Starching: A Good Solution
From the September/October 1997 issue of Quiltmaker magazine.
Don’t you wish fabric wouldn’t wobble when you cut it, wouldn’t stretch when you sewed along its bias, wouldn’t creep forward when you sewed it to another patch? Well, your wishes can come true–in a bottle of laundry starch!
Debra Wagner, a quiltmaker, teacher and author, recommends starching fabric for quiltmaking. Since her award-winning quilts exemplify precision in every detail, we tried her suggestion and quickly became firm supporters.
If you already carefully trim points on patches and sew an exact 1/4″ seam allowance, this may be the only other secret you need to become a precision patchworker. Give it a try!
We prefer liquid starch to the spray version because it penetrates the threads better and coats the iron less–and doesn’t starch your work area too.
Mix together equal portions of water and liquid laundry starch in a container large enough to hold the fabric. (Sta-Flo® is an economical choice.) A two-cup solution will easily starch three yards of fabric.
Immerse prewashed fabric in the starch solution and squish it around until all the threads are saturated. Squeeze it out well and hang or drape the fabric to dry.
It’s not a good idea to put the fabric in the dryer because the tumbling action will soften the threads. Ironing wet starched fabric won’t work either–you’ll have a starch-coated iron. So just be patient until your fabric is damp dry.
If the fabric dries completely, press it with steam or mist and press. If that does not remove wrinkles to your satisfaction, sprinkle the fabric with water, roll it up, and store in a plastic bag for a few hours, just the way Grandma–or Great Grandma–did. Then iron.
With this 50/50 solution, your fabric will have the stiffness of typing paper.
Some Do’s and Don’ts
- Avoid storing starched fabric for long periods of time. Starch only as much as you will need in the near future.
- After pressing, roll the starched fabric on a cardboard tube to avoid folds.
- To remove any starch from your iron, rest the sole plate of the cold iron on a wet towel for several hours. The starch will dissolve and wipe away easily.
- Finger crease allowances while you’re sewing and then steam press for a final set.
- Use starched fabric for grided half-square triangles. The fabric will be more stable for easy marking.
- For the starch-and-press technique, lightly mist the starched patch with water before ironing the turn-under allowance over the template.
- Finger crease as you go to turn under the allowance on starched fabric.
- The needleturn method is not satisfactory with starched fabric–it refuses to be nudged!
- For basting, safety pins need a bit more push to slide through starched fabric, but the method is still a good one.
- Quilting by machine is best for a quilt top of starched fabric. Handling during construction gradually softens the threads so your quilt will be flexible enough for this technique. Hand quilting is difficult through starched fabric.
- All starch will wash out when the finished quilt is laundered.
Starching is an easy way to tame your fabric. It won’t wobble and it won’t stretch so patches will keep their shape. Admirers of your quilts will wish they knew your secret.