Fabrics That Bleed

A few years ago my son spent some weeks in India. While there he bought souvenirs for me, of fabric pieces printed with traditional Indian motifs. I washed one piece with a load of low-risk clothing items, including socks and towels. The pale yellow towels were dulled with a muddy tone, and the socks turned from (basically) white to dingy grey. It was not my most successful load of wash.

Yesterday’s post was on quilt police, and the few rules I believe strongly about in quilting. One of the rules I follow (and don’t expect others to) is to prewash my fabrics. I prefer to prewash, for multiple reasons.

One is because some fabrics bleed dye in the wash, like that Indian fabric did. If they are going to, I prefer it to happen before sewn into a quilt than after. When I wash, I use dye- and scent-free laundry detergent. If washing new fabric with a lot of color, I usually throw in a color catcher, too. Sometimes the color catchers collect a lot of dye; other times they don’t.

It’s possible that takes care of the problem for all time. It’s also possible that once I’ve given quilts away, and the new owners wash them, the fabrics bleed and make tremendous messes I never learn about!

If you have a quilt or fabric that bleeds, is there a way to fix it? As a matter of fact, yes. Here is a link to a blog post by Vicki Welsh, a fabric hand-dyer, called Save My Bleeding Quilt. She demonstrates a variety of methods to rescue fabrics from dye bleed. After testing Synthrapol, Dawn Pure, Dharma Textile Detergent, and Kirkland Free & Clear Ultra Laundry Detergent, she shows results for all four. She provides full instructions for use, and encourages you to share the information. I have not used these instructions, so cannot vouch for them myself. Take a look. Share it if you find it helpful. (Please respect her authorship and keep her name and links with it.)

Have you ever had problems with fabric dye bleeding in the wash? Were you able to fix it? Have you had an important item ruined from bleeding? Tell us about it in comments.


30 thoughts on “Fabrics That Bleed

  1. Pingback: Wash or Not? – A Quilter's Corner with Cindy Anderson

  2. KerryCan

    I do love color catchers. And I’ve found that, if dye runs a little and I haven’t used the color catcher, I can put the item back in the wash, using the color catcher the second time, and it seems to remove the bleeding. I don’t think it work on a big bleed but it doesn’t hurt to try. Thanks for the link!

  3. snarkyquilter

    I’m a pre-washer, partly because I mix in old fabrics, linens and clothing. I have no idea if they’ll bleed or shrink differently. My worst experience was with some teal batik cotton, which I had pre-washed. I used it on a quilt back. When I washed the quilt, all the fabrics on the front were tinged with green. No amount on washing has completely removed it. In fact, I think that backing releases more dye with each washing. Yes I use color catchers. All scraps were thrown out. Never again.

  4. katechiconi

    I really think I must have been very lucky, since I don’t pre-wash but I’ve never had a quilt bleed after I’ve made it, and I’ve used a lot of red fabrics and a lot of batiks. Like Paula, I use vinegar, in the fabric softener stage of the wash, and fling in a couple of colour catchers if there are strong colours. Sadly, you can’t get Dawn here, so even though I can see what I need to if it ever happens, I can’t access the solution 😦 I shall have to do some investigation of what’s available on the detergent shelf here…

  5. Paula Hedges

    I’m a pre-washer only if I suspect a fabric will bleed. I’ve been fortunate to avoid bleeding in the first wash of a quilt I have not pre-washed by adding either salt or vinegar to set the colors. Yes, I just knocked on wood! By the way, love the camels in your photo!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Aren’t those camels fun? I’ll confess I put the fabric away after the wash problem, and hadn’t looked at it since then. Now I feel rather tempted to find a project for it. The quality of the cloth is poor — thick threads and rough surface. But for some projects that wouldn’t matter. Thanks.

  6. Kerry

    Cool! Another pre-washer here. The worst one for dye was the Benartex Fossil Fern – the deep red one. I gave up when the colour catcher was pink. I could live with a slightly pink bleed! Most of my quilts are for family anyway! But it was a shock to use nearly a packet of those sheets! I was expecting the same with a choccy brown batik – but no, it was good!
    Thanks for the link. It was very interesting. Blimey, I’m learning so much in such a short space of time! Thank you!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I’m often surprised with what does or doesn’t bleed. Aside from reds in general, I’m also suspicious of any heavily dyed fabrics, but they don’t all make a mess.


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