Above is the chemical compound of starch. Pretty complex looking chemical for something that looks like a powdered sugar.

I was reading a survey the other day, they asked quilters if they used starch to prepare their fabrics for quilting.  70% said Yes!  Wow, that's an overwhelming amount, so I thought I would look a little deeper and do some experimenting myself.  I have always used a light amount of starch, but after doing some research, I am now a heavy starch convert.

Comments on the survey ran the gamete from "I don't feel like I can iron correctly without it" to "When I am making patchwork, I use lots of spray starch. I like my fabric to feel almost like paper before I cut it…. The starch makes precision cutting a breeze, makes the patches easy to line up and sew, and the seams press ultra-flat.” and “I learned the hard way that the few steps of starching and pressing before starting a quilt are so much easier than using a seam ripper and trying to resew.

However, not everyone was a fan of starching their fabrics.  About 18% of responses said they don't use starch at all and another 12% preferred some other product like a wrinkle release or sizing spray. ( I will give a quick explanation of the difference between starch and sizing below)

And this is why: If you tend to put your quilting projects off to the side for extended periods of time, you might want to use caution with starch! Silverfish love the residue left and will leave your quilts like confetti if left in a cupboard for any length of time.” I checked it out, and Silverfish are attracted to the foodstuffs which are found in spray starch. So if your area is prone to these little pests, be sure to keep your starched fabrics sealed in an air-tight container or in a very cold room while you’re not working on them, and wash your finished quilt to remove all the extra starch residue when you’re finished with the sewing.

Several people preferred Mary Ellen's Best Press, but when pressed, it gives off a chemical  that I find irritating to my system and makes me sick.  It is also on the high price end.  As much pressing as I do, this is just not an option.  On the plus side, it does not leave a residue and comes in several different lovely fragrances and a lot of quilters love it.

Others prefer Sizing.  So what’s the difference between starch and sizing? Can spray starch be used in place of sizing?

Turns out that starch is used to stiffen fabrics such as shirt collars and cuffs, while sizing is used to add body, “crispness” and “hand” to garments. Starch is vegetable-based (it’s formulated from wheat, corn or rice), while sizing is a resinous solution that can be either vegetable or plastic-based.

Because starch doesn't satisfactorily adhere to thermoplastic fibers such as polyester, manufacturers often blend a plastic-based sizing agent and vegetable-based starch to impart stiffness to the synthetic fibers.

When starch is applied in place of sizing, the garment can become overly stiff, crease easily and wrinkle before and during wear. Because sizing adds body to fabric, it makes garments easier to finish, reduces wrinkling during wear, and keeps pleats and creases sharp.

 Humm, aren't we quilting here using 100% cotton fabric and not polyester blends? Yes, so lets use the correct product.  Starch is a natural product, so is the 100% cotton quilt fabric we use to quilt with and sizing is a resin or plastic based chemical used on polyester blend garments.  I think that says it all, don't you?

So you pre-wash your fabrics and they are limp or you just want to add more stiffness to your un-washed fabrics, use starch, you know the pitfalls and the benefits and now you have several choices.  The most popular one being Faultless Heavy Spray Starch. It is cheep, normally around the .98 cents to $1.25 range, you can find it anywhere from Walmart to your local grocery store.  Shake, spray, iron, done.  I go through a can every other quilt.  To use the starch correctly, turn your fabric to the wrong side, spray till wet, WAIT till it breaks the surface tension of the fabric (I don't pre-wash so it takes a few seconds longer), flip the piece over, smooth it with your fingers and CAREFULLY iron from side to side.  If you have done it correctly, your fabric may still be damp, that's OK, pin it to your design wall and let it air dry and then after it's dry, hit it with a steam press and your fabric is flat, crisp and ready to use.

Another popular method is to mix your own starch using Sta-Flo liquid concentrated starch.  This stuff has been around since, well, forever.  No cooking, no mess, just mix, put into your spray bottle and your ready.  

I found a couple of starch ads on youtube, check these out

Recipe with Sta-Flo is simple.  50/50 mix of water and Sta-flo in a spray bottle, shake and spray.  The way I use it, is to cut up to 1 yard of fabric, hang it on pants hangers on the inside of the shower curtain, get in the tub and spray the fabric till it is wet, not dripping, but fully wet. Then either hang it outside to dry or hang it from the shower rod without the curtain and put a fan on it to dry.  When it is dry, it will be as stiff as paper.  Take it to your ironing board, use full steam and press it flat.  It washes right off the curtain and of the tub in seconds, so no mess on the ironing board or floor.

Be careful, if your fabric is wet and you hit it with a hot iron and hold it in one place for more than 3 or 4 seconds, the fabric will stick to the bottom of the iron, so keep your iron moving.  It will also cause the wet starch to quickly accumulate and stick to the iron sole plate and and burn leaving nasty black bits all over your nice clean fabric. (remember, starch is a food and it can burn)

The other method is to use dry starch and the most popular one being Argo 100% pure corn starch.

It is quite easy to make and there are only 2 ingredients:
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups warm water

Directions are also simple: 
Combine the ingredients and place in a 16 ounce (or larger) spray bottle. Shake gently before using.

You can make the starch stiffer by adding more cornstarch, or lighter by adding more water, depending on how crisp you want your finish to be.  When you wash the item the cornstarch will wash away in the laundry.

There are a couple of drawbacks using the powered starch.  1. its messy 2. You MUST use warm to hot water 3. There is a shelf life, YES a shelf life.  Remember, this is a food and it will form mold in the bottle, yuck!  Sta-flo has preservatives in it and it is meant just for laundry, Argo can be used in cooking, baking and some people just eat it straight (now that's just plain weird)

Are their benefits to moderate to heavy starching in quilting?  Yes, there are several.
When piecing, if you have fabric that is stiff, it won't stretch and your pieces will be more accurate, and let's face it, accuracy is the key in piecing.  When you have to remove stitches, the ripper will tend to glide between the layers instead of cutting through the threads, and if you are finger pressing, the fabrics will act like paper and crease with little effort.  Ever have that end that gets pushed down into the hole in the throat plate?  Stiff fabric has less of a tenancy to do this.

Ever sew a HST and the bias stretches?  Once the bias stretches, that piece is done for.  It will never go back to the original size and no amount of steam will make it do that either, but if you starch before you sew, the bias will now act like straight of grain.  Nice huh?

So go an get yourself a spray bottle, a jug of Sta-Flo and start making that fabric do what YOU want it to do!

Happy Starching!

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