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Do I need to prewash my tea towels?

Reader Question: Do I have to wash new tea towels before I embroider them? And then should I iron them before I stitch them?

I pre-wash everything. Everything. I don’t mess around. When I come back from the fabric store, everything I just bought goes straight into the laundry hamper and isn’t allowed in my sewing room until it’s been washed, dried and ironed. I’m a little obsessive about it – but I have a good reason.

The very first thing I ever sewed was a tablecloth. Truly, the ugliest, worst-made tablecloth the world has ever seen. One of the many things I did wrong was that I didn’t pre-wash my fabric. So the first time I threw the tablecloth into the wash, it shrank just enough for every seam to pucker and look terrible. This was exacerbated by the fact that I had a seam running right down the middle of the table – the long way – but that’s a whole other sewing problem. 🙂

Now I always pre-wash everything.

Including tea towels.

They’ll come out all wrinkly and you’ll definitely want to iron them before you stitch on them. The hoop will leave rings in your fabric and you can press them out – but I usually throw the whole thing in the wash again. It’s a towel, right? And it’s going to be washed a million times. Just go ahead and wash those creases out. If you need to iron them after you’ve done the embroidery, do it carefully.

There’s a video here showing how to iron finished embroidery without squishing the stitches – but I don’t iron my finished tea towels because I’m lazy and I really USE them.

Good luck!

Got any other sewing or embroidery questions? Send them to me here.

Happy stitching!

Applique Wendi (with fabulous hat)



  1. Those who have been sewing for a while have had the “tablecloth experience.” Mine was a cute dress. Shrank to mini-me size.

    Great advice!

  2. I definitely pre-wash everything-it’s not worth the possibility of having to redo a whole project if it ends up shrinking a bunch!

  3. That’s my feeling! It’s easy to prewash and why risk the alternative? Even a little bit of shrinking can really ruin the whole look of a project.

  4. I’m teaching an embroidery class in a few days – in large part your site has been inspiring for me to get back into embroidery again. Anyway, I’m glad you had a few comments on prewashing tea towels. Like you, I prewash everything except some polyesters for garments (like fleece, etc). I prewash fabrics with linen MANY times. 🙂

    I’m unsure how to embroider such that the stitches on the backside of the towel look as good as the front side. I’ll keep hunting around the internet.

    Thank you for your great site! I will be including it as a resource to my students.

    • I used to worry more about the backs of my tea towels, but then I looked at a bunch of vintage ones and they’re pretty messy. I do try not to carry the thread very far at all between areas – I’m more likely to tie off and start again that I would be on something where the back won’t be visible.

    • Thanks for your comments!

      I finished my first tea towel, for the class I mentioned.

      I notice tea towel fabric, or at least on the typical tea towels you get these days, has a loose weave. It makes for a potentially uneven stretch in the hoop. My stitch work, being a series of items in a row, has a bit of a wonky curve.

      I have some wonderful 100% linens and was thinking of making some towels from them.

    • Your sample towel looks great!

      If you notice that the fabric you want to use has a loose weave, use a stabilizer with it. You can use Sulky Totally Stable, but that leaves a backing that you’ll have to tear away. I recommend The Magic Embroidery Stuff. 🙂 It’s strong enough to stabilize knits (I use it on all my T-shirts now) and it rinses away beautifully.

  5. Ber SAYS...

    Lol, this is eye opening. I been trying to find an article to justify not washing those gorgeous fluffy towels that I’m trying to embroider and gift out, but I keep running into articles telling me “STOP BEING LAZY” :). Ok Ok, I get it! I will wash them. Should I at least wash them in cold water so the color stays GORGEOUS?