Sewing Tools of Note 2: Starch

Part of a series about my favourite sewing tools.

In patchwork and quilting, the use of starch, like pre-washing fabrics, is one of those topics where you think ‘let’s not go there’… people have such, um, decided views on the subject. Here’s a pic of a bottle of starch – doesn’t look too scary does it?! (By the way, I have no idea whether this brand is any better or worse than any other, it just happened to be the one they had in the shop I was getting fabric from, so that’s what I got.)

Starch is a great sewing tool

If you’re interested in catching up on the debate (and learning how to use the stuff) here’s a discussion of the Pros and Cons of using starch on Craftsy, and here’s a really fabulous blogpost on the topic by The Snarky Quilter – she gives masses of links to even MORE resources too, so you can become a real expert. In my usual – if it’s controversial, I’ll avoid it – manner, I have never felt the need to use starch until the last 12 months or so. But last year, when I was working on this English Paper Pieced Star Hoop for Love Patchwork and Quilting, I was desperate for something to help me with the fraying and folding of the fabric whilst appliquéing those incredibly sharp points:

Lone Star English Paper piecing patchwork

I hunted around for some info, and having read that starch might help, I gave it a go, and it really did. Saved a few handfuls of my hair from being torn out… It really crisps up the fabric so that you can fold it sharply (even a tiny little sliver of fabric) and it also helped stick those fraying threads together.

I got out the starch again recently when I was working on the selvedge mini-quilts that I also made for LPQ. Sewing with selvedges can be a bit tricky because the difference between the tight weave of the edge and the looser weave of the fabric can make the selvedge strips very wavy and curvy. Starch was my invaluable tool in straightening those strips up!

Recently I have gone REALLY mini, working on some miniature quilts (my new obsession):

Liberty lawn miniature quilt progress

This Liberty lawn miniature (which is on hold at the moment whilst I work on other things – I am dying to get back to it!) will measure around 5″ square when it is done, and before stitching, those little patches are 7/8″. Starch has been essential in helping me to get these tiny slippy bits of fabric under control – the crispness that you get from the starch means that they also go through my sewing machine so much more easily, especially as Liberty is so fine. I feel that my piecing is more precise because the tiny pieces stay in shape so much better with starch.

So there are downsides to using starch – the smell can be a bit overpowering (next time I will buy unscented, or make my own), there is the worry that it is easier to scorch fabric whilst pressing starched fabric, and if you don’t wash out the starch after the quilt is completed, it can attract insects (including silverfish, ugh), but I definitely carry on using it when I need some extra control.

I used some just yesterday, making some tiny appliqué for a zippy pouch I’m working on. This tiny embellishment is 1″ square, so I needed that starch to help me through!

Beth Studley pouch progress

Are you a starch user? I’d love to hear your experiences with it.

7 thoughts on “Sewing Tools of Note 2: Starch

  1. I use starch quite a lot. I pre-wash my fabrics and use starch when ironing them. You do have to allow the starch to sink into the fabric and dry or you’ll end up cooking it, but I think it really helps with prone to fraying fabrics.

  2. Oh, thank you for this timely reminder about using starch, Ali. I have been struggling with a couple of projects where fraying has been an issue so I think I need to buy some starch to help me out!

  3. I’ve used startch on retreat for specifid projects and I have to say it was brilliant. As you mention it is great to stabilise little pieces, it’s also makes a huge difference if you are sewing curves or on the bias. I keep meaning to get some for home, but never seem to remember when I’m out shopping so it’s clearly not a must have for me for most of the projects I generally work on.

    1. I was thinking it would help with those stretchy seams on triangles, especially on small pieces, which are SO much harder to deal with through the sewing machine. Now I have it, I am using it in all sorts of situations where I would have managed without, no problem, but it is making life easier, I think.

  4. I now use starch because it helps me cut and piece more accurately when I do patchwork and I also use it on fabric for machine embroidery (saves stabilizer and makes the fabric less stiff) but never for fabric I use in dressmaking. I only started using starch 3 years ago after I took part in an online precision piecing adventure.
    I make my own starch using cornflour with no additives from the supermarket and make it up as I go. Never keep it for more than a couple of days in the fridge.

    1. It is really good to hear from someone who makes their own starch and that it works ok. I am definitely going to try that because I’m not keen on the smell of the one I have bought. Thanks for the tip Maga! 🙂

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