along the edges of even the most fiercely fraying woven.

  13. Yes I do, but I have struggled with tangled threads in the past too… When I have a new fabric that I suspect might bleed I also use a colour catcher. That will tell me whether I need to be careful when the garment is washed or whether it can be tossed in with whatever else my boyfriend feels can be washed together (he is usually in charge of the laundry).

    • Great idea, Emmely! I should really start using a color catch with my fabrics too. I have to pay for laundry, so I tend to wash all my clothes together in as few loads as possible. Hopefully your boyfriend is a discerning washer. 🙂

      • Quite surprisingly, we haven’t had many disasters so far and my own track record is probably worse than his (even with him doing most of the loads for the past 9 years…). About 10 years ago, when I was still living on my own, I managed to dye most of my white underwear blue and most of my once yellow towels green…. Anyway, he’s doing the laundry so I’m not going to complain!

  14. I was very familiar with the sight of a tangled mess after doing a load fabric pre-washing. It took me a few washes to realise that it would make life so much easier to just run the raw edges through the overlocker.
    I will definitely be trying out Leila’s trick of sewing both raw edges together. 🙂

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