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Avoid Fabric Shrinkage: A Quick Guide & Shrink Test

Picture this: You just finished making a beautiful handmade and custom made dress that you have tried on and fits perfectly. You are very excited to wear it this weekend. You throw it in the wash to have it nice and ready to take it out on the town.

But, when you pull out your dress form your closet and put it on, it doesn’t fit anymore!

Fabric Shrinkage Title image

This is every sewers nightmare. Spending hours upon hours on making a garment and then realizing it has shrunk. It is a very common problem that comes up when you sew something without pre-shrinking the fabric.

What is shrinkage?

Shrinkage is a term that refers to a fabric’s predisposition to reduce it’s size (either widthwise, lengthwise or both) when it is put through the process of washing, drying and pressing it. This is the property that affects a finished garment or product the most, as it can potentially distort it’s shape and fit to different degrees. Which is why it is very useful to have an idea of how fabric shrinks, as well as performing shrink tests on different fabrics beforehand.

The amount of shrinkage that a fabric goes through depends on different factors, such as: the fabric’s content, the process used to produce the fabric, etc. Generally, fabrics with a natural fiber content, such as cotton, tend to be more susceptible to the shrinkage process than synthetics; so it is important to take this factor into account when studying a fabrics shrinkage habits.

Shrink test

Follow these steps to test a fabric’s shrinkage properties, and to see how it reacts to water and heat.

Step 1:

Cut a square cardboard template of about 4″x 4″.

Step 2:

Using the template as a guide, cut a square swatch of the fabric you want to test in the exact same size of your template. It is best to cut along the fabrics selvedge.

Cutting fabric swatchFabric swatch and template


Fabric tends to react differently to just washing it or washing and pressing. Therefore, you can cut 2 swatches of each fabric to test how it shrinks when you are only washing and drying it, and another one to analyze how it changes after washing, drying and ironing it.

Fabric swatch over template

Step 3:

Place the unwashed fabric swatch over the cardboard template to corroborate that they are the exact same size.

Fabric swatch after shrinking, over template

Step 4:

Wash and dry the fabric swatch the same you would your final garment. Once it is dry, place it over the cardboard swatch and check to see if the fabric shrunk, and by how much. Measure the template and  the swatch to calculate how much it has shrunk and in which direction.


To calculate the percentage by which the fabric has shrunk follow the equation below:

[Width of fabric swatch before shrinking] – [width of fabric after shrinking] / width of swatch after shrinking x 100

For example: [(9 – 8.5) / 8.5] x 100 = 5.88% = 6%

Take this information into consideration the next time you plan a new sewing project. Plus, always remember to pre shrink your fabric (by washing and drying it the way you will do with your final garment) before you cut into it.

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sharon hutchison

Wouldn’t it be simpler just to prewash the fabric before sewing? That’s usually recommended anyway.

Susan Bailey

I agree — and I wouldn’t want a 4×4 chunk cut out of my fabric.


If you prewash and dry your fabric before cutting it out, you don’t have to take anything into consideration, you just have to cut it out and sew it. I prewash everything that goes into a clothing item, excepting anything that is iron-on. No nasty surprises. Ever.

Aloma Cronberg

Makes way more sense to wash the product before you cut it out! Launder it the way you intend to launder it after your project is finished. I serge my raw edges first so I don’t have a lot of raveling on the edges, wash and dry it, iron it, and then cut it out!!! Preshrinking is done without all of the muss and fuss above!!


Me too! Everything gets washed, dried, and folded with right sides together. When I’m ready to sew, the fabric is ready to iron and lay out the pattern. In 40 years, only 1 piece of fabric did not survive the washer. Unless you’re a math major, who needs all that figuring?

Marylyn May

First rule of sewing: Always, always, always wash your fabric first.

Belta Otel Tekstili

You don’t have to do that in synthetic fabrics, such as polyester. Don’t waste water for nothing.

Yvonne Smith

I have been told to wash and dry the fabric to get the sizing out from when it is made. It also pisses me off when the fabric is suppose to be 44/45 inches wide and shrinks to a smaller number and you do not have the proper width for the lay out of your pattern.


Selvedges are woven tighter than the rest of the fabric and does not shrink the same, thus should not be used in the garment nor for shrinkage test.

Susan Bailey

I don’t serge any more. I just clip 1/2 an inch into the selvedge – top and bottom of the piece of fabric, and wash and dry — generally fairly brutally. At some point, I know someone WILL help with the laundry…and I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment in the future.

Estelle Davis-Combs

Had a HUGE disconnect with a perspective client around pre-washing. Like most of you, I was taught to ALWAYS PREWASH! Since I also embellish items with Paints, Heat Transfer Vinyl and Machine Embroidery, as a general rule, I pre-wash. I have found that this even removes excess lint from towels and enhances the beauty of the embroidery.


Pre wash for sewing is a given. Quilting, not so much.

Debra Brunson

This really helps me, I bought a lot of fabric and don’t want to wash the whole load right now. It helps to know I can figure the shrinkage and cut what I need until I have a more manageable amount. Thank you!


So, for most clothes made today, it seems like mass manufacturers don’t like to preshrink anything anymore and then simply label it as “delicate” or instruct to “wash in cold water hang to dry”, possibly because it’s just cheaper for them. It’s annoying and kinda angering to have to hang dry ALL of my new clothes indoors lol

What are your opinions?


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