Starching Fabric: To Starch or Not To Starch?

Posted by on Jan 9, 2014 in Quilting, Sewing | Comments


There are a few discussions that travel the quilting and sewing world time and time again about starching fabric and you can probably find equal supporters for both sides. Today we’ll take on the much debated: Starch or no starch?

Colorful Quilted Mug Rug - Project by Craftsy Member Photo via Craftsy instructor Gail Kessler

If you opt to use your fabrics the minute they come home from your local fabric store, starching your new purchases is not as important. However, if you prefer to prewash your fabrics, starching is helpful before beginning a project. When you prewash your fabrics it removes the finish that is part of the manufacturing process. Therefore, starching your fabrics afterwards will help to regain the stability of the fabric, and will help you tremendously when working with bias edges or narrow strips.

If you choose to starch there are a few things you should keep in mind.

It is not a good idea to mix starched and non-starched fabrics in one project.

The fabrics will work and react differently with each other, depending on their treatment. Once you starch your fabrics you’ll need to press them with a steam iron. (*Notice I said press. Don’t iron back and forth or you’ll stretch your fabrics out of place. See also our post on how to press fabric.) If you allow the starch to dry before ironing, you can help reduce any flaking. Also, be aware that you can quickly scorch your fabrics that have been starched, even if the iron isn’t extremely hot.

There are various ways to apply starch, aside from the common spray starch that you typically use for dress shirts.

The spray type in an aerosol can is easy and convenient, and can be purchased in a few different concentrations. However, you can make your own starch mixture, which allows more flexibility in terms of how much stiffness you need. Liquid starch is available near the spray variety, and has easy-to-follow directions on the label for diluting to your desired concentration. Additionally, I have found that I love Mary Ellen’s Best Press Starch Alternative. This product works as well as traditional starch but leaves no flaking or residue, has a lovely scent (unscented is available as well) and comes in a clear bottle so you know when you’re almost out.

I know from experience that it is a good idea to wait to starch your until fabric right before you use it, instead of starching then storing.

The new crispness will leave deep creases if you fold and store your fabric for any length of time. Additionally, silverfish (nasty little insects!) are attracted to starch, so you might find them sneaking into the starched fabrics in your stash. Washing the starch out of your project after it’s finished will also keep the bugs away, and will return some softness to your quilt or wall hanging.

I’ve heard over the years that some people use starch to help their projects glide more smoothly through the machine.

Try sewing a starched project to see if it increases your comfort with quilting. Interestingly, however, it is not advisable to starch your backing fabric if you are using a spray baste product. The two products counteract each other, and your backing fabric won’t stick to the batting.

Did you have any idea how much a little bit of starch could impact your quilting projects? There is certainly more information out there, but this should give you a nice head start on when to use starch and how best to use it so that it has a positive impact on your sewing. Why not play around with starching some scrap fabrics and see how it can enhance your quilting experience?

You might also enjoy our post Prewashing Fabrics: Pros and Cons.

Do you like to use starch?

Comments

  1. Donna says:

    I have recently begun using “starch” products more. While the writer of the above blog liked the Mary Ellen scent, if you are prone to headaches AVOID IT. It does come in unscented.
    Several people on line have posted about mixing vodka and water to make starch as an alternative. That seems to work, however I have not really done it enough to have strong views.

  2. JulieCC says:

    I use concentrated starch that I can mix to my desired strength…plus, it’s cheaper.

    I starch & press on the backs of fabrics to avoid any issues with flaking, staining, etc. It works well.

    I really do like to pre-wash and then re-starch. It does help the fabric glide and just makes it easier to handle when cutting and lining up.

  3. Susan499 says:

    Never was a starcher. Of late I have heard more about the benefits of starching. I must say, there is a definite benefit in starching, especially with smaller pieces. Definitely adds to the precision and crispness of the seams and overall piece.

  4. Kay Shakespear says:

    The current project I’m working on is a Drunkards Path pattern and I thought starch might help with the stretch. thus far I have not been disappointed. thanks for you encouraging article.

  5. Kim Weaver says:

    I do not prewash and starch my fabrics at all! I use my fabrics straight from the store, make my quilt…quilt it and then wash it prior to giving it away! I will iron it prior to giving away but no starch at all ever! However, I have found a product that I like to use that is not starch called BEST PRESS…it is a starch alternative. It comes scented or unscented. it doesn’t flake or clog your iron or leave residue on your fabric like starch can. And it is completely acid free! This does aid in the stretching of some of the fabrics I purchase that are not of higher quality.

  6. Diana Comeau says:

    I am a Canadian and have not been able to buy liquid starch in Canada…..who knows why??????? I find Mary Ellen’s starch alternative great!

  7. Kim E says:

    Starching helps tremendously if you use an AccuQuilt to cut your fabric

  8. Donna E says:

    I’m like the queen of spray starch, everything lays flatter and better for piecing. I’m also a professional long-arm quilter and have my clients spray starching as well, they seem to like it also. After I’ve finished a quilt with the binding on, I always wash it then, to make the quilting more alive.

  9. Kristy Furr says:

    I have never warmed up to starch but I L-O-V-E to use Magic Sizing!!! It gives enough “crispness” for me to handle :)

  10. Joyce says:

    I didn’t wash my fabrics but when I washed the finished table runner the colors ran so I wash all fabrics!…

  11. Scheri Manson says:

    Starch is one of my favorite quilting tools.