Mar 022011

Soak fabric in water.

Some dark or bright colored clothing fabrics, especially red, may release dye (or “bleed”) when washed. Even clothes that specify machine wash on the care label may bleed color. If there is any question whether a specific garment is colorfast, run this simple test to avoid a ruined quilt later.

You will need:

  • Small white bowl, tepid water and mild detergent
  • White paper towel on small plate or tray

1) Cut a small square or rectangle of fabric from the garment. Choose an area that won’t be needed for the memorial quilt or companion items, such as a facing or along the hem.

2) Place tepid water with a little mild liquid laundry or dish detergent in the bowl. Submerge the fabric and soak for 20-30 minutes.

Dry fabric on a white paper towel.

3) Gently squeeze out the excess water and lay the fabric on a white paper towel to dry.

4) Check the water for color after removing the fabric, and check the paper towel for color transfer after the fabric is dry.

Always set aside any garment that bleeds color and use only in items that will not be washed, such as a wall hanging. Do not use clothing items that bleed in your memorial quilt.

Color from stray fibers.

Please note: Although the silk in my test appeared to bleed while soaking, this was more an illusion created by reflection rather than dye loss. The slight pinkish tint is mostly just stray fibers floating in the water and will not be a problem in the finished quilt. If there had been any color transferred to the paper towel, however, this fabric would not become part of the quilt.

Want more info on dealing with unstable dyes? See Unstable Dyes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln website.