Welcome to my stop on the Back to School Blog Hop organized by the talented Sam Hunter of Hunter's Design Studio. We're on day 25 in a month of helpful sewing tips and tricks, and there is so much wonderful information being shared! Today I'm going to talk starch - what is it, when you should use it, and what to avoid - and I'll share my favorite recipe for making it yourself.
What Is Starch?
Starch is a carbohydrate found in foods like grains and potatoes. It has some unique properties, like being sticky and non-water-soluble, that make it helpful for stiffening fabrics and repelling stains (hence why it's so great for ironing shirts!). For our sewing purposes, there are a few types of fabric starches available to use, including aerosol spray starches (available in your grocery store), Mary Ellen's Best Press Starch Alternative or Flatter (your LQS or chain craft store is likely to stock one or both), and homemade recipes for cornstarch and vodka based mixes. I prefer the latter because I like a low cost product with little packaging waste, love the ease of refilling whenever it runs out (at 9 pm... on a Sunday...), and appreciate that it has virtually no scent. It's also shelf stable, unlike cornstarch recipes, and I know exactly what's in it. (Side note: I do like the results from Mary Ellen's unscented spray, but it's not inexpensive. It does however have a fabulous spray nozzle with a very fine mist. I recommend purchasing a bottle, enjoying it while it lasts, and then saving the container to refill with your own recipe afterward.) If you want to give vodka starch a whirl, here's my recipe...
Supplies: A handle of cheap vodka, water, and a spray bottle
Directions: Fill spray bottle 1/4 to 1/3 full with vodka. (More vodka = stiffer starch.) Fill spray bottle the rest of the way with water. Voila! Use & enjoy : )
Tips: You will get many, many refills from that handle, making your starch extremely cost effective. Mark fill lines on your spray bottle with a sharpie to make refills a breeze!
When Should I Use Starch?
Allllll the time! No, kidding - not all the time, though I do find myself using it quite frequently (in addition to sewing and quilting, we use it regularly at our house for clothing, linens, etc). But in all seriousness, starching fabrics can be very helpful. It's a great first step if pressing and squaring off fabric before cutting (Leah Day has a good video tutorial on this), which will give your prewashed fabrics back that smooth, crisp, still-has-sizing feel that gets washed out and will lead to more accurate cutting.
It's also very helpful when pressing blocks as you piece your quilts. If you start with starched fabrics, then add a spritz as you come back to press blocks and rows, you'll end up with flatter seams and crisper corners, and have less trouble matching points. I also find it makes working with fussy cut applique pieces easier because they have a little more body to them as I manipulate them. Plus, my fabric edges tend to fray less, and my finished quilt projects photograph better.
What to Avoid:
Starch isn't for every fabric or project. Avoid "ironing" with it; damp fabric can stretch and warp if forcefully ironed, so be sure to instead gently press starched fabric. Do not use steam when pressing, and try lowering your heat setting slightly to avoid shrinking or singeing. Starch is safe to use on linen or cotton; try a test swatch before using on fabrics you're uncertain of, and avoid mixing starched and unstarched fabrics in your projects to get more accurate cutting and piecing. And finally, once you have those beautiful crisp photos of your finished project taken, it's best to wash your creation, especially before storing or hanging*. This will ensure that any pests, such as silver fish, don't come looking for a tasty snack since the carbs will be washed away. If you plan to starch before cutting fabric, do so when you're ready to begin a project and not when the fabric is just going to sit in your stash.
* Disclaimer: Do what I say and not as I do, right? In full disclosure, I have a number of wall hangings that have been starched and never washed, and I've never had a nibble from any bug. But I'd act differently if I knew certain pests were prevalent in my area.
And there you have it. All the reasons I love using starch, and a few tips for avoiding the drawbacks. I hope you'll give it a try if you haven't - I think you'll fall in love if you can find the right starch product for you!
So are you a starch devotee, starch newbie, or someone who's been burned & is wary of trying again? Let me know in the comments! Especially if you've had a problem that we might be able to help you solve.
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Find lots more great sewing tips & tricks on the Back to School Blog Hop 2017: