Prewashing Fabric in a Drought

prewashing rayon knit fabric -


By now, you have very likely read stories about California’s drought. It’s been going on for FOUR years. Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered historic mandatory water restrictions. This is a big deal because the state has never required any water restrictions, just voluntary reductions. It’s a huge political and bureaucratic issue, which you can read about in this San Jose Mercury News article.

I’ve become used to sunny skies and no rain but it’s not normal. I confess that when it comes to water conservation, I haven’t done much more than take shorter and fewer showers and be careful of water usage when I’m cooking or washing dishes. If you’re in California, what are you doing to conserve water?

I was appalled to read about how groundwater reserves in the Central Valley are being depleted to the point that farmers could be turning huge swaths of land into a dust bowl similar to what happened during the Great Depression. Scary…

Wind erosion carries topsoil from farmland during the Dust Bowl, circa 1930s (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)

Last week as I was about to prewash some fabrics, I thought, “Uh-oh, I should’t use the washing machine to prewash just a few yards of fabric, that would be a waste of water.” Our apartment has a high-efficiency washer, which uses less water than older washers, which can use up to 40 gallons (!) a load (that’s roughly 151 liters). I’m not sure how many gallons ours uses but according to my quick Google search, high-efficiency washing machines use 14 to 25 gallons (about 53 to 95 liters).

A couple of months ago I bought this 15.25 quart (14.43 liter) dishpan at my local hardware store because I didn’t want to keep using the bathroom sink to pre-soak my interfacing. (Plus the hubby was getting annoyed.)

Rubbermaid dishpan for prewashing fabric -

It’s not very big – about the size of a bathroom sink. I photographed it in my bathtub, which is white so it’s a little hard to see.  Here’s what it looks like when you look down on it. The black thing covers a drainage hole, which is rather small and not really useful. It’s faster to just tip the water out.

Rubbermaid dishpan -

I got this gorgeous imported rayon knit at Britex Fabrics in March after a Bay Area Sewists meetup there. If you follow me on Instagram, you might remember seeing it on my feed (@csews). I thought about steaming rather than prewashing but as some helpful folks on IG reminded me, rayon knit shrinks so I should prewash. Rayon knit doesn’t necessarily wear well either – it can pill, so I decided it would be better to hand wash cold.

Rayon knit from Britex Fabrics -

I put the fabric in my tub and turned on the cold water faucet. Once the fabric was soaked, I put a little shampoo in the water, swished it around, and let it soak.

Prewashing rayon knit by hand -

Then I dumped out the water, filled the container about halfway with fresh water and rinsed out the fabric. Next, I gently squeezed it and then rolled the fabric with a large beach towel to get rid of the excess water.

It was only a little over a meter so I thought it would be OK to hang dry. It wasn’t heavy so I didn’t think it would get stretched out hanging on the shower curtain rod. There’s very little humidity in the air in California so I knew this lightweight knit wouldn’t take long to dry. If it were a heavier knit, I would lay it flat to dry.

It’s going to be an Asymmetrical Top from Drape Drape 2. I saw the striped one that MaciNic made for the Japan Sew Along (hosted by Catrin at Tanoshii) and the other striped one she made here. I didn’t find the designs of the first Drape Drape book to be very wearable but I do like a few of the things in the second book so I checked it out of the San Francisco Public Library.

I’m not sure when I’ll get to sewing it. First I need to finish my dress for the Spring for Cotton sewalong hosted by Lucky Lucille. And I’m also working on a couple things from Japanese sewing book She Wears the Pants, the English translation by Tuttle Publishing has just been released. What are you working on?

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Author: Chuleenan

Chuleenan sews, collects hats and shoes, and is a fabric addict. She is also the organizer for the Bay Area Sewists Meetup group.

2 thoughts on “Prewashing Fabric in a Drought”

    1. I can’t wait to get to it! It’s in the queue. I really like the ones you’ve made. Good idea to reuse bathwater! I live in an apartment – so I can’t do anything with bathwater. You’re lucky your drought is over!

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