My bleeding quilt and how I fixed it

I was slightly traumatized after the holidays when putting away my decorations.  Even though I’ve heard of a bleeding quilt, I was surprised when it showed up under my Christmas tree.  My red and cream tree skirt had water spilled on it and the red fabric bled into the surrounding cream fabric.  Ouch!

Bleeding quilt and how I fixed it with Dawn dish soap @ The Crafty Quilter


It was bleeding in several large areas and I didn’t expect a full recovery.  Thankfully, I remembered an article I read from Suzy Quilts:  How to Fix Fabric Bleeds.  And guess what friends.  It worked!

I put enough VERY hot water in our bathtub to cover the tree skirt and then I added the magic ingredient:  Dawn dish soap, about 1/3 cup.  I followed Suzy’s instructions almost to the “T”.  Instead of letting it soak for 12 hours, I stopped at 6 hours.  But that was enough for my little Christmas tree skirt.

Bleeding quilt and how I fixed it with Dawn dish soap @ The Crafty Quilter


I think the Dawn dish soap suspends the fabric dye in the water.  Another reason to keep Dawn around! I rinsed it really well in warm water and then I put it through the washing machine on a light cycle with no detergent.  It came out perfect!

Bleeding quilt and how I fixed it with Dawn dish soap @ The Crafty Quilter

Bleeding quilt and how I fixed it with Dawn dish soap @ The Crafty Quilter


I know someone is going to ask about the tree skirt pattern.  It was a freebie online many years ago and it’s no longer available UPDATE:  You can find the pattern at this link:  https://web.archive.org/web/20100916191029/https://www.simplicity.com/t-free-quilt-patterns-Stars-All-Around-Tree-Skirt.aspx.  Thanks to Erin, one of my blog followers, for sending me that link!

Coincidentally, I met the lady who wrote the pattern (for Darlene Zimmerman) during my lecture at the Cumberland Valley Quilters Association in Tennessee.  She happened to be in the audience and told me about her involvement with the pattern.  Such a small world!

Christmas tree skirt made by Julie Cefalu @ The Crafty Quilter


Anyways, back to the fabric bleed issue.  Just thought I would pass this along in case it happens to you.  And thanks to Suzy for saving the day!

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  1. Love the skirt and color as a Scandinavian I probably would use this all year!
    Dawn is also the main ingredient of Skunk Odor/Stinky stuff. Thanks.

  2. I had this happen to me with a large red and white quilt. I was devastated as it was an antique. I put it in the washer on delicate with a cup of borax and it came out perfectly.

  3. The quilt pieces on tree skirt looks like Ohio Star pattern. Large one in middle with two smaller one on all four sides.

  4. I’m on the 2nd try………hot water with Dawn did NOT WORK FOR ME AT ALL. It’s a king size quilt and extremely difficult to work with. It’s in the bath tub about to come out, I’m not looking forward to trying to rinse it out again!!! How do you drain water and rinse with fresh water all in the tub?? I think it would be easier to just make my son and his wife a new quilt!!(It was their wedding gift!)

    1. What happens if you dried the bed spread? Mine is actually a bed spread and just a little of the ran.

  5. I made my grandson an NBA quilt. Lots of red in it. The red letters of players ran on the white squares. I read the remedy using Dawn. It works!!! 4 hrs. Rinsed and laid out to dry. Thank you for solution!!!

    Karen in Ohio

  6. I used Open Nature (brand) concentrated dye & fragrance free dish washing liquid. This worked for me. It has similar ingredients to dawn. I looked everywhere for the dawn free & clear and could not find it. This also appears to remove the starch, from my overly crusty over starched quilt, which ordinary laundry soap did not remove.

  7. Thank you for posting this! I used this to save a beautiful vintage hand knit sweater that my mom (bless her heart) washed for me, only for us to find that the darker yarn dyes had bled into the adjacent cream sections. I thought for sure the sweater was ruined until I found this post.

    I soaked the sweater twice using this method until all the bleeding was gone, washed it on cold/delicate with no detergent to get the Dawn out, then dried on low heat until it was halfway dry and laid flat to dry for the rest. It looks beautiful now!

  8. Thank you for all your instructions and information. My king size red and white quilt bleed in a corner and it’s not even a year ago when I had it long armed. I was pretty upset. Ordered everything from online and spent the day on Thursday doing step by step. It worked looks great, couldn’t believe how much the water changed in the first step and I had prewashed the fabric before cutting. For now on I’m using the color catcher or synthrapol in all my prewashing.

  9. I know this is going to sound strange but I read through and can’t find what type of Dawn. They make several and I have blocks that have bled. Thank you!

  10. I am so grateful for your suggestion on quilts bleeding. It is my first quilt and the red bled onto the white fabric. Was so ecstatic after soaking as your suggestion. Can comfortably go forward with quilting.
    Many thanks

  11. All,
    I was able to find this lovely pattern can be found through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Darlene Zimmerman’s “Stars All Around” was available from Simplicity back in Fall 2010 on their website. It was also offered as Simplicity pattern 3977 “Holiday Quilting” with the addition of a mantle cover and stocking.

    Below is the URL to an image of the pattern page as it first appeared. I’d suggest that you save and print this pattern for your personal library.

    I wish you all happy holiday quilting.

    1. Thank you for listing this pattern. It lovely and I can’t wait to try it out. Do you happen to know off hand what the yardage requirement is for the white fabric? It only shows the red, backing and batting requirements.

  12. Thank you so much for this hint! I had made a quilt for my father in law’s 90 birthday. Everyone signed the back. It was given back to me when he passed away. I needed to wash it but the navy fabric bled into the yellow. Was a lap star quilt, navy stars and yellow background. I soaked it as you described in hot water and dawn and washed it, no soap. It is back to normal! Thank you!

  13. Sadly this method did not work for my quilt – had done a queen size with lots of sampler blocks in red, blues and cream colors – Americana, and mostly scraps. The red small pin dot I loved and used throughout for the sashing and inner border. I should have known when I first started working with it, was a little stiff, different from my other fabrics. I started noticing the pink tinges here and there – it was bleeding with the steam from the iron as I was piecing and pressing the blocks. When I had the quilt top put together, the pink areas stood out at least to me. A friend suggested I wash the quilt top in washer with warm water and 1/4 cup Synthropol and 4 color catcher sheets. I did. The sheets came out positively magenta in color. No change in the bleeding areas of the quilt. I went ahead and sent it out to be quilted. When I got it back, she suggested ( she actually challenged me saying she knew I wans’t going to do it because it was scary to do – of course I had to try it to prove to her that I DID everything I could do!) – she referred me to “save my bleeding quilt” by Vicky Walsh. I put the quilt in bathtub in hot water with a little Dawn detergent, like 1/4 cup or so. Now my only bathtub is on third floor of my house. The directions said to check it in an hour and if there’s color in the water, to drain and start again. So after an hour I did check it and the water was BLUE – not what I was expecting! So I did drain the tub and was out of hot water by that time. So I started boiling 3 large pots of water on my stove which is on second level. I started carrying these boiling pots from second floor to third floor bathtub and dumped them in, again with the Dawn suggested. I emailed Vicky at least 6-7 times that day – at this point she admitted that even she probably wouldn’t have gone to carrying the boiling pots up and down stairs! So I left it 12 hours. Pulled it out and rinsed it. I cannot say there is any change in the bleeding areas. But I can say that when I mention it to anyone, I have to point out where they are. So apparently not noticeable at first glance. Certain fabrics I noticed picked it up more than others. Even one of the darker blues had a little tan vine through it and that had taken up the red there too. I figured it’d never be a show stopper – I did get red second place at the fair and the judge never commented on the bleeding color. So in hindsight, if I find the fabric stiff like it was to begin with, I should have washed it before using. Or found a different one! It was an experience to be sure. I still love the quilt but my eye goes to those areas!

    1. Sylvia Bryan- I wonder if when you pressed your blocks with a steam iron, and the color started to run, if you had set the color in permanently? Pressing with a hot iron is one way to set dyes? Hope the dye will eventually escape, and your quilt will be perfect! I had a bleed incident once on a queen sized quilt, white background, with burgundy stars and flowers on it. I used the Synthropol in the washer, per instructions, and fortunately for me, it worked, and all the bleed was removed!I’ll try the Dawn trick if it happens again. Good luck! : )

  14. I will have to write this tip down! Thank you for sharing! If it’s still possible to get a copy of your Christmas tree skirt I would love it.

  15. I had a very colorful quilt that bled I used color grabber sheet in the wash and it took the bleeding out. They are my go to whenever I wash a quilt’

  16. Also washing your finished project with 1/4 cup white vinegar or table salt will set the color to prevent bleeding.
    A few years ago our daughter,s soccer team had red uniforms with white trim. The first thing I did was wash as described above. Guess what, she was the only player that did not have red uniform with pink trim.

  17. Your tree skirt is beautiful! I wish the pattern was still available. Do you know the name of it? Maybe I can search the internet for it. Would love to make it for this christmas.

    1. Great information. I didn’t know you could do that.

      Cheryl Gilmore, is there any way that I can get the pattern also? If so can you email it to tenderholts @ gmail.com?

  18. I live in New Zealand and would love to know what is in your Dawn. I have a redwork hanging which has run but we do nit have Dawn here. Hope you can help. Thanks. Liz Emtage NZ

    1. I’m not positive that it will work, but you might try using Q-tips to carefully dab hydrogen peroxide on the bleed spots, cover them with a muslin press cloth and gently press with a warm (not hot) iron. You may have to repeat this a few times. It works to remove scorch marks so maybe it would work for color-bleeds too. You could try it anyway, it wouldn’t make anything worse. And if it works, well, there you are – problem solved! And if you can get “Color-Catchers” where you live, always wash your quilt with 1 or 2 of these before using it. They’ll absorb any color that leaches out and you won’t have to worry about it again. Good luck!

    2. Do you know that they use dawn dishwashing soap to clean oil off animals that have been near an oil spill? The stuff is amazing!

  19. Do you have to wait for a bleed to do this? Can you soak the red fabric then dry and iron it first? Thanks!

  20. Wow! I’m so glad I ran across your blog on bloglovin! I had the same issue with my red & white tree skirt and it worked like a charm! I have a larger Christmas quilt soaking in the tub now….not sure if I can rescue it as it went through the dryer already, but it’s worth a shot! Thank you!

  21. Thank you so much for sharing that! It’s a very handy thing to know. We always think that won’t happen to us, but sometimes it does. And that technique should even help when other items bleed in the laundry.

  22. Hi Julie. thanks for this. Living in the UK I’m not sure what the ‘Dawn’ equivalent would be but so pleased that you saved your Tree skirt. I loved the pattern so much that I have mocked up a pattern to use as my next charity quilt for the ‘Helping Hands’ fb page. If you could contact the original author of the pattern and ask her permission I am more than happy to share the pattern via your blog. Thanks for everything you share, Best wishes Nicola

    1. Hi Nicola – if you receive permission to use, would love to get the pattern from you. It is so beautiful – we have always had a real tree, but have been leary about using red in a skirt. This makes me want to just do it 😀

  23. That tip could be worth a lot to anyone who ever uses red….who doesn’t???? Amazing stuff that blue Dawn; I always have some but I don’t think I would have thought of it for this!!! Thanks to Suzy Q and to you! Now if I can remember it if/when I get in this pickle.

  24. I have referred many a quilter to the dawn fix you mention. It is amazing stuff and we always have it on hand – mostly for deskunking!I have often wondered whether I should pre-wash with it. What do you think?

  25. Thank you for this useful information. I have book marked this for further use if needed. Beautiful tree skirt.

  26. Yay for the magic of Dawn! I would have been terrified the hot water would shrink the fabric. Courageous you are. Wonderful share.

  27. Hello Julie; I am glad that this worked because your tree skirt is beautiful! I made sure to save this post on pinterest in a couple of spots, just in case. I have not had anything bleed so far, but I also am a prewasher usually and always use the Colorcatchers now also. Yet, good old fashioned remedies are usually the most reliable and it seems that so many of them involve Dawn dish soap, Vinegar and Baking Soda. LOL. Again, so thrilled this worked for you and also Thank You for sharing the Tip! Have a Fantastic Day!

    1. OMG – I am not a quilter and didn’t even think about this. I had a memory quilt done with my late moms clothes. Well the clothes didn’t bleed but the edging sure did. I was DISTRAUGHT!! I did exactly what this article said and the bleeds are gone! There is magic in this process somehow – it doesn’t make sense to me. I thought that hot water sets stains IDK? In any event, THANK YOU! ❤️

  28. I know this brought some sniffles-after the “grrrrrrrrrrrrrr” settled 🙁 I definitely saved this recipe to my favorites! I’m glad it was fixed, I know i would have been stressed out!! What a beautiful tree skirt. It’s been so long since i had a real tree, too. i might have to consider one again. Thanks for sharing this resolution!

  29. Very glad to hear you managed to save your quilt. I hope I find this dish washing soap here to save my quilt as well. does it work with all color bleed. Idid use color catchers but strangely it still bled over. Thanks for sharing a wonderful tip.

  30. Orvus works quite well. You can buy it in big containers at a farm store as it is a horse and dog show shampoo that is also used as a quilt soap. Much less expensive in a farm store than a quilt shop. I use it for all my laundry and as shampoo. Shout Color Catchers and the product called Color Grabbers is wonderful, too. Turquoise batiks are notorious for color sharing. Dawn is a miracle product. I use that in combination with hydrogen peroxide to get stains out of most everything. It works. It removed wine stains from a white piece of hardanger and works on carpeting too. Google the recipes.

  31. I have a 25 block redwork hand emb quilt that has a few blocks with bleeding. In a quandry as to what to do. I had pre-washed the red sashing but it still bled when water was accidentally dropped on it. The bulk will be difficult to handle but worth a try. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Here’s hugs through the computer. I put my quilt+Dawn+3 color catcher sheets in the washer. I think every bit of the red came out. I’m one happy “girl”. The color catchers were bright red. Thanks so much for sharing-it was so timely in my case.

  32. Is this something you would try on an antique quilt? Just wondering because I have one that bleed years ago, and it is so lovely. I would enjoy having it out and seen.

    And thank you for the info, I will keep this in mind for newer fabric.

  33. Thank you Julie for sharing this wonderful tip! I made a beautiful black, white and red quilt. Even though I prewashed the red fabric it bled. Not knowing what to do about it I just folded it up and put it in my linen closet. I will definitely be trying this remedy!

  34. Oh my, so glad you saved the day. Does Dawn have extra ingredients or would any dish soap do I wonder? I have never seen it for sale here in UK. Thank you for all the tips you pass on. Always look forward to your posts. Beautiful tree skirt.

  35. I continue to be amazed at all the uses for Dawn liquid! Thanks for the great tip

    Diane Sanford, TN friend

  36. I love dawn I use it for everything, it really cleans batiks you do need to soak for a little but but it seems to get that wax feel out. Also cleans windows great get a squirt bottle put warm water in and just 2 drops of dawn shake it up beautiful windows.

  37. This post is print-worthy! Valuable information that I shall place with my stash of red fabrics, in the event of future bleeds. Thanks so much for sharing – delighted that it all worked for good and you saved the day!

  38. Thanks for sharing this! If you run out of stain remover for your laundry Dawn dish detergent works well as a stain remover, especially if its a greasy stain.

  39. Glad it worked. I did a redwork quilt, and even though the owner of the store told me I didn’t need to wash the fabric (and I trusted her) when I washed it – it bled. I’m certainly going to try your method and hoping for the best. It’s a full size quilt, so I think I’ll do the 12-hour soak. Thank you!

  40. What a nice tree skirt! It’s wonderful that you were able to take out the bleed. I’ll be keeping your suggestions around. Thank you for sharing it all with us.

  41. So glad to hear the remedy for the bleed. I will keep this information handy.
    Your tree skirt is gorgeous! Thank you.

  42. Julie so pleased that you managed to save your quilt, it is beautiful .
    Are you saying that this is a liquid soap that you would do your dishes with. I will have a look for it here in Australia.
    I do use a product called “Colour Catcher” its a Sard Wonder product made in Ireland.
    http://www.sardwonder.com.au I always put a couple of sheets of this in when washing a quilt. it worked very well for a quilt that was mostly purple,

    Happy New Year Julie. Im looking forward to your posts for 2018
    Gayle Z Australia

  43. Wow! Dawn really is a miracle “drug”. I was surprised when you said you put it in hot water. My mother is spinning in her grave over that…..lol. I’m glad is all came out. It’s a lovely tree skirt.

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