Thursday, August 10, 2023

When Fabric Bleeds

OK, fabric quality has really improved over the years, but one thing still happens with surprising regularity… fabrics will bleed!  What does that mean?  That really dense dark blue or dark red fabric you used, and when it is laundered, the colors run in to the surrounding blocks.  OMG..  What happened?

fabric color bleed
Fabric color bleed

In this case, it was a vintage quilt.  There was a red border. 

Rich or vibrant colors are especially common culprits: blacks, reds, purples, blues, and even yellows will often lose some of their dye during washing…. And if that washing is after you have already pieced and quilted the quilt, there could be real panic on what to do next. 

Shout Color Catchers - dye trapping sheets


Oh that reminds me, last fall I wore a long-sleeve black dress for the first time to a fund-raiser gala. I don't know what the deal was but I had dark blue all over me, my fingers, fingernails, my knees, my chest and my undergarments.    Good thing it was dark in the place, but I was freaking out!  Washed the dress (by itself) the next day.  The water was blue!  I ran it through the wash again with a SHOUT Color catcher.  Still turning the color catchers a funky blue color for three more wash cycles. (Note:  I also put some really faded denim capris in with the wash.  Perked up the color!)

Rit Color Stay Dye Fixative

Rit Dye Fixative is another good product.  This fixative dye solution locks in the color that you just dyed, or if you are uncertain about the color-fastness of your fabric..  However, this one requires that you pre-soak the fabric for almost 24 hours. I guess that for fabrics that just won’t stop bleeding, this will definitely do the trick. This is known to set blacks and indigo’s successfully… might be overkill for other colors, but great to have on hand just in case!


If you have already washed your quilt and the colors bled into each other, this is the product you need! Soak your damaged quilt in a bathtub of warm water and the recommended dose of Synthrapol. This could take a while and you may have to refill the tub with fresh water and Synthrapol more than once. Once the dye is out, rinse the quilt thoroughly and hang it to dry!

Retayne or Synthrapol

Retayne - Stop the Bleed

Retayne is another fixative product that has demonstrated good results to stop fabric from bleeding. It will set the dye before it bleeds and seal it in the fabric. For best results, soak your fabric in hot water and add the suggested amount of Retayne for the yardage you have. Or, you can wait until after the quilt is pieced and quilted, then wash in hot water adding Retayne to the load.

Retayne or Synthrapol?

There IS a difference between the two products.  One is for when something has already bled the colors, the other is a fixative.  I used to sell this a LOT during 1990's and early 2000's. It is still available online, but no longer available from my distributors.

Preventing Fabric Color Bleeding - The Old Fashioned Way

Lastly, let's talk about how to prevent bleeding. If you’re pre-washing your fabric, add 1 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle or one-half cup of salt to the wash. The chloride found in salt actually helps to seal the color in fabrics, keeping it from fading. 

Prior to a first washing, you can also soak dark fabrics for 30 minutes in water mixed with ½ cup of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt to help set the dye. This will also keep the colors vibrant for several washings.

Orvus Quilt Wash

One last thing about washing fabrics and quilts.  Use a product like Orvus Quilt Wash - this is literally Horse Shampoo.  The point is, that there are no harsh chemicals in this product.  I have used Orvus for over 30 years washing my quilts, sweaters and wool clothing.  The colors are still are bright and vibrant as when they were first created.  

Note:  Use Orvus for washing ANY of you natural fibers like cotton, silk or wool.  cool wash, hang to dry.   The Quilt Soap you buy from the quilt shops is just smaller packaging of this product.

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