To starch or not to starch? This is a question often asked by quilters.
I always starch my fabric before cutting when I piece using these techniques:
1. curved piecing
Because you need to cut across the grain when cutting curved shapes, starched fabric reduces the changes of cut pieces distorting and fraying. Starch also stiffens fabric. I find that stiffer fabric makes it easier for me to make the pieces go where I need to match up raw edges.
2. strip piecing
Long thin fabric pieces have a tendency to get wavy and distorted. For shapes used in patterns like Pieces of Love or Modern Love, I starch my fabric before cutting. The starch helps me cut my fabric perfectly straight, square, and more accurate.
3. needle turn applique
Hand applique projects often take a good amount of time. It’s just the nature of handwork! Over time, our fabric has a tendency to fray as we work on our piecing and move it around. Every time a thread from our fabric comes loose, or frays, we lose a little bit of our overall fabric shape. Over time, this can make a big difference in our design. It also has a tendency to become really messy and frustrating to work with. Starch reduces the amount of fraying. Starch also stiffens our fabric, making it less floppy and easier to turn the raw edge under before we stitch.
The bottom line is that starch helps reduce fabric fraying and distortion. It also adds stiffness which often makes it easier to work with. Be sure to keep reading for my tips for how to apply starch to your fabric.
What starch options are out there?
1. Niagara/Faultless Spray Starch (my favorite option!)
This is my favorite and “go-to” option. I find spray starch to works the best and is the easiest option. You can usually find Spray Starch in the laundry aisle of your local grocery store, pharmacy, or big box store. You can also find spray starch online, but the price is often way more expensive than in the store, even when purchased in bulk. I prefer to use the pump bottle, over the aerosol can, since I can easily recycle or reuse the bottle and the spray is less airborne in my small studio. The pump version is a more difficult to find and can be a little more expensive. Recently I discovered a “Premium/Smooth Finish” version (shown in the middle in the photo above) that is labeled as fragrance free and “ideal for quilting, crafting & clothes”. I didn’t find a big difference in the performance between this version and the the others (other than a nicer pump mechanism).
Be sure to check out my tips for applying spray starch, later in this blog post.
After a few quilters mentioned Sta-Flo, a super-economical starch, I thought I’d give it a try. This super concentrated liquid comes in a big jug and then you mix it with water. I recently tried it out and applied it to my fabric before cutting for a Pieces of Love quilt. I don’t particularly like the way Sta-Flo smells when it is wet. After it dried, I found the fabric to be comparable to fabric that I used regular spray starch on. If you use Sta-Flo, be sure to fully shake and mix the concentrate well before using, as the starch settles to the bottom of the container. The same thing is true after you combine it with water in your spray bottle. The solution tends to separate, so you’ll need to shake and mix well before applying to fabric.
3. Homemade Starch
Some quilters make their own starch with ingredients like vodka or corn starch. If you’re going to try out your own recipes and if you use vodka, be sure to use the cheap stuff!
What about these?
Mary Ellen’s Best Press
Found at many local quilt shops and used by lots of quilters, Best Press is a starch alternative. This spray technically sizes your fabric, removing wrinkles and creating soil resistance, but doesn’t add very much stiffness. The stiffness is what I find helps with piecing curves and applique and why I starch in the first place. For this reason, I highly recommend starch over Best Press if you want something that will make piecing easier. Best Press comes in all different sizes, from a tiny “test” bottle to gallon jugs, and scents (including unscented).
Flatter by Soak
Flatter is a fabulous smoothing spray that relaxes wrinkles and freshens fabric and is eco-friendly. It is starch-free, so unlike starch it won’t help with fraying or stiffening fabric. It comes in lots of fantastic scents or unscented.
My process for applying spray starch:
1. When starching my fabric, I set my Oliso iron to medium heat. Using high heat with starch, can scorch fabric or leave flaky residue on your iron, pressing surface, or fabric. Be sure to keep your steam off and don’t apply any water to your fabric until it’s all pieced and quilted. Steaming or spray water on your fabric will remove your starch.
2. Preheat fabric by ironing it BEFORE applying starch. I find the starch adheres a bit better when the fabric is warm.
3. Evenly spray your fabric with starch before cutting. I spray the starch on the correct side of the fabric.
4. WAIT for your starch to dry (or partially dry if you’re impatient like me) and then iron your fabric again to set the starch. Waiting for the starch to dry will reduce the chance of your starch flaking, especially on dark fabrics. I typically apply the iron on the correct side of the fabric.
5. Once I’m happy with the stiffness of my fabric, I’m ready to cut.
It’s always best to apply your starch before you cut, but if you find your fabric is fraying or not quite stiff enough as you’re working, you can carefully apply additional starch. Heat up your cut fabric by PRESSING (not ironing). Pressing is placing the iron on your fabric, but not moving it. Ironing, moving your iron, can distort your cut pieces. After your pieces are warm, apply your starch, let it dry, and then press with your iron again.
Using starch is a personal decision. I typically don’t like to apply extra products to my materials, unless there is a significant benefit. I find that using spray starch for some projects makes my life easier and gives me better results. If you have any allergy or just don’t like starch, you can still achieve piecing fabulous curves, strips, and applique, it may just take a little bit of extra work!