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Bleeding Fabric
Stop It Before it Starts

These instructions will help you root out those bleeding fabrics BEFORE they are ever sewn into a quilt. It is easy to do, requires no special equipment and takes very little time.

What is "bleeding fabric"?

Commercial fabrics are colored with dyes. Some dyes lose color when washed. Some of this color transfers to adjacent fabrics and leaves a stain. This staining is called "bleeding".

Water temperature plays a large part in whether or not a fabric will bleed. Fiber experts recommend that cotton be washed in cold water—that is water that is between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

What is crocking?

When fabric dye is transferred from one fabric to another as they rub together. This can happen when the fabric is either wet or dry.

The Simple Test

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Gather the following simple supplies for this bleed test.

  • A square of each fabric to be tested - 3" is fine
  • Squares of white fabric - again 3" is fine
  • A container filled with a cup of cool water between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Soap like Orvus or Ivory

The test, itself, is quite simply soaking swatches of fabric to see what happens. To begin:

  1. Add one teaspoon of soap to the container. Stir to distribute the soap. (If you're using Orvus or Quilt Soap, use a scant 1/8 teaspoon as it is quite concentrated.)
  2. Add one 3” test square to the container.
  3. Stir often the first few minutes.
  4. Let the container sit for 30 minutes.
  5. Check for any color in the water.
  6. Remove the soapy water and replace with fresh. Again check for color in the water.
  7. If there IS NO color in the water, there is no bleeding. The fabric is safe to use.
  8. If there IS color in the water, remove the fabric from the jar and place in on a white square of cotton fabric. Let the two dry together, touching each other. If no color leaches from the suspect fabric, it will probably be safe to use in your quilt.
  9. If color has transferred to the white cotton AND you're so inclined, try the test with a new fabric square and a different soap. If this time, the fabric does not bleed you will have to make note of that soap you'll use to wash the finished quilt.
  10. Any fabric that continues to bleed should be removed from your stash NOW to prevent future accidents.

This test, while it does take a few extra minutes, can save you the heartache of a finding out after finishing your quilt that there is a bleeding fabric in it.

To read about what actually happens when you don't pretest your fabrics, read The Sad Little Penguin Quilt.

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