In order for a slipcover to be washable and to not worry about the fabric shrinking, you'll want to pre-shrink the fabric before sewing. Cotton and linen fabrics will continue to shrink even if they have been labeled "pre-shrunk" by the manufacturer. The way to minimize shrinkage for a continued good fit is to wash and dry the fabric with heat before cutting the slipcover pattern. Most workrooms expect materials to arrive ready for use, so you'll probably need to do the prewashing at home. Be sure you have enough fabric - slipcovers take about 20% more fabric than upholstery, because of the shrinkage and because there are more areas that tuck into the furniture.
Preshrink your cotton or linen slipcover fabric as follows:
- Cut the fabric into 5 or 6 yard lengths
- Wash each piece separately in cold water
- Dry each piece separately on medium heat until fully dry
- Iron as needed - a spray bottle of water is a big help, especially for linen
- Fold pieces neatly or roll back onto the bolt for your workroom
While it may be tempting to use fabric softener, it can leave a residue that makes sewing difficult, so don't use any in the pre-shrinking process. Also, while it is gentler on the fabric to air dry it, at this point in the project the goal is to work through any residual shrinking, so be sure to use the dryer to fully dry the fabric. Once the slipcover is made, there will be very little further shrinking if the dryer was used.
Cotton and Linen fabrics are finished with a sizing on the surface for crispness, and this washes off in the laundry. Some people really want a crisp look and decide not to wash the fabric at all, and plan to have their slipcovers drycleaned. This is a more dressy look, but it can be expensive for professional cleaning! If a slipcover is properly made, it is a breeze to clean since you just pretreat stains and toss it in the laundry. It will have a soft hand that will always have some wrinkles without the sizing.
If you would like a crisp look, you can iron with Magic Sizing after the slipcover is made - it's available in grocery stores and adds that nice crisp finish back to the fabric.
Synthetic fabrics such as Sunbrella, Outdura and our polyester chenille Charisma generally do not shrink, so they do not need prewashing. Sunbrella and other outdoor fabrics should never be put in the dryer.
For information of washing your finished slipcover, please refer to our page, "How to Wash A Slipcover".