This section on starch is being added to my website because the longer I teach, the more I realise that by and large students have no idea of how very stiff I like the fabrics for patchwork. After my students get to know me & my ways I am often labelled the ”Starching Queen”. This does not worry me – anything to get them starching! I have found that by and large if students have starched their fabrics at all prior to class it is almost always too little starch for me to know whether or not they have applied any starch to their fabrics and certainly not enough to see any benefit from the starch. The main thing I wish to achieve by asking you to starch your fabrics for class is that you starch them enough to realise how very much easier and accurate it makes all of your piecing. If you do not apply enough it will make very little difference to the fabric and basically you would be wasting your time. I would add that almost every single student who does use enough starch for class says that they are now convinced of the merits & that they will continue to use it.
Before I get you to actually start the starching, I will contradict myself just a little & say that when preparing a fabric which you are going to use to cut bias binding from, starch it by all means but just do not starch it stiff like the other fabrics.
There are several basic types of starch available and they are all fine to use. Some are easier to get a really nice and stiff fabric and I urge you to use the easiest method as you don't wish to spend more time on the starch than absolutely necessary. Believe it or not, I do not enjoy the starching either but I do very much appreciate the effect.
You can use a spray starch and this is probably the first that comes to mind for most people nowadays. If you do use a spray, please choose the “Heavy” spray rather than the “Original” and do not ever use a spray that goes by the name of “Sizing”. There are many varieties of starch on the market with Niagara and Faultless being probably the best known ones in America. In Britain there are many generic ones in the individual supermarkets, all of which are good choices. The trick when using a spray is to make several coats and to thoroughly soak the fabric with spray starch for each coat. Be sure to dry the fabric with the iron completely before applying the next coat. Alternatively, you can spray & leave it to air dry before ironing & spraying a second coat.
The method that I prefer to use most of the time is with a liquid starch. In America, there are about four brands that I am familiar with: Linit, Faultless, Niagara and Sta-Flo. They all work well and you will find your own favourite or simply use the one available in your area. You will have to experiment with the ones available & see if you find using it straight, as I do, is good for you or if it needs to be diluted a little. In Britain, I have only seen one brand, Dylon, and am still having trouble getting the dilution formula right. Dylon seems to be much, much more concentrated than those in the US. I dip the fabrics into the liquid starch and saturate the fabric before wringing it out and then laying it out on a hard surface to dry. After it has dried or when it has nearly dried I then iron it with a steam iron to give a nice smooth, stiff finish.
Recently, when teaching at a show in Pennsylvania I was speaking about starch & trying to make the class understand how strongly I feel about it. Then, suddenly I came across the PERFECT example of starching and that was with a student named Janice Selavage and I urge you to take a look at the photo of me & her below in which I am holding one of her fat quarters up by one of its sides. Notice how it stands out stiff and does not crumple down!! WOW!! Great job, Janice!!! Her fabrics were absolutely perfect and though I do realise that I still am not going to get all of the class to prepare their fabrics like this, if they went any where near, it would be great! Starching also does away with the need to pre-wash your fabrics.
Whether using a spray or liquid starch, if you iron the fabric on the wrong side it will help to avoid the flecks of starch showing on the right side of the fabric. After the quilt is finished, I really do recommend washing the quilt to make it look great. Do not spray more fabric at any one time than you think you will be using as this is a waste of time and motion – we all know we will NEVER use up our whole stash so don't waste the time starching until you plan to use it.
Just remember that not all fabrics take the same amount of starch to get the desired result. Starch your fabrics well and you will soon see that there is no comparison between firm and flimsy, especially when working with intricate fabric.