Thursday, February 11, 2010


I've been using starch for my piecing and quilting for years, and I make my own. The only drawback is the lack of preservatives, so it's necessary to build a new batch every week or 10 days if you refrigerate it, and dump out what remains.

Why do I like starch? What is the recipe I use?

When I started piecing quilts ages ago I realized that fabric has a life of its own. It stretches, it frays, it distorts during any piecing or quilting process.

Because I wash or rinse thoroughly every quilted piece when it is finished I knew it was ok to add starch for the process, as it would be removed when the quilt was completed. If you don't wash the quilt when done, you probably don't want to add starch or wash-out markers or anything that should not be left in the quilt for long periods.

However, my biggest issues were getting long border strips to stay the same measurement before cutting, after piecing, after pressing, and starch was the key.

I wash, dry and press all fabrics with a light misting of my starch mixture before measuring and cutting for the project, not long-term storage.

Sometimes I add a mist of starch for piecing as I progress, but most times a gentle mist of water is enough to re-activate any starch in the fabrics.

For a block like log cabin I really add quite a bit of starch so those logs don't stretch and distort as I piece them around the center square. I don't do foundation piecing, so control of the fabric is key.

I also like to wash and dry the backing fabric for a quilt, and then press it with a misting of starch to stabilize it, to help prevent it from puckering and pleating, and to help it slide easily on the machine bed. Starch makes a huge difference for successful machine quilting in a home machine.

For small triangles, e.g. in a feathered star block, starch really helps in keeping them stable and even. I do starch before cutting them, and always be careful pressing damp fabrics as they can distort in a blink of an eye.

Even if you starch pieced parts of the quilt heaviliy or repeatedly, as you quilt the fabric softens and is easy to deal with in the sewing machine.

What is my recipe? Remember, you can adjust the amount of starch added to water to get exactly the consistency you need for any given job.

I like to begin with a thicker concentration, then dilute it as I go along in the piecing. Or start with what I recommend and check out how it works for you, then make a thicker batch or dilute this one until it is "just right," like Goldilocks.

If you have made sauces or gravies, Jello,  the technique is the same.

I begin with a scant teaspoon of Argo cornstarch (or whatever brand you have, but the kind of cornstarch for cooking, not laundry), dissolved well in a few tablespoons of cold water, in a heat proof 2-cup measuring pitcher.

Add boiling water to the 1-cup line, stir mixture until it turns transluscent.
Then add cold water to the 2-cup line.

Pour into a fine-mist pump sprayer. I get mine from the beauty section at the drugstore and the mist is very fine, not drippy or gloppy.

Label it so you don't think it is water.
Shake it every time you spray.

If you spritz the fabric and press carefully parallel to the selvages of the fabric it will give it a wonderful body. Don't push and pull on the fabric with the iron; be gentle, let the weight and heat of the iron do the work for you.

If white flakes develop as you press, you have too much starch or the mix is too concentrated. Either use less, or dilute the mixture.

Lasts a week or so as there are no preservatives, no chemicals, no nothing that harms us or the environment, and it’s practically free, except for the spray bottle! Don't starch fabrics for storage as I have heard it will attract critters such as centipedes, and mice. Use sparingly at first. You want the quilt to feel soft and be able to gather it up in your hands for quilting.

Hope you enjoy the starch, and if you come from the "no ironing" generation it will be a delightful surprise.

There are new commercial formulations of starch on the market, so give those a try too until you find what works best for you.

Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.


Anonymous said...

Diane, Why do you use Argo instead of Faultless which is for fabric? What's the difference?

I have begun starching and I love it, but I have used the spray stuff or the powdered Faultless.


Diane Gaudynski said...

Caryl, I am extremely sensitive to any chemicals or preservatives, scents, so I stick with my basic starch, but do know there are new forumlations everyone is using now.

Check out whatever works for you, but the idea of using starch is great for our work. Years ago I used the Niagara in the spray can but I like my own concoction best.

Марина Сохончук said...

thanks for recipe. Maybe I'll try it.

Diane Gaudynski said...

I also like having this as an option if you need starch, and run out, and can't get any right in the moment. Most of us have starch in the cupboard and you can whip this up in a few minutes.

I have met many starch afficionados over the years, and quilters know how helpful it can be for so many jobs.

Karen S said...

Diane, first -- I love starch when I'm piecing, but I've been using sizing because of the "critter" issue. Do you finish all your quilts that quickly that you don't have to worry about it? I often leave projects half-finished for months while I do other stuff.

Diane Gaudynski said...

I think sizing is fine, if it works for you. I've never ever had issues with starched fabrics and critters of the nicght in a project that went on for months. :-)

susan barker said...

diane thanks for this post. I have been quilting almost as long as I have been alive and I was alive when the beatles came to america! Anyway, I have not much used starch when piecing fabrics but when you said that it may help with the quilting on a home machine, you finally caught my interest on this subject. I am starting a new quilt soon and will try out starching and washing all of my fabrics for this quilt. I am a patient person so will study this whole "old" idea...
thanks again for this.

Diane Gaudynski said...

Susan, you're welcome. Give it a try, use any starch you like, but use a light touch and do be careful when pressing fabrics so as not to distort them when they are damp from the starch. If you use too much starch, it makes the fabric too stiff for easy quilting on a home machine.

Hannele said...

Diane, thanks a lot for this post about starch and how you use it! It is very valuable since I haven't managed to find any kind of starch in Finnish shops. I've read and seen so many times how American quilters use it but haven't been able to try. We naturally do have corn and potato starch for food, so now the problem is solved. From Wikipedia I checked that in United states 1 cup equals 237-240 ml so measurement is solved, too.

Diane Gaudynski said...

Hannele - glad it helped you! Measurements are very loose and imprecise - you can make this in a small bowl, use a spoon for eating to measure a bit of starch, and go for it. Tinker until you get the right consistency.

When I'm piecing I keep it handy on the ironing board, but if you use it only now and then, refrigerate it, and again, it will spoil, so throw it out each week.

Joan said...

Your posts are so interesting Diane, I have tried before to get starch here in Australia, but have not been successful. Maybe I will try the USA food store located in Melbourne...and try to get some sent over to me. I get some much wonderful information from you...thankyou so much - it all helps a great deal!

Diane Gaudynski said...

Joan - hope you get some and can try it out. It's usually readily available as a basic food, inexpensive, and works well because you adjust the consistency. And of course it washes out. If you use a great deal of it, it might take several rinses to get all of it out of a finished quilt. I used to use way too much and that happened, but now I use far less and it still works well.

I also use it to stabilize silks for cutting/piecing, rather than some sort of permanent stabilizer.

Lane said...

Hi, Diane. I'm also a starcher, although I use a heavier mix and often dip starch my fabrics before a project so they feel paper stiff. If you add some rubbing alcohol to your starch mixture, it will last more like a month in the fridge before it starts to smell bad. After dipping, I use the leftover starch in a spray bottle to iron shirts. Thanks for your blog. I've followed for a while and am consistently inspired. Lane

Diane Gaudynski said...

Great idea about the alcohol Lane! Thanks, I'll try it, especially in the summer. I used to starch the fabrics "paper stiff" and still might for tricky piecing, but even a small amount makes a big difference in being able to handle fabrics easily without distortion.

QuiltingCyclist said...

Thanks so much for this post. I just came back home to quilting as I retired from many years at the office. Your posts get to the basics and I do so appreciate it. I look forward to using your recipe. Makes great sense and is handy.

Debi R said...

Great blog! I, too, am sensitive to some perfumes and chemicals so I've made my own starch for quite a while. My formula is similar to yours, I use plain corn starch, however, I don't have a need to boil it as I use either filtered or distilled water in the recipe. The mixture lasts for a few months without refrigeration.

Kathy ... aka Nana said...

I came over from the Snarky Quilter this morning and have a question or two. How long is it safe to leave your starch in the fabric? I'm a hand quilter so it might take me 3-4 months to complete a quilt from first cut to last stitch. Will that be a problem? (Note: I always wash my finished quilts, so my only concern is will leaving the starch in the fabric for up to 4 +/- months be a problem?) And my second question is will the starch make hand quilting more difficult? I wouldn't intend to starch too heavily - just enough to keep the fabric stable (especially bias edges on triangles). Thanks so much for your advice/help.

Diane Gaudynski said...

I did leave starch in my quilts for at least 4 months with no problems, then washed the quilt thoroughly. Since I posted this about my homemade starch I have begun using Mary Ellen's "Best Press" unscented starch, probably available in many places, but I get mine at a quilt shop. It works great, doesn't flake or leave a white haze. I still will probably use my own recipe, but just wanted to give you an alternative that works great, keeps the softer hand of the fabric. When I piece I like my own recipe because it makes the fabric as stiff as you want for ease of piecing, and as you work withe the quilt it softens. For hand quilting, I'd try both and see how it needles. HTH!

Diane Gaudynski said...

Kathy, I read what Snarky Quilter discussed and I too dislike scented products, and I also can't use aerosols, so at that time decided to make my own recipe. It does take some experimenting to get the right consistency "for you" but I do like my own, and it's virtually free. What is nice is you can dilute it if you only want a touch of starch, add more for trickier piecing. I think you are on the right track with a little bit for stabilizing bias edges, etc. Machine quilting can really stretch and distort fabric, even when it is pinned together, and starch really helped me. But, as SQ says, everyone has their own opinion and favorite starch....or no starch!

Zusu said...

hi Diane

It's gloopy not gloppy. Thanks for the recipe.