It’s A Classic Scenario
You’re shopping in that tiny, hole in the wall fabric store (that also sells incense and teapots predominantly shaped like chickens), when suddenly, you see it, wedged between 2 bolts of psychedelic print spandex and 2 bolts of holiday themed knits. The fabric of your dreams!!! It is absolutely PERFECT for *insert current or future cosplay or sewing project*!!! You look for a label on or near the bolt… and find a scribble in sharpie on the cardboard of the bolt that prices the fabric at SuperCheap a yard!!!! You have to have it!!!! You buy *insert number too high for the project you had in mind, but what the heck it’s SuperCheap a yard, so why not get extra* yards and go home to pet the neatly cut and folded bundle of fabric in the privacy of your home. Mid-stroke, a thought occurs to you: what the heck is this shiny-shiny-pretty-pretty made out of anyway?!
What The Heck Do I Do Now?
Chances are, at some point you’re going to need to wash your costume (please do). When using delicate or “unknown” fabrics, I found an easy way to test whether the fabric is machine or hand washable, under which conditions, if it can be machine dried and whether the fabric should be washed before being made into a costume or not.
What you need
- Unknown or delicate fabric (woolen, silks, dyed, etc.)
- Gentle laundry detergent
- A ruler
- Fabric shears
With the ruler, measure and mark on the fabric a 10 cm per 10 cm square. Make sure there are no irregularities in the fabric so that it is a representative sample. Cut out the 10×10 square.
If the fabric frays a LOT, you can serge or glue the edges so it doesn’t unravel itself into nothingness during the testing.
Because I am horribly lazy and hate hand washing stuff in my tiny sink, I always test the washing machine first. While doing a load of a similar colour (might as well do a regular load while testing and kill two birds with one stone), put the fabric square in the washing machine. Wash it on the settings you intend to use for the garment you’re planning on making with it. When dealing with delicate fabrics, use cold wash and ‘Delicate’ setting of the machine with gentle laundry detergent.
Once the fabric square is washed, and before attempting to dry it, put the square onto the rest of your fabric and compare. Does the texture look and feel the same? Are the colours as bright? Compare both the right side and the reverse of the fabric.
Put the square on a flat surface and make sure it’s lying flat but not stretched. Does the square appear warped (you can check if it is warped with the ruler)? Measure the square and check if it is still 10 cm per 10 cm on all sides.
If the square has warped, changed colours or texture significantly, it is not advisable to ever immerse the fabric fully into water. In this case, dry-cleaning is the only solution to wash the fabric and you are very sad. :(
If the square has shrunk significantly and was washed with warm or hot water, retest another square with cold water. If it shrinks significantly with cold water, it can be machine washed but the fabric must absolutely be washed and dried before being cut to be made into anything.
If the fabric square survived the machine washing with little or no damage, or only shrunk (even if it did significantly), it is safe to try and machine dry it.
Put the square in the drying machine. For woolen or synthetic fabrics it is best to use low heat. If the fabric has a “plastic-ish” feel to it, it’s best not to try drying it with heat (use tumble dry).
After the fabric square is dried, run it through the same tests as with the washing machine. If you encounter any problems with the fabric, try using a low heat or no heat drying setting.
If the fabric is damaged with any setting on the drying machine, make another square sample and try drying it on a clothesline with a clothespin. If the clothespin warps permanently the fabric let the sample dry laying flat on a towel.
There you have it! Fail proof method to test if you can dump the fabric of your dreams in the washing machine. Of course, once it’s made into a costume, there may be other reasons why you can’t machine wash your costume even if the fabric itself can be machine washed.