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.
You can pretreat suspicious fabrics before you even cut them to avoid the problem.
The same steps may work if you've found a bleeder in your finished patchwork.
If you're determined to use a fabric that bleeds in your quilt, there are suggestions at the end of this page.
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.
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.
I had a very unfortunate experience with crocking when I was working on 'The Birthday Quilt'.
While the backing fabric was prewashed, dried and ironed, it started crocking—leaving behind color on the bed of my sewing machine as I quilted it.
Now it's a maroon-y colored backing fabric. Very dark...
...and I have to admit, after it crocked, with all that white/cream on the front I am afraid to wash it. Reds are notorious.
Since that time, if I find a bleeding fabric, it gets tossed. I just won't take the chance.
Gather the following simple supplies for this bleed test.
The test is quite simply soaking swatches of fabric to see what happens. It looks like a lot of steps, but takes very little time to do other than waiting.
This test, while it does take a few extra minutes, can save you the heartache of a finding out after your quilt is finished that there's a bleeding fabric in it.
To read about what actually happens when you don't pretest your fabrics, read The Sad Little Penguin Quilt.
...to avoid a problem
You've either tested and know you have a bleeder or you've got a fully-saturated hue that gives you the hee-bee-jee-bies.
You have a couple of options to pretreat your fabric before its first wash.
Retayne is a color fixative intended specifically for commercially dyed fabrics—the stuff you get at the quilt store and the big box stores.
The manufacturer's instructions are pretty specific.
Honestly, my machine doesn't have a 20 minute cycle. If your machine is like mine, you'll need to babysit the machine and restart it without draining off the Retayne-treated wash water.
Or you could do it by hand.
If you click the image of the bottle you can read the reviews on Amazon. Some report terrific results. Some report failure.
Rit® also has a dye fixative; however, my understanding is intended for fabrics you have dyed with Rit products.
I see a lot of confusion about Synthropol on the Internet.
Synthrapol is a surfactant used in the hand dyeing process (with MX dyes—I know, because I dye fabric for my quilts) to:
While this sounds like a good thing, it is intended (as stated by the manufacturer who also makes Retayne) for hand dyed fabrics.
Hand dyeing is a completely different process than commercial dyeing. I would not bother wasting Synthrapol on bleeding fabric—unless it was hand dyed.
...just wash it into submission!
Simply wash and wash and wash the fabric until it doesn't bleed anymore.
If I was the least bit suspicious a fabric was a bleeder, it'd never make it into a quilt.
There's just too much work and money that goes into a quilt to take the chance on a bleeding fabric.
The benefit of all this washing is if the fabric fades too much or becomes hard to work with, you'll know before you cut it.
...and has bleed into other parts of my patchwork?
It's a gut wrenching moment when you realize this has happened—and its happened to me three times.
To salvage your quilt and either reduce the staining or remove it completely: