Dyed vs. printed fabric

How many of us diligently prewash our fabrics before we sew with them? I had a learning experience that motivates me to always do it!

Most fabric is printed and tends to bleed little, but some fabric is dyed and dyed fabric can bleed a lot. A whole lot. Turn your fabric over. If the back is mostly white-ish, then it was printed.

I made some Christmas pillowcases for the kiddos with contrasting cuffs. I dutifully prewashed the main fabric with a color catcher. The color catcher came out nearly white, so that fabric didn’t bleed much. (The color catcher may not protect your other fabrics fully but it’s a good indicator of whether your fabric has bled). I pulled red and green fabrics from my stash for the cuffs. Since red fabric is notorious for bleeding, I prewashed it even though I was fairly sure I had already done so.

Yikes! It didn’t bleed - it hemorrhaged. The color catcher was the same color red as the 1/2 yard of fabric. I washed it again - long cycle, extra rinse. Same thing on the color catcher. I spent the next two days with it in the sink; agitating, soaking, rinsing, repeating. After 8 cycles, including an overnight soak … it was still bleeding red dye. Closer examination showed it to be a dyed fabric and obviously the dye wasn’t set well. Picture the disaster if this had been part of a red and white quilt.

Needless to say, I got rid of that fabric. And now when I choose fabrics, if there are light fabrics included in the project I’m going to ensure the dark fabrics are printed (instead of dyed) just to be safe.


You might consider investing in some Retayne and some Synthropol in small quantities.

Synthropol is similar to color catchers, in that it keeps the loose color particles floating around instead of attaching to the fabric.
Retayne is a fixative that is supposed to lock color in.

Although - sometimes a fabric doesn’t deserve to live… I had some red PRINT in my stash - that turns out bled like a stuck big. It left the stash after that discovery.


The classic fixatives are salt, or vinegar. Might be worth a check, but since the fabric has gone bye-bye, that barn door is closed.

I do think that red is notorious for bleeding. I remember a crew that was working out of town, and they were teasing one guy about his pink underwear. He was grumbling that he knew he’d washed that red t-shirt before…

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I neglected to mention that I tried the salt/vinegar fixative thing. It helped, but it didn’t eliminate enough of the bleeding to be able to use the fabric.

It was only about 1/2 yard. I was stunned at how much dye could come out of a piece of fabric that small.

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Yeah… A friend of mine pieced a quilt with blue silk as one of the components - and it had not been pre washed. Bled blue all over the quilt. She was heartsick, and tried many things to try to rescue the project. But it did not look anything like what it did before having been washed…

The red I threw away, was just pieces that were alternated with white to make monster teeth. Just steam-pressing the paper-pieced sections made it bleed. At least it was just the time spent paper-piecing and not the entire quilt that was wasted.


I made a christmas quilt for my dad once and getting the red to stop bleeding was a bear. I had to wash it several times with Synthrapol but in the end it stopped looking pink in the white areas and I think I’d worn down the red so it wouldn’t bleed terribly the next time he’d get it washed.