This question came to us when we were remaking a Campus Quilt T-shirt quilt. Our customer’s Mom had had the quilt made there. The customer wanted something better. Read her story here.
When we received the quilt, the first thing we did was take a close look. We saw a “Dry-clean for best results” tag. "What?!" Why would you need to dry-clean a T-shirt quilt?
As soon as we began to take the quilt apart, we understood.
In order for you to understand why, you need more information. First, here’s a brief overview of the difference between dry-cleaning and washing. Then, we breakdown the parts of a T-shirt quilt to see which may require dry-cleaning.
The Differences Between Dry-cleaning and Washing
When you wash your clothes in a washing machine, detergents break up the dirt. The dirt clings to the detergent. The rinse cycle drains the soapy water removing the detergents and dirt.
When an article of clothing is dry-cleaned, it's submersed in chemicals. These chemicals remove the dirt. The chemicals get pumped through filters until all the dirt has been removed. Clothing isn't any dryer than it would be in a washing machine; it is just not wet with water.
The chemicals in the dry-cleaning process have different properties than water. The fibers of clothing don’t absorb the chemicals, as they would water. So, the fibers aren't altered through dry-cleaning. Water will swell the fibers and break the molecular bonds of some dyes. When the water is dried from the fabric, some types of fiber will shrink (think wool).
Thus, if a fabric would shrink or bleed if washed with water, you would dry-clean it.
So why would you have to dry-clean a T-shirt quilt?
You only have to dry-clean a T-shirt quilt if the fabrics used to make the quilt will either shrink or bleed if washed in a washing machine.
A T-shirt quilt typically contains three types of material: T-shirt fabric, batting and backing fabric. Let’s look at how each of these materials handles washing.
To learn more about the different types, styles and qualities of T-shirts, download our T-shirt Quilt Buyer’s Guide. It’s a great place to begin your journey to finding a quilt maker.
The T-shirt is the ultimate wash and wear article of clothing. There aren’t very many T-shirts out there that are dry-clean only. Actually, I have never seen one!
T-shirts that you put into a T-shirt quilt should have been washed in your washing machine prior to being made into a quilt. Most of them have been washed over and over and over. In a T-shirt quilt, it is not the T-shirts that would require you to dry-clean your quilt.
Exception – If a fabric other than T-shirt material has been used in a quilt. If such a material required dry-cleaning before being used in a quilt, it then makes the entire quilt dry-clean only. A good example of this would be adding a necktie. Typically, neckties are silk. And silk requires dry-cleaning.
The type of batting used varies between quilter makers. Some quilter’s use 100% polyester batting – this does not shrink. And it’s not a great type of batting.
Here, at Too Cool T-shirt Quilts, we use an 80% cotton/20% poly needled punched batting. We don't prewash the batting because there is almost no shrinkage.
Exception - Some battings will shrink. These types of batting are not appropriate for a T-shirt quilt. Experienced quilt makers know this. But not all quilt makers have enough experience to know this. It’s important to ask your quilt maker if they use a batting that will shrink. If they say, “I don’t know,” run the other direction. Read more about hiring a quilt maker here.
Typically, the batting used in a T-shirt quilt wouldn't require you to dry-clean your quilt.
This is where things get tricky. You have to ask your quilter what type of fabric she uses and how it's treated.
Backing material should be a high quality 100% cotton material. It should always be prewashed to remove excess dyes, to set the dye, and to shrink the fabric. When done correctly, there is no reason that the backing material would require you to dry-clean your quilt.
Exception – If the backing material weren’t prewashed. In this case, you would want to dry-clean your quilt.
What happens if you wash a quilt made with fabric that wasn't prewashed? You could have two major issues:
The backing material could shrink. The first time a fabric goes through the wash it will shrink. If the first time a piece of fabric is washed is after it has been made into a quilt, it will shrink. The cheaper the fabric, the more shrinkage you could expect.
Here’s what happens. Your backing material will shrink while the batting and quilt top won’t. The result would be batting that bunches up. It bunches up because now the batting is larger than backing material. This will make for a lumpy quilt. This would make me unhappy if this happened to my quilt.
The backing material color might bleed. Think of the red sock in a load of whites. If you have a red backing, your white T-shirts will look pink. Initially this might seem worse than the backing material shrinking. But, there's a solution to bleeding fabric. If you know that the fabric might bleed a head of time, you can save your quilt. Read about it here.
So, why would a T-shirt quilt need to be dry-cleaned?
If there is an item you choose to put in your quilt that is not machine-washable.
If the backing material isn't prewashed. This is very common, especially with low price T-shirt quilt makers.
Have you received your T-shirt quilt back from your quilter with a dry-clean label? Is there anything in the quilt top that had to be dry-cleaned? If not, you have a problem. This could have been avoided if the backing material had been prewashed. Your quilter wanted to save some time. Good for her, bad for your quilt.
And we are sorry. As we did for our customer at the beginning of this article, we can remake a quilt that is dry-clean only. Read more about that here.
Andrea Funk is the inventor of T-shirt quilts made with multiple blocks sizes. The modern method of making T-shirt quilts. In 1992 she founded Too Cool T-shirt Quilts. Her life has been immersed in T-shirt quilts ever since.