The Free Motion Quilting Project: Bleeding Fabric Fears

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Bleeding Fabric Fears

Yesterday Lynda J. posted a great question on the Block Party Facebook Group:
Folks, I have to admit that I am getting paranoid here. I have a dark red and dark purple picked for this quilt. I separated them, washed them together...I just watched Leah's video on selecting and preparing fabric and she said that once the block was complete, you soaked it to remove the starch. I'm getting paranoid that the red will run then. Thoughts? Am I just being paranoid?
It's not a bad thing to be paranoid! I worry about this myself and it was very challenging to design this quilt with such light and dark colors for exactly this reason.

Here are two tips I've picked up from creating my blocks:

1. Test as you wash - It's easy to assume that one run through the wash is enough for your fabric, especially if you're in a big hurry to start cutting and piecing your first block.

But it pays to take a bit more time and test your fabric as you wash. Cut a 10 inch square of white fabric and throw it in with your red fabric load. Chances are the first square will come out a bit pink. Cut another square of white fabric and throw it in again. Wash and repeat until you throw in a white square and it emerges from the wash 100% white.

Dye grabbers are also good, but understand that they are designed to pull dye out of the water. They will always end up much darker than the scrap of white fabric will because they have been chemically treated to pull out dyes.

2. Dry your block quickly - One thing I realized while rinsing two blocks to make the video is it really matters how long the block stays wet. I rinsed my first block, set up fans and left the block to dry. Then Josh came along and turned off the fans!

He didn't realize they were on intentionally and that block stayed wet for more than 48 hours before I noticed (it was in a really dark, damp area of our basement). I noticed immediately that the red fabric had bled a bit, even though I'd prewashed them multiple times.

The other block I rinsed out, set up the fan, and this time put a note on it not to be turned off and that block was dry in 3 hours with no bleeding at all.

So long as the block is dried quickly I think you will greatly minimize your chances of bleeding colors.

Even if your colors do bleed, it's not the end of the world. My first quilt has bleeding colors like crazy, but I still love it! Bleeding colors won't make the quilt less warm or cuddly at the end so keep that in perspective and don't get frustrated if your fabric colors decide to get too friendly.

Are these techniques new to you? Have you ever had a quilt with bleeding colors? Share your experience in the comments below!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Vicki Walsh of Field Trips in Fi8ber has a method to remove the bleeding left from unhappy fabrics after the quilt is all finished, including blocking and binding. It really works so you might pass it on.

  2. When I have a fabric that is suspect (I suspect it might "share" it's color), I prewash it and friends like it using Dharma Professional Textile Detergent This is a textile detergent used by dyers on their fabric to both prepare the fabric for dyeing and after it is dyed to get the excess dyes out. I don't use it for all my pre-washing but if I have concerns it helps.

  3. Over 3 years ago, I had a nasty bleeder. The process I went thru is documented here My comments and learnings though 3 yrs later are to omit ALL color catchers, as they do nothing. The 1/4C of Dawn in the hot water does everything to suspend the dyes and keep them out of the neighboring fabrics. Do NOT wash in your washing machine - use bath tub if possible. No other "stain fighting" detergents are needed. I published an article in MQU a year or so ago on quilt blocking that has a segment on what to do if your quilt bleeds also. I have passed this technique on to a dozen quilters since then that have had bleeding quilts, and ALL reports are positive of it's success. It is cheap, and easily obtainable at any grocery store (whereas synthrapol is not). I have done this on a quilt with silk fabrics as well. Good luck.

  4. You seem to have found the secret to preventing fabric bleeding.
    The shorter the time the fabric is wet, the less likely it will bleed.
    This is true of all fabrics that are dyed. I've also found that a hot pressing will 'set' the dyes better, but the real secret is that all dyes will be unstable if they are wet long enough, so don't leave your quilt to soak for more than 3 minutes, then get it dry asap.
    Some printed fabrics are less likely to bleed no matter how long they stay wet.

  5. Many years ago I made a peach and teal quilt for my college bound daughter. (I bet you can guess what decade that was from the colors). Anyhow, after completing the quilt, I washed it to fluff it up and as I pulled it out of the washer, I noticed a LOT of bleeding of the teal fabric into the peach fabric. It was late at night and I had no specialized color remover cloths. I knew I didn't want to let the quilt dry as it was, so I just put it back in the washer for another cycle, with regular Tide detergent. I remember thinking that it might help and probably couldn't hurt to wash it again. As I recall, that quilt took 4 or 5 cycles through the washer that night, but finally ALL the bleeding dye was gone. I think the trick it to keep it wet and keep working at it with more and more washing and detergent. Obviously this is NOT ideal. I'm sure the quilt was more worn-looking than a new quilt should look after it's many trips through the washer. But it was saved and the bleeding was removed.

  6. I learned from Paula Reid that if you have a completed quilt and you wash it and it bleeds the best thing is to wash again with some Retayne. You can find it in quilt shops. Just wash the quilt with hot water and Retayne and it gets the bleed out.

    Also for hand dyed use Synthrapol to remove excess dye.

  7. I made a quilt of turquoise, white and red for my g-daughter. Boy, did the reds bleed. I was shocked and appalled, but the 4-year-old really didn't care. It's now 3 years later and the quilt has been regularly washed, and I noticed that most of the bleeding is completely gone on the quilt. Well, that was a relief. But after my first shock, I went home and gathered up ALL my reds and washed them 7 times using detergent (not just rinsing), sometimes in hot, sometimes in cold water until the rinse water was completely clear. I can now safely assume that whatever excess red dye was in these fabrics is now gone. So from now on I prewash everything with a little Dawn and check the rinse water to make sure it's clear.

  8. I have a question. So you wet your fabric and hang it to dry quickly or iron it dry. What happens when you gift the quilt and they wash it? Will it happen again?

    I use color catchers, which I think helps. I use my washing machine, hot water and prewash everything at least once with a couple of color catcher and a light colored 5x5 scrap of cotton fabric. If the light fabric or color catchers have dye on them, I do it all over again. What I hate is when it bleeds on the 3rd or 4th go round and my beautiful red fabric is now a not so beautiful blah red. They must be able in the factory to do something so I don't have to do all of this and then not use the fabric.

    1. Great questions! No, I don't soak the fabric. I throw it straight in the washer and run it through just like my clothes with detergent, a dye grabber, and a 10 inch square of white fabric. I run the fabric this way with new white squares of fabric until the square comes out completely white with no trace of dyes bleeding onto it.

      Because the fabric has been prewashed this way, I trust the quilt can be washed after it's complete as many times as necessary. I WANT it to be washed and used and loved up!

  9. how does vinegar and salt work to set dye? Any truth to that?

    1. Vinegar and salt can both be used in the dyeing process, but I doubt they have much benefit once you reach the prewashing time before cutting up fabric for a quilt. If you want to invest in extra chemicals Syranthapol is a chemical often used by dyers to pull out extra dye from the fabric. I usually use a teaspoon of this chemical on the first wash, then keep washing until the fabric is completely leak free.

  10. Did you re-wash it in hot water?

    1. Nope, that block was just a test subject so I didn't feel the need to rinse it again. Sometimes bleeds will wash out, sometimes they are permanent on the fabrics they bleed into. It really just depends on the color and the fabrics...and I guess how lucky you are!

  11. I've used synth rappel with great results when I had access to it... Now, on the boat, I wash many times with sea water .... It's free and abundant.


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