The Washing Machine…not always your friend

The washing machine is not always your friend.   I buy a lot of vintage quilt tops and quilt blocks on eBay.  I have made the mistake a few times of buying one that the seller has washed in the washing machine.  Why is that a mistake?  You might think that it is because washing antique fabric fades the color.  That can happen  but the real problem is that machine washing an un-quilted quilt top or block causes the fabric to fray like crazy around the seam allowances.  The fraying can be so bad that the seams totally come apart and there is not enough solid fabric left to sew it back together without totally distorting the piece. I have 2 Beautiful quilt tops that are only good for using as patching material because of this. If I need to wash a piece prior to use I do it gently by hand.  After the quilting is done I do wash in the machine, but after the quilting is done all the seams are protected from fraying, the seams are backed by the batting and sewn in with the quilting and the entire quilt is much more strong and stable. If you feel you must wash in the machine before quilting  put the item in a mesh bag and wash on a delicate cycle.

The reason that I mention this today is that I just got a bunch of vintage blocks in the mail today.  They had a Buy it now price and As soon as I saw them on eBay I jumped right in a bought them.  I loved the pattern and fabrics….I should have looked more closely at the pictures and asked the seller to see a picture of the back of the blocks.  If you look at the back you can see the fraying and know that they have been washed.

Here is one of the pictures from the eBay listing


I should have known they were washed by how badly they need pressing.

Today when they arrived I realized my mistake.  The seller did not misrepresent them. It was my mistake but I still love them and I can make it work.  They need a really good pressing.  here is a before picture of the back.  The fraying is not nearly as bad as it could be.

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and the front

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Here is is after pressing

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I had to saturate it with water and press it dry and flat….it takes almost 20 min per block.  Fortunately the fraying is not beyond repair because the seam allowances were fairly large.

Here is another before

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and after

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It will still be a pretty quilt some day but it would have been so much easier and better to do the washing AFTER the quilting.

We had LOTS of rain on Wednesday night and Thursday which had a bit of a flattening effect on the garden But on major damage except to the peony.  Here are some pictures (click to enlarge)

Happy Quilting/Gardening


22 thoughts on “The Washing Machine…not always your friend

  1. Kathi says:

    So much chatter lately on WHEN to wash… I am happy to hear you a proponent of washing when the quilting is done 🙂 I am too… most of the time anyway… do you ever get a quilt top that smells on Ebay though??? that is what I would be afraid of but I love the blocks you got… the 2 you showed and your flowers in the garden are all gorgeous! Thanks for sharing you experiences 🙂 Kathi

  2. DAVID LAMB says:

    Tim, If we could all remember what we have already learned it would save us from Situations like you posted. Needless to say my brain leaks and I forget too. Good Luck with the gardening and quilting. David

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Siobhan says:

    I usually end up replacing the muslin on blocks like this…I use ecology cloth that I get online (Belleweather think.) Has a bit more substance but has the right look. Fun blocks though…

  4. audrey says:

    Gorgeous blocks. I can see why you jumped to buy them! Good luck with your pressing.

  5. NikkiM says:

    Love your garden! It’s beautiful I can see you spend lots of loving hours working in it.

  6. Well, you have brought those blocks back from the dead!!! These two are gorgeous….it’ll be a beautiful quilt. Now a gardening question, Tim. Your roses are fabulous….tell me why they aren’t eaten up by tiny green caterpillars??? That’s what happens to mine every year. I might lose the
    plant this year because of them.

    • timquilts says:

      I spray them with Seven mid spring to be sure the caterpillars don’t get a start on them…I am a certified pesticide applicator so I am not afraid of chemicals when I need them….but if you would rather be natural use soap….some dishwashing liquid mixed with water

      • Thank you Tim! Nice to know I am speaking to an expert. I can’t remember if I can get SEVEN here in Canada…but, I will definitely be looking for it!! Maybe a quick trip across the border. Otherwise, the soap trick will hopefully do the trick. 😀 And still love those blocks…just took another peek.

  7. barbara says:

    Thanks for the advice. I have learned that lesson the hard way. Recently a good friend found two antique quilt tops at a yard sale and boght them both for one dollar! She doesnt quilt so she gave them to me. One is a hexie and the other is a drunkards path. I havent done anything with them yet.

  8. Carolyn Black says:

    Great advice about washing quilt tops. It makes it almost impossible to press the top after washing. All the pre-pressed seams become so wonky and frayed that it takes forever to straighten them out. If you have the individual blocks, it’s almost easier to use one of the mini-irons. I did it once and won’t do it again!

  9. Naia says:

    I have never washed any of my fabrics – not before piecing or after. I only test wash after the quilting is done. Is this very wrong?

    P.S. I love what you’ve done, what you can do. You’ve a definite talent and God-Given ability. And, I wish I had your green thumb! I have green grass and dead dirt patches where flowers should be.


    • timquilts says:

      If you plan to wash a quilt ever it is a good idea to pre-wash the fabric before you do the piecing just in case the fabric bleeds, and pre washing makes it softer and lots easier to hand quilt!….

      • Naia says:

        My problem is, when you pre-wash, the fabric looks like crap afterwards?

      • timquilts says:

        I like the look of fabric after washing, and will often pre-wash it 2 or 3 times so it doesn’t have that stiff new look….I want the quilt to look soft and inviting and feel that way too….but lots of quilting fabric is not very good quality (like the kind you can get at JoAnn Farbics and Walmart) and that I might be afraid to wash

      • Naia says:

        You do have good points. Thank you, very much!


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