View Full Version : Dry clean only fabric

05-24-2013, 01:19 AM
I'm making a slip-cover for the sofa, and need a ton of fabric, for obvious reasons. I found a great one that's on super sale right now for $5.99 a yard, but it's dry clean only. I was really hoping for something I could just toss in the washing machine when the dogs get it dirty.

I can take it to the cleaners periodically if I need to, I just don't much want the extra costs. The material is a sort of cotton canvas, similar to duck. Is it a shrinkage issue? Does anyone know why cotton would be marked dry clean only? I probably have to abide by that, don't I?

Old Hack
05-24-2013, 01:29 AM
It takes a lot of expensive testing to establish how to safely wash fabric, so sometimes fabric is labelled dry-clean only to avoid having to make those tests.

Could you buy a yard of it, and give it a nice long hot wash to see how it reacts? Measure it carefully before you wash it; perhaps draw a measured square on it in magic marker, so that you can measure it afterwards to see how much it shrinks, so that you can allow for that as you make up your slipcovers.

If the fabric is 100% cotton then it should shrink by about 5%, and might be labelled dry-clean only to avoid that shrinkage; or it could be that washing will remove a fire-retardant treatment, something like that.

If it has other odd fibres in it then washing might make the fabric less crumple-resistant, or thinner, or distort it in some way, but if you try it out with a sample you will be able to predict how badly (or not) it will react.

05-24-2013, 01:39 AM
Even if it's a shrinkage issue, wouldn't just washing all of it in advance fix that problem?

I think I'll do that, though. I'll just cut a small square and see how it reacts. I hadn't thought of a fire retardant, though it's not marked as such.

I just don't want to spend a lot on fabric and ruin it, obviously. ;) Do you think I'd need to wash a whole yard to see? Or would a smaller piece still give me an idea?

05-24-2013, 09:24 AM
I wouldn't think you'd need to wash a whole yard, just a piece big enough to be able to gauge the effect of the washing, and I doubt I'd wash it in hot because you're not likely to be doing that with the finished product. Warm or cool, check it after the wash, measure it to see if it shrank any, then dry it on a medium dryer setting and check it again. Often the shrinkage and/or distortion comes from the dryer, not the washing.

I've thrown all sorts of upholstery samples, hundreds of them, from the furniture store in the washer and dryer and not a one has had an adverse reaction.

And yes, washing it in advance will eliminate most of the shrinkage later. Not always all of it, but most.

Old Hack
05-24-2013, 10:07 AM
Kaitie, just try to wash a sample big enough so that you can gauge its shrinkage in both directions, not just one--so a square, rather than a strip; and marking the piece with a measured line in each dimension is good too, as if it frays much in the machine you'll not be able to measure it accurately.

I would wash it hot, if it's 100% cotton, and do tumble-dry it too, as Liralen suggested. I would wash a larger sample, as with smaller pieces it can be harder to work out the shrinkage, if it only shrinks a small amount, but I'll agree that a whole yard might be excessive.

I've done this with all sorts of fabric, and with very few bad results. With pure cottons the only problem is shrinkage, and sometimes fading of the design; with more complicated synthetic blends the structure o the fabric can break down, so it's worth putting them into a net bag before washing so the fibres don't block your machine if it sheds a lot. I'm pretty sure that you can get wash-in or spray-on fire retardants so if that's the issue, you can always put it back after you've washed your fabric.

Remember to post pictures when you're done.

05-24-2013, 05:14 PM
I own a whole lot of fabric, mostly from Fabric.com (which I adore). Their standard recommendation is to launder a four-inch square of every fabric, including drying it as you would the finished garment, slipcover, etc. By having one consistent size you always do this way, you may not even need to measure to see if it's shrunk or distorted. It'll look smaller or crooked.

If you opt to buy this fabric, I'd do the four-inch thing and perhaps a twelve- or twenty-inch version, too, so you'll be able to see if the barely-there shrinkage of the small piece adds up to a larger measurable one on bigger pieces. If it did shrink, even a teensy bit, I'd take it all to a laundromat with one of those huge washers and wash the entire yardage before cutting, and dry it there as well.

Then you'll know for sure it can be washed and dried.

Does your fabric have a print or gradations of shading or color? I ask because your standard solid-color cotton duck or canvas is likely to show not just pet hair but the results of spills, even after washing. A busy print in the right color range better hides the traces of everyday living.

FWIW, dry-cleaning slipcovers costs an amount I consider usurious. IIRC, it was something like $75, maybe $85, high enough that I'd be likely to put it off.

Maryn, who slipcovered a sofa and chair eons ago

05-24-2013, 05:57 PM
It has stripes on it. The other color we were looking at was a really nice upholstery fabric that was solid, but it was a very dark color so I don't think it would show as badly as what we have now. That one was $14 on sale, though, and I just can't afford that. Hopefully the stripes will be nice.

I can line dry things, too, if that's worth considering. Would it be best to do one just in the wash, and then line dry one? Or if it's going to shrink, would it be best just to let it all shrink instead of trying to avoid it?

I'm making a little quilted bottom cover to tie onto my bottom cushions to protect them, too. I saw a picture of it yesterday and it was sheer brilliance, so I'm hoping that protects the cushions a bit and eliminates some of the doggie concerns.

05-24-2013, 08:15 PM
Bed Bath & Beyond has a number of slip covers. Several different fabrics, fake suede, plush, twill. Although most are in solid colors. The few I spot checked all said machine wash.

There are probably other places with them too. Unless you just want to do the sewing.

Another place is surefit.net


05-24-2013, 10:39 PM
I went to the store to pick up a few extra yards (the online sale didn't have as many as I wanted) and I checked the bolt. The bolt itself says delicate cycle cold machine wash, tumble low, so I think it should all be good. I'm going to run it all through a cycle before I piece it together (and check shrinkage first) just to make sure it's all good, but it should be fine to do in the machine. Yay. I'm also going to check my stain remover on it before I wash it to see how it reacts. If it works without any problems, I shouldn't have to worry much about keeping it clean. :)

05-25-2013, 12:58 AM
Oh, that's definitely very good news, that it's really washable. Wash and dry it all, then cut.

BTW, one bolt should match yardage from the next, but there may be very subtle color variations. Depending on what you piece together, try to have all pieces of the sofa's back, or the tops of all cushions, anything that goes from left to right, cut from the same bolt or piece. Very slight color differences between the back and the cushions, or th cushion and the arm, or the arm and the drop, won't be noticeable, since light hits them differently, but will show if the left couch back or cushion isn't quite the same color as the right one. It's not really harder, just takes a little planning.

Maryn, currently not sewing anything

05-25-2013, 01:22 AM
I'm hoping the color will be okay. One of the reviews was a person who had to buy more, and she said the color matched spot on, so I'm hopeful. :) If it's slightly off, I can use the off colors for things like the cording, etc. I plan to do.

Old Hack
05-25-2013, 02:09 AM
Shrinkage is probably more likely than colour fading, so you should be ok. And I still want pictures of the end result.

05-25-2013, 05:02 AM
If I manage to make it work, I'll definitely post pictures. Of course, with the amount of fabric I just bought, I'd darn well better make it work lol.

Old Hack
05-25-2013, 11:02 AM
I'll see if I can find pictures of some of my projects, Katie. You'll feel a lot better about yours then, even if it goes disastrously wrong.

Purple Rose
05-25-2013, 11:36 AM
The bolt itself says delicate cycle cold machine wash, tumble low, so I think it should all be good. I'm going to run it all through a cycle before I piece it together (and check shrinkage first) just to make sure it's all good, but it should be fine to do in the machine.

Good idea to check the shrinkage but assuming there's none, I would still buy 5% more, then have it washed and tumble-dried (low setting) before sewing.

We've had cotton slip and cushion covers on our American-sized sofas and armchairs and have replaced them at least 3 times in the past 20 years. Every manufacturer (all well-known) has suggested washing and drying before sewing, even though their fabrics are pre-shrunk, and we've had never had trouble.

Just a thought.

05-25-2013, 10:53 PM
Yeah, I definitely am going to launder before using, just to be on the safe side.

I used a calculator to estimate how much I needed and bought four extra yards to account for some extras I want to do, so hopefully that will be enough. I should also be able to buy more if I absolutely have to, so there's that. :) If I find out I'm wrong, I should be able to buy more, which is good. I checked on that before I bought just to be sure.

05-26-2013, 12:14 AM
Do remember to take a before picture so we can admire the huge improvement, okay?


05-26-2013, 12:45 AM
Oh gosh lol. The before is so embarrassing! It was my boyfriend's grandmother's, and the color, etc. reflects it. Add to it that it's become the dog's sofa, and it's discolored and stained (very hard to clean even with a cleaner), and the cushions are literally in shreds. It's pretty awful. I'll suck it up and take a picture, though. Just no mocking me when you see it.

Old Hack
05-26-2013, 12:51 AM
Kaitie, our couches look awful. They are SO marked after years of our children, dogs and numerous cats spending time on them: they're clean, but still show the remains of several unfortunate incidents. Don't worry. We all know what life is like.

05-26-2013, 02:05 AM
OH! Rit has a laundry additive that helps fix colors so they don't bleed. Might be a good idea to use that when you wash the fabric, since it's a stripe -- just in case.

The majority of the upholstery fabric in the U.S. is now manufactured in China. Most of the U.S. fabric mills shut down, either out of business or moved overseas. You know what's happened with a lot of the imports -- like all the baby food and dog food . . . I saw some wide variances when I was selling furniture. Checking like you're doing before you invest all that time is definitely good planning :)

06-22-2013, 12:24 AM
Hey guys, I haven't forgotten about this thread! I just haven't finished making it yet. I've done one arm and one cushion, and just haven't had time to go back and finish it up yet. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks. It's just an ongoing project.

That being said, I had a question. I was thinking that it would probably be worthwhile to use some kind of stain guard, but because I let my dogs on the couch (and people), I'd like to have something safe. Are there any effective stain guards that would help protect it once it's finished but are also safe to use around pets?

06-22-2013, 12:48 AM
Do you have a pattern or are you designing it yourself. I've considered couch covers becuase we let the dogs on the couches, but they are so expensive. We use tee shirt material bed sheets, but the dirt from the dogs just filters through the weave.

06-22-2013, 03:18 AM
I'm making it myself. It's surprisingly easier than I anticipated. There are a couple of seems that aren't 100% perfect, but they are in tucked in places, so they aren't visible and I don't mind (the thought of ripping it out and trying again sort of terrifies me.

That being said, I think I'm going to have to re-pin my second arm because I did five pleats on the first, and somehow got 3 on this one. I don't really think it will be noticeable at all unless someone's looking for it, but I figure I should probably pin it again and at least try to make them the same.

It's in some ways tedious and mentally tiring, but at the same time, more intuitive than I expected.

To be honest, the cushions are much more difficult just because I'm putting piping on them, and the zippers are time consuming.

06-22-2013, 08:08 AM
Velcro can be your best friend on slip covers ;)

Old Hack
06-22-2013, 11:48 AM
Get a zipper / piping foot for your sewing machine if you don't already have one: it will make it so much easier to put those in.

06-22-2013, 08:24 PM
I'd love to see pictures when you finish.

06-22-2013, 08:31 PM
Get a zipper / piping foot for your sewing machine if you don't already have one: it will make it so much easier to put those in.

I have one, but it's still a pain in the ass. ;) Mostly just because it takes the extra time to sew two pieces together, then sew them together again, and so on.

The zippers are for the cushions, which I think work best with zippers. I'm going to use velcro on the slipcover itself. Besides, I don't have to buy the zippers. I'm just ripping them out of the old cushions and reusing them.

I did take before pictures, embarrassing as they are. I actually cleaned the sofa before I started working on the slip cover with my new carpet cleaner's upholstery tool. It did a pretty great job, so I wish I'd taken the before pictures after I did that just so it didn't look so grimy. I've already ripped apart a couple of cushions, though, so that's out of the question.

Did I mention I'm using striped fabric? So far I've managed to work it out, but I do have to admit that I didn't appreciate fully how much work goes into matching stripes. :tongue That said, I've managed to (I think) line up the first cushion with the lines on the slipcover itself, so woohoo for that. Now to do the other three haha.

Old Hack
06-22-2013, 10:38 PM
Matching patterns is always fun. I made curtains for our new bedroom's big bay window this year: there are four of them, they're floor-length, and each one is just over 3m wide. Not only is the pattern (botanical prints on a duck-egg blue background) matched across all the curtains, I put a border on them all with two colours of silky edging on them too, which also had to match all the way round the bay window.

I like to make things difficult for myself. (And I still have to finish the bottom corners of the curtains.)

06-22-2013, 11:50 PM
I've actually been having fun with it. I knew it would be a challenge, but I hadn't thought of all the pieces that had to line up. It's like a puzzle, though, that I have to sort out. I'm looking forward to putting the skirt on the bottom edge. I'm going to do some pleats there, too, and line that up, so it should be fun. Going to see if I can finish up the second arm today. The cushions might still take some time, but if I can get this part done, I can start working on the skirt, which in some ways will be easier.

08-17-2013, 08:50 PM
Hey guys! Update--I might actually finish this thing this weekend. :D Yaaay finishing. I didn't get to work on it for about a month, so my couch has been dismantled lol. Luckily it's mostly the dog's couch when we don't have company over, and they don't mind.

That being said, I've got a question for anyone out there who has done something similar before.

I'd like to make about four throw pillows to go with it. We don't have any at the moment, and I think if I get some that are matching, they'll look great.

As I want to be able to wash these, I'm going to opt for the making a cover to go over a pillow form rather than a filled pillow. What I'm not sure about is the best way to go about this. I've done pocket pillows before, but would that work well for a sofa? Would it be better to make one with a velcro closure at the bottom or something of that nature?

I want something that looks nice but is also durable and not likely to come apart easily, but that I can also remove without any problems for washing. Any tips?

Old Hack
08-17-2013, 11:17 PM
I find velcro a little bit stiff and itchy for cushions: some of it always seems to get exposed, and other things stick to it too which your dogs might not like (we used to have a big blond dog with long hair, called Harry, who I once found with one of my son's coats stuck to his trousers by the velcro on the front).

You could do a button closure: you can cover buttons in the same fabric, or get large decorative ones, and make it a decorative feature. I did that recently and it looked lovely (I can't show pics, I'm afraid, as I gave the cushion to my mother). Or you could just do an envelope closure, like you get on pillow cases, or even a tie-close. There are all sorts of things you can do. Just make sure you allow plenty of overlap for the two layers, and you should be ok.

08-18-2013, 12:37 AM
I've done pillows a lot of times.

I usually do a lapped zipper (http://sewing.craftgossip.com/files/2012/03/lappedzipper.jpg) which is about 2 inches shorter than the shortest side of the pillow (if it's a rectangle), so you end up with about one inch at each end of the zipper which is just a seam. It's still easy to pull the pillow form out to wash its cover. Plus you can have seasonal or holiday covers if you are so inspired.

There's a small trick to it. You can't put in a zipper on a stitched-closed pillow cover. You have to do the zipper side of the pillow cover first. I usually stitch the ends which will be closed seams, then machine baste in contrasting thread where the zipper will go.

Tip: When you sew the ends, go around the corner and do about 1.5 inches of the seam at right angles to the end you stitched. Once the zipper's in, sometimes it's hard to do the corners nice and straight.

Maryn, who has given both her kids pillows with covers

08-18-2013, 02:12 AM
I hadn't thought about the unwanted things getting stuck on the velcro. Good point!

I like the lapped zipper look. Doesn't look too difficult to do, either. I think I'll try that out and see how it goes.

Now I just have to decide on the final fabric to go on my two small pillows. I picked out the contrasts for the cushion cover and the two large pillows (the cover will be reversible), but I want something fun to go on the others. I picked out a kind of crazy fabric that has the same colors, plus some red that I really like, but I'm not sure how the red will look in the room. I brought home a sample to see. I also found a "safe" choice that is basically off white with small blue flowers the same color.

I'd really rather go crazy than safe, though. ;)

Old Hack
08-18-2013, 12:45 PM
Katie, have you looked in any shops which sell quilting fabrics? The fabric is almost always 100% cotton and quite tough and resilient, and there are so many prints and patterns you're bound to find something you like. The cotton itself is a slightly coarser weave than most other lightweight cottons, but not so coarse that it would be unpleasant; and they sell fabric by the fat quarter, which usually measures about 20" by 22" which is a really useful size for cushion-making.

08-18-2013, 10:39 PM
I went to a quilting store yesterday, actually. I also checked the small pieces for quilters at three stores. The problem is that the blue is an odd one and it's hard to find something that goes with it. I found a couple of fabrics that had cool designs, but they all had a weird lime green in there that clashes with my walls.

The "safe" fabric I found is at the quilting store, actually. I think I'm going to go back for it later on. I picked up a little bit of the fun fabric, but I'm making small things out of that because it's expensive (even on sale) and I didn't want to spend a lot of money on it.

08-22-2013, 08:07 PM
I made pillows with a decorated front and then on the back I just overlapped two peices of fabric so that I could put the form in. I didn't use anything to close it, it lays flat. You have to manipulate it some to get it in, but I liked the results.