be your self: a lesson learned

be your self: a lesson learned

By Patricia Belyea

SEATTLE WA

I started on my newest quilt at The Joe Retreat in November. The idea was to have a little fun after working on my book for three years! Scissor-cutting fabric and sewing together folksy words with bits of light blue, white, and bright colors led the whimsical composition.

I surrounded my message, Be Your Self, with a scrappy medley of color blocks, two happy rabbits hand-dyed on vintage yukata cotton, and a wonky curved detail. Also included in the design was a bold black and white polka-dot fabric generously given to me by a Retreat participant.

After I made a back, sandwiched the quilt, and hand stitched it with lopsided flowers, I dunked the project into a bathtub of tepid water. This step was to remove the stitch guidelines and prepare the quilt for blocking.

Then something went wrong—terribly wrong. When I pulled the soaking-wet mass out of the bathtub, both the front and back were covered with blotches of purple-black. Although I always pre-wash my fabrics, I had never pre-washed the black and white polka-dot piece!

Immediately I washed the mess with OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover, twice. (I used a one-hour load cycle with cold water, extra rinse, and low spin.) There was some improvement so I kept the project wet by running the cycle again with no detergent while I zipped to the store to buy more stain removers.

The fourth cycle was with OxiClean White Revive and the fifth with Clorox Stain Remover & Color Booster.

The cleaning agents eliminated 95% of the dye problem but also roughed up some of the fabrics so they look worn out. I deemed the project acceptable although no show piece. So I continued on and finished the quilt with a turquoise facing.

My intent all along was to share this quilt with students in my Yukata Quilting Workshop where we focus on creativity, curves, and yukata cottons. The lesson: yukata cottons and curves can compliment a quilt, not be the only features.

Instead I was the person receiving the lesson. ALWAYS pre-wash your fabrics, Patricia! Even today’s commercially printed fabrics can have dye issues. I never want to repeat the anguish of believing I’ve ruined a quilt.

Have you experienced a similar crisis with a quilt project? How did you resolve it?


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17 comments


  • Patricia Belyea
    Thanks Sandra. I would have pre-washed the black and white fabric, if I had thought of it. Because I normally pre-wash EVERYTHING before I get started on a new project, I never remembered to take care of the gifted fabric. Haha! PB

  • Sandra W.
    I use Synthrapol on any colored fabric that I think might be a problem. Years ago I ruined a couple of garments by using Woolite, not knowing that it can cause the colors of a hand embroidered or hand knitted sweater to run, even with cold water. Both garments had been washed previously with mild soap, no problem.

  • Marilynn D-R
    I love your quilt Patricia, makes me smile!

  • Mary Burger
    I made a lap Quilt with antique, family heirloom, log cabin blocks that had been pieced by my grandmother and friends in the 1930s. Small red center squares and some dark purple strips.The finished Quilt was laying on a cutting table mat next to a small ironing board when the steam iron was accidentally tipped over. No one realized water had spilled and that the edge of quilt was laying in the spill. The next day the liquid was dark but, the quilt itself was not stained! Special care instructions added to the label!

  • Ellen Perrin
    I’ve done the same or prewashed and though it was enough – and there was still dye to run.

    I learned the words “wabi-sabi” and the quilt is now called the wabi-sabi log cabin :)


  • Patricia Belyea
    Wendy—That sounds great. Thanks. P.

  • Wendy Hill
    Dawn purple dish soap- the kind to get oil off of birds- is a miracle worker!!! Fill bath tub with water as hot as the fabrics can stand, add large amount of Dawn (1/4 to 1 cup), submerge quilt with weights on top, and leave until water is cold. The color bleed will be gone. I’m out if town and sick so I can’t remember or find link to source of this cure. Read my experience on my blog wendyhill.net/blog.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Susie—Your quilts are always full of special pieces! Pair that with your spontaneity and anything goes! P.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Pat—Exactly! P.

  • Pat Smith
    Always use Synthrapol and a color catcher when washing.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Stacy—Yikes! I’m surprised you were able to sleep that night. So glad it all worked out. P.

  • Susie Wolcott
    With my careless ways? Of course. Used a several times washed yellow cotton tablecloth for backing. All the former pieces of white on front turned a soft yellow. After unsuccessfully trying to remove yellow, friends convinced me it had a shabby chic look.

    In my enthusiasm, I unthinkingly added a red silk to a king sized quilt. I had drug it around while making and decided to wash in tub. As I lowered it in the water, the water turned pink. I immediately realized my mistake and yanked the whole thing back out like a flash before it had a chance to run too much. Just let it air dry and decided it was clean enough. A few light pieces were corrupted but if I don’t tell anybody……
    A pink and green quilt turned so drab I gave it to the pound.
    You’d think I’d learn.


  • Stacy
    I certainly did. I spent hours doing calligraphy and then just before heatsetting, knocked the ink bottle all over the the contrast color. Into the bathtub with dawn and the Retro Wash I had on hand. Over night it lifted ink I didn’t want. (I had heat set the calligraphy hoping for the best. It made a great story to tell at lectures as the quilt went onto shows. It now hangs proudly in my living room.

  • Patricia Belyea
    LeeAnn—Thanks for the heads-up on navy and red. I haven’t seen problems with the navy or red vintage yukata cottons but I still pre-wash everything. P.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Denise—Sounds like you did well with the challenge, keeping a level head and continuing forward. Best, P.

  • Denise
    I worked on a quilt project for my church- where the children drew with fabric markers- only the black marker was not a fabric marker and bled all over the place. I washed with Synthrapol a few times till the stain was lighter. Then just quilted around the stains as if they were part of the design- I decided since the quilts were for children- and a few times being thrown up on and washed would take care of the rest of the stains. It was the thought that counted- the quilts were to welcome refugee children to our town. Next time we will keep better watch on the markers!!

  • LeeAnn
    Oh yes, I’ve had that happen with a dark navy and a red. Sometimes those colors can run even AFTER pre-washing! Good thing you found the Oxyclean solution. Soaking the quilt in the bathtub for a few hours with Oxyclean works well. Wonderful quilt!! So cheery and playful.

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