Friday, January 11, 2013

Fabric Advice: To Wash or Not To Wash?

I am perfectly and painfully aware that my kitchen painting project began in August of LAST YEAR, and here it is January of a new one. I'm irritated but not really apologetic. In between then and now a second new job in addition to my regular one, two birthdays, and three holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) ensued.

Rolling, rolling, rolling, get those rollers rolling....
But I have been plugging away in little fifteen minute intervals when I have the time. The ceiling and three out of four walls are painted. I am assembling decorative items. There is even an upcoming reveal on a surprise purchase for the room (A surprise for me. Can we talk about completely unplanned?) which really brings things together.

Now that I've dangled that in your face, I do need help with a fabric. Since my kitchen walls are in avocado green and a french-vanilla-y ivory, I wanted the curtains to provide colorful contrast and another cue to the era. Yes, I'm about to get out my sewing machine.

I picked up several yards of vintage fabric from Etsy that I love:

Bright and rich patterns that mimicked crewel work were popular in decor fabrics from the 1960s and 70s, and this fabric is no exception. It's large scale too. The largest flower motifs range in size from 4 inches to six inches across, and they're grouped in even larger clusters. I love that this fabric is unapologetically colorful-- orange, yellow, mustard, bittersweet, green, avocado, brown, tan, ivory, periwinkle blue-- there's a lot going on up in here.

This is an upholstery or heavy drapery panel fabric in a wool and nylon blend weave. The selvage edge printing says it's made by Cohama Fabric and the pattern is called "Bradford." It also says it's "Scotchguard treated."

Therein lies my dilemma. Do I pre-wash this fabric, or not?

Arguments in favor: 
1. Conventional sewing wisdom says you always wash fabric before making something, so the fabric doesn't pull, pucker, or shrink along seams later.
2. I tend to favor washable curtains in any room where life is going to get dirty, like kitchens, bathrooms, and kid's bedrooms.
3. Washing would help get rid of a slight stale odor.

Arguments against: 
1. If I wash the fabric, it removes the Scotchguard protection, which considering it's planned location in the kitchen, is a plus.
2. It's wool AND vintage, both of which makes this unpredictable as far as washing will go. Could I stand it if I wrecked it? I'm not sure. I'd be out about $50 and have to start over again searching for fabric.
3. It's huge. Wool is heavy when wet, and this is 4 yards of 72-inch wide fabric. "Handwash in cold water," the preferred method for washing vintage wool, would be almost impossible.

My instincts say NO, don't wash this fabric. The curtains would be in the eat-in area of the kitchen, away from the "business end" of the appliances. There are home dry-clean kits, Febreze, vacuuming, and other ways to freshen these curtains without running the risk of of ruining vintage wool fabric. The weave is such that I'm afraid fibers would pill and fuzz with washing.

But that instinct is warring a bit with my genetic German hausfrau, who insists that every surface in a home be washable, scrubbable, and if possible bleachable.

Which way would you go?


  1. First, don't feel bad about it taking so long to paint your kitchen. Life happens. On a brighter note (I'm so punny) I love that fabric! I think it will look great as kitchen curtains. I don't know much about fabrics, so I can't really help you with whether or not to wash it, but I'd lean towards not.

    1. I appreciate the vindication on the fabric choice too. I've had a few friends who aren't fans of my "vintage" approach, especially when it comes to the 1960s, and raise a few eyebrows at my choices. A girl needs support from like minds. Thanks!

  2. The fact that it's wool and so brightly colored, I'd say to not wash it.

    1. Can I admit that one of my motivations for not washing it is pure laziness? :)

  3. I wish that I knew more about sewing or fabric...I DO know that the fabric is FANTASTIC.

    1. Thank you. It IS stand up shout howdy fabric, isn't it?

  4. I love your fabric, but have no idea what you should do about the washing dilemma. I'd also lean toward not. I think. Would they be something you get dry-cleaned? I'm really so clueless about so many household things...sigh.

    Looking forward to seeing your kitchen, whenever it gets done. I think taking a long time is just fine. It gives you more time for those wonderful surprises to fall in your lap.

    1. I try to avoid dry-cleaning as much as possible, but it may be something I'm willing to do in order to avoid wrecking a one-of-a-kind fabric. Even with everyone saying they don't know anything about fabric, they are all voting 'no' on washing. And I think they're right.

  5. Check with the experts on campus. Brecca's mom might be willing to help if nothing else. :) My instinct would be to find a place to hang them outside once it's warmer and spray them down with the hose, but that says more about my housekeeping style than anything else.