Fabric starch has been in use since the late 1880's. Starch is a carbohydrate. A white, powdery substance that comes from cereals and potatoes. Think corn starch for thickening pies and gravy. The powder is mixed with water to make a liquid. More water makes a light starch and less water makes a heavier starch.
Starch for fabric is available in aerosol and non-aerosol spray bottles and in liquid form. The spray bottles are ready to go. The liquid form is mixed with water at home. The amount of water you mix in determines the heaviness of the starch. This liquid is sprayed on the fabric as you iron.
Some major brands of fabric starch are:
- Faultless – makers of spray and liquid starch and Faultless Hot Iron Cleaner
- Niagra – makers of spray starch
- Purex Sta-Flo – makers of liquid starch.
The Faultless website lists 5 benefits of starch:
- Makes ironing faster and easier because the iron glides over the fabric.
- Helps clothes look polished, like a professional cleaner ironed them.
- Keeps wrinkles out longer.
- Protects fabric from stains because the dirt or sweat clings to the starch, not the fabric.
- Extends the life of the fabric by preventing fraying and laundering with harsh detergents.
Why Do Quilters Use Fabric Starch?
We know that fabric starch makes clothing look better. Now let's see why quilters use it. Four of the five benefits listed above apply to quilters. Number 2 doesn't really apply since quilters make quilts, not clothing. In addition to these benefits, fabric starch makes cutting fabric more accurate. It also makes piecing easier and more accurate.
Many quilters prefer to wash the fabric before making it into a quilt. Starching fabric after washing makes it easier to press out the wrinkles. I tear my fabric along the crosswise grain before washing. By tearing the fabric and using starch, I can easily square up the fabric grain line. I generally use a light starch for this task.
Stabilize the Fabric
Starch gives fabric body and stiffness. Unlike paper, fabric stretches and is not rigid. A very heavy fabric starch, such as Faultless Maxx, makes fabric almost as rigid as paper. I know many quilters who use this heavy starch all the time and love it. I prefer a light to medium starch most of the time.
One way I have seen a quilter use the Faultless Maxx is adding borders. I measure my border strips and cut them to size before attaching to the quilt top. This quilter had used the Maxx during all her piecing. The entire quilt top was stiff. She sprayed the border strips with the Maxx as well. Next, she pinned the border strip to the quilt top. She stitched the border then trimmed off the excess. This method worked for her. The borders were not wavy.
Fabric Starch For Bias Edges
Cutting fabric into triangles or diamonds produces bias edges. These edges have a large amount of stretch and can cause problems during piecing. Use a heavy starch on the fabric before cutting these units. The bias edges will not stretch as much. Your points should match and the blocks should lie flatter.
Flaking and Clogging
Some starches might flake a little but I haven't noticed much of this. When I have noticed flaking, it wasn't a big deal. I wouldn't want flaking on my clothing, but the little flaking I have experienced in quilting is of little concern to me. Some brands say they don't flake or they flake less. If this is a concern for you, read the label to see if it addresses flaking.
Clogging applies to the aerosol spray cans. I have had a few problems in the past with the nozzle clogging. In recent years I have purchased only the trigger spray bottles and clogging has not been a problem for me.
Commercial Spray Starch Recommendations
Quilters have lots of choices when choosing commercially produced starch products. Each of the company websites above have coupons you can download and print. Click on Promotions or Special Offers.
Here are my recommendations:
First, choose one of the brands listed above. They've been around for over 100 years and you can purchase them at grocery, drug and department stores.
Next, choose aerosol or trigger spray and scented or unscented.
Finally, if you are just starting to use starch, choose the light or medium starch. If those don't work for you, choose a heavy or Maxx starch.
Commercial Liquid Starch
In full disclosure here, I have never used the liquid starch so I cannot recommend a brand or tell you how to prepare it for use. Using the liquid starch requires you to dilute the starch with water and place it in a pump or trigger spray bottle to use it. Some quilters use this method because they prefer not to use the additives or fragrance that might be in the spray containers. There are many resources on the internet that discuss using liquid starch in quilting.
Make Your Own
Just like the liquid starch, I have never made my own fabric starch. If you are interested in making your own starch, there are many resources on the internet that tell you exactly how to do this.
Starch alternatives contain no starch but do about the same thing a light to medium starch does. The three products I have used are:
| Mary Ellen Products
Makers of Mary Ellen's Best Press. The Mary Ellen Products website says Best Press does not flake or clog. Additionally, it says it won't leave residue and will not attract bugs.
Makers of Flatter Smoothing Spray. The Soak website says this about Flatter Smoothing Spray – “…the mild formulation is easy on sensitive skin, and won’t harm the environment.”
| The Bucko Ironing Spray
Flake free, fragrance free and no scorching. Check out The Bucko Ironing Spray if you want quality and value.
Best Press Pros and Cons
Best Press is a great product for everyday piecing and pressing of fabric. It comes in a variety of scents. You can purchase the gallon size to refill the bottle. For bias edges, I prefer the heavier starch.
Flatter Smoothing Spray Pros and Cons
I received a small bottle of Flatter Smoothing Spray as a gift from a friend. The product is good for getting wrinkles out but it didn't give me the extra body I needed for piecing. The Soak website does not say Flatter adds body or stiffness to the fabric. Flatter did make the fabric feel soft and wrinkle free. I would use this for getting wrinkles out of clothing.
My biggest problem with Flatter is not the product but the bottle. The pump spray nozzle was hard to press with my index finger. Each pump released a small amount of product in a very misty spray. It was hard to pump and required more pumps to cover the large area of fabric. The mist seemed to go everywhere and into my nose.
The Bucko Ironing Spray Pros and Cons
I have no cons for this starch alternative. You get a great product at a good price.
Hot Iron Cleaner
I added this section because one hot iron cleaner I use is made by Faultless. If you use fusible and other heat activated materials in quilting, you might have residue on your iron. These hot iron cleaners work great for getting off the gunk. I have used both of these over the years. Follow the instructions carefully.