Fabric Starch: Get it or forget it?

fabric_starch

Fabric Starch: Not Just for Your Grandpa

You might associate fabric starch with the pleats on your grandpa’s jeans… but he’s not the only one who uses starch. Quilters use fabric starch, too! Fabric starch is a magical spray-on formula that stiffens fabric, making it easier for you to work with while quilting… especially when you’re sewing intricate, complex patterns.

Some quilters swear by fabric starch, but others forget the stuff entirely. So should you follow in your grandpa’s fabric-starchy footsteps? Let’s dive in a little deeper into the fabric starch scene, and let you decide for yourself if fabric starch is a good tool for you.

The Why and How of Fabric Starch

There are two kinds of quilters. First, there are the dive-in-head-firsters. These quilters get home from the fabric store, whip out their new fabrics, and hit the table sewing.

Then, there are the preppers. This second group takes their time planning, pre-washing, and you guessed it, fabric starching. This makes sense, since pre-washing your fabric causes it to lose some stability, and if you’re working with bias edges or narrow strips, you’re going to have to add some of that rigidity back in with fabric starch. If you use your fabric straight out of the bag, fabric starch may not be necessary.

That said… if you go the fabric starch route, keep these three tips in mind:

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  1. If you do choose to use fabric starch, STARCH ALL THE THINGS. Starch and no starch don’t mix. Fabrics work differently with each other based on how you have treated them beforehand, so make sure they’re all getting equal treatment.
  2. Fabric starch spray is not the only way. Canned fabric starch is common because it’s pretty darn convenient, but you can also make your own fabric starch! That’s right. DIY starch can come in handy if you’re picky about concentration level. (See below for a DIY recipe)
  3. Don’t starch & store. If you’re going to use fabric starch, you should be ready to use your fabric soon after. If you fabric starch your beautiful fabrics and fold them up… those folds won’t be easy to get out (think again of the creases in your grandpa’s jeans…)
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All My Favorite Brands…

It’s time for a round of Fabric Starch Superlatives! Here are the top award-winning fabric starch options… according to me!​

best-press-starch

Most Popular: Best Press

People loooove this fabric starch. Quilters order it by the gallon! Mary Ellen’s Best Press is a clear, crisp spray starch with a built in stain shield. (And like all the other popular kids you know, it comes in various, pleasant scents.)​

You can pick it up on Amazon for $13 for a 33 oz bottle, but Mary Ellen’s products are also widely available at places like JoAnne’s and WalMart.​

quilters-starch-savvy

Best Attendance: Quilter's Starch Savvy

If you’re looking for a consistent fabric starch, June Tailor’s shows up every time. This fabric starch FQBQ (that’s for quilters, by quilters), and it works great time after time.

Because of its popularity, you can find this starch any place that sells sewing supplies. On Amazon a 16 oz bottle is $10.75​.

bucko-ironing-spray

Most Unique: Bucko Ironing Spray

The Bucko breaks the mold with a spray fabric starch alternative. A lot of quilters love this fabric starch alternative because it’s not sticky, and keeps fabric soft. This fabric starch also rocks an unusually-shaped spray bottle, because it can’t even care about fitting in (but does care about quilters with arthritis!)

You can get a a regular 32 oz. spray bottle on Amazon for $14, or the ergonomic 24 oz. bottle for $17.

vodka-spray-starch

Honorable Mention: Vodka and Water

I haven’t yet tried this myself, but the logic behind this fabric starch is pretty sound: Starch is in potatoes. Vodka is made from potatoes. Pour 3 oz. vodka and 24 oz. distilled water into a spray bottle, then shake. Now let that distilled potato starch do its work. Try it and let me know if it works!

To Starch or Not to Starch?

Let’s all be real for a second: quilting can be an expensive hobby. If you’re good to go with a spray bottle of water (and maybe some vodka?), springing for fabric starch might not be worth it to you. Here’s my take: I use fabric starch only when I really, really need it so my bottle of starch lasts longer, and I don’t have to buy it as often.

​If you're completely new to quilting, I made a quick video about ironing...

What about you? Is fabric starch something you can do without? Or has starch become one of your quilting must-haves? I’d love to hear your comments!

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42 thoughts on “Fabric Starch: Get it or forget it?

  1. Susan says:

    I don’t use any starch because the smell of them bothers my machine quilter. And I certainly don’t want her to refuse my quilt tops???? But another friend did give me a bottle of the homemade one, so if it’s something small that I quilt myself I will use it.

  2. Karen @Tu-Na Quilts, Travels, and Eats says:

    I’ve read somewhere that bugs are drawn to the starch in starch. Yikes! I guess that’s the recommendation for not starching your fabrics until you are ready to use them. But then what to do with all those leftover scraps and how to protect them from becoming the next meal for some little insect critter. What do you do with them?

    • Suzy says:

      That is a great question! I’ve never had a bug issue, so maybe it depends on where you live and how many bugs are in the area. I would suggest keeping starched scraps in covered bins or sealed bags to avoid any tiny critters 🙂

  3. Clairequilty says:

    The vodka and water has worked great for me if I only want body like in Best Press. The most body in the fabric is created with 3/4 vodka to 1/4 water. The cheapest vodka at the liquor store is what I use.

  4. Donna says:

    I’m on Team Starchy ????! I go cheap…Faultless Premium Spray Starch! About $1.50 a can at my favorite French store…Target. I saturate my fabrics and let them dry on a rack and then press. It has really made a big difference in cutting and piecing accuracy. Especially when making a Featherd Star! I hope I’m not single-handedly destroying the ozone layer! Guess I’ll check the label! ????

    • Kaye says:

      Yes.
      My pressing board always turns brown. I use a homemade board for this reason. There seems to be nothing that will remove the stains. Once a quilt is finished, I iron it on my standard large ironing board but the 24×24 is great while constructing a block. And once it gets ugly, I just change the fabric or refold it. I would love input on this as it’s not a dirty iron and I always use distilled water in my iron.

  5. YodaMomma says:

    I have been starching for 15 years of quilting. I love working with starched fabric and have converted quite a few of my quilting pals who used to snicker at me when I started. This is the ONLY place I am sharing my WHOLE method with — So here goes:
    I lightly wash my fabric on the fast cycle, then have a bin (the pan I cook the Thanksgiving turkey in) of liquid starch mixture ready for when it is done. I use Purex Stay-Flo in 64-oz HUGE bottle, water and a little vinegar. The ratio is about 1 cup starch, 1/2 cup water, 1 TB vinegar. If I am doing 10 yards (usually in 1 yard pieces), I use a whole bottle and do the proportions from there. Then when the fabric is done with washing, I dunk each piece thoroughly in the bin, wring it out, and toss them all back in the washer. I set the cycle to spin, but I interrupt the cycle about 10 minutes in so they come out still wet but not DRIPPING. Then shake out the pieces, folding it long-wise so the selvage is at the top and far bottom until it is about 12 inches wide. Then I hang it to semi-dry on my heated towel racks for about 30 minutes each side. The ideal moment is when the fabric is just damp to the touch. Then I iron, iron, iron and fold carefully in the manner recommended for “power cutting” from Nancy Roelfsema (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoBKOv3Azzw). I iron while I binge watch a TV series online. I haven’t ever had silverfish in my house, but I remain vigilant. No smell, btw. Thanks for this website. I am bookmarking it to visit again soon I hope!

  6. DIANNE G PATTERSON says:

    I’m a starcher and swear by it I use Mary Ellen’s Best Press and buy it by the gallon. It’s perfect to put that sizing back in if you prewash and it DOESN’T attract bugs like the cheap stuff. I also use the prewash when preparing to cut. Putting 2 fabrics together, starch and cut. Works perfect every time. I also use a spritz after cutting out my pieces. As for Starch Savvy, terrible!! It stains and doesn’t wash out!! I ruined several blocks because the light fabric was on the bottom.
    As for the cheap stuff, it attracts bugs and spiders!! It’s not worth the “savings” to ruin your expensive fabric. The only positive on cheap starch is when you’re doing applique and are using a small amount. I will always be a “Best Press” quilter. Thanks for the great info you provide!

    • Kaye says:

      Thank you The above mention of bugs had me worried. I always use Best Press I’ve never had a problem with it it makes my block look wonderful. I do like the unscented. Sometimes the scented on a large project can do me in with fragrance. Still my favorite. Blocks look fabulous presssed.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Personally, I would pre-wash the double-gauze, then starch the fabric before cutting and sewing. Once you have finished the quilt, wash it again to remove the starch.

  7. Honey Gee says:

    Has anyone noticed that when they use starch it really stains their ironing board cover? I️ use starch occasionally and I’ll have a perfectly clean ironing board and then after using starch it’s got water lines and weird streaks. Does this happen to anyone else?

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  12. Aida says:

    I’m fairly new to quilting and just used Best Press for the first time. I’m making a small quilt for a child and I’m sure it will be washed frequently. Since the starch will be washed away, should I recommend that it be starched every time they wash it or is this used only for cutting and sewing purpose. Sorry if this is an odd question, but as I said I’m new to this and never had a hand made quilt in my life. Thank you

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Great question! The Best Press is there to help you cut and sew more accurately by keep your fabric stiff. Once the quilt is finished and washed, it’s no longer needed and you can save it for your next project.

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  15. Lottie says:

    I’m using starch on a new quilt for the first time ever (probably have been quilting for about five years), and like the extra stiffness of the fabric, especially as these are smaller pieces than I usually use. I asked a friend about starch, and she said yes, she almost always uses it, and she just uses what she can get in the grocery store. So, that’s what I’m using, I think it’s Niagra Spray Starch, the pump bottle. I’ve seen the Best Press in quilt shops, is it that much better? Also, would Best Press be softer later? I worry about this quilt being really stiff. I’ve been spraying a little before I cut, then when I flip and press a seam – is that too much? Pretty sure I’ll be washing my ironing board cover soon.

    Vodka sounds interesting too….

    Thanks!

  16. Sharon says:

    I have made the ‘vodka’ starch a few times and I LOVE it! Buy the cheapest vodka you can find .. and add a couple drops of essential oil in the spray bottle … add the water and that’s all there is to it!
    Some say it’s as good as Best Press.

  17. Jamie says:

    I used to always use Niagra, but I find it’s so heavy that if I don’t turn my iron down it flakes and gets crispy brown and I have to clean my iron and change my ironing board cover often. And with a lower temp I feel like I’m not getting the press I like. Then I tried Best Press. I don’t exactly know what’s in Best Press, but even with unscented, when I iron it and it evaporates it makes me cough! Like, every time. So, I’ve tried making my own with vodka. I found a recipe online and the ratio was 1 part vodka + 3 parts water. (Lots lower vodka ratio than the recipe above.) I don’t cough anymore! I feel like I do get enough body with this ratio, but I like the idea of trying to amp up the vodka ratio for bias cuts maybe!! Something to try!

  18. S.m.art says:

    I’m like scratching sooo much ..unfortunately I used to use a homemade mix but last week I faced a different problem I do not know the reason ..I bought some yards of fabric on sale then washed them all by hand (should I wash them in the washing machine?),after they dried I got my homemade starcher and used it as every time but I surprised that the fabric selvage is not straight line also the weft threads like weaves and it is not straight…do you think the fabric is old or may be I pressed it in a wrong way 🤔😕

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      No need to wash your fabric by hand, unless it is delicate vintage fabric or if it’s a certain type of fabric that requires it. Regular cotton that quilters use can be thrown into the washing machine.

      Next issue: wonky selvage. The selvage should be on grain, however sometimes the fabric can get warped and stretched so that it looks crooked. I vigorous wash and dry in your washing machine and dryer should help. With quilting, lucky for us, cutting and sewing on grain isn’t that important. The selvage warping shouldn’t cause any issues in your project.

  19. Cathy says:

    I used to really like Best Press. But then my bottle mysteriously started oozing and leaking under itself and it took the finish off my red cabinet! It made me wonder what the heck it’s made of and I’ve been leery of it ever since.

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