A Little Bit About Spray Starch!
Spray Starch is nothing new. In fact my Gram made her own from corn starch and water (or lavender water if you wanted a scent). She would make a thicker version, with cloves or cinnamon, for the Grand Kids to use as glue. Taking it a step further, she made a pudding using corn starch, milk, eggs, and sugar.
With the advent of clothes dryers and permanent press fabrics, starching shirts, aprons and sheets became part of a by gone era.
My re-discovery of the product came when I was making large 16″ x 16″ half square triangles. They were stretching and “ruffling” making them totally off square. I was frustrated and was talking to a friend about the problems I was having and she suggested spray starch.
I stopped dead in my tracks and the little light bulb appeared above my head. It was another ”Now Why Didn’t I Think of That!” moment.
Bemused by the thought of something so simple to fix my problem I bought some “Best Press” and I was off to my sewing room.
Off The Shelf Products
Best Press is a great product that comes in a handful of scents. It doesn’t flake or stick to the iron and it gets rid of wrinkles beautifully, including the centre fold of your fabric. I found the bottle’s spray nozzle didn’t spray as fine of mist as I would like but fixed that by just finding a nozzle with a finer mist.
At first, I would only use it when making my oversized half square triangles. Then I discovered it’s great when pressing blocks flat, nasty little wrinkles that won’t go away or when doing a final pressing before sandwiching your quilt.
It slowly crept into my laundry. A quick spritz would take the wrinkles out of napkins, table clothes, shirt plaquets, and collars in an instant. (Wait a minute didn’t I say I don’t iron?) I was hooked! I started to go through vats of it. Well maybe not vats…..
Being the frugal sort and Best Press being a costly item the quest for an inexpensive spray starch was on! After quizzing fellow quilters and Googling (yep, love to Google) I discovered Niagara Spray Starch. It was very similar to Best Press, it doesn’t flake or stick to the iron, the spray nozzle provides a nice fine mist and it will do the trick for a fraction of the cost. It also says 97% of its ingredients are biodegradable.
The Homemade Stuff
At the start of this post I said my Gram made her own spray starch but I could not recall exactly how she made it so I asked my Mom. Of course she came up with the recipe that Gram used. Nothing to difficult, as it is only corn starch and water. But when of the right consistency it doesn’t flake or stick to the iron and takes care of the wrinkles just like the off the shelf products.
The biggest bonus is it is in your kitchen cupboard, it is entirely biodegradable and you can make a vat (I do mean a vat) of it for pennies. The only downside, that I found, is it will only last a few days to a week before going bad.
Gram Never Told Me About This
To solve the problem I simply make small batches and keep it for short periods of time. Another sewing friend suggested using some vodka when you press. I am presuming she meant in my cornstarch solution. Well I had to Google that!
I found, in my Googling, that not only will a few tablespoons work as a preservative but you can use straight vodka as your starching solution. According to what I found – forget the corn starch, just attach a spray nozzle to a bottle of vodka and you’re good to go!
My curiosity was peaked! Corn starch is one thing but vodka? So I rummaged through the liquor cabinet and found the bottle of raspberry vodka that we bought at duty free when we came back from our Asian trip last year.
My husband nearly collapsed when I told him what I was using it for. After assuring him I was only going to use a little bit, he let me have the bottle and it was back to the sewing room.
I sprayed some on a piece of fabric and pressed. While I was pressing and waiting for the fabric to dry I had visions of the fabric going up in smoke if you held it close to a flame or my finished quilt smelling like it had been out on a binge.
Alas my fears were put to rest. Just as in cooking, when heated the alcohol evaporates and the fabric doesn’t smell as vodka hasn’t a scent. I did get a slight whiff of boozy raspberries with the heat of the iron and my sewing room smelled vaguely like a distillery for a brief period of time.
I must say straight vodka works well. No flaking and it gets even the nasty wrinkles out. The downside? Vodka, even the cheapest you can find, is still more expensive than cornstarch and I wouldn’t exactly class it as an item you usually store in the kitchen cupboard.
Five Tips for Spray Starch
Here are a few tips for spray starching for either a home made batch or an off the shelf product.
1. Spray the fabric lightly and evenly. The more layers you spray the more stable the fabric will be- but be careful! Although spray starch won’t flake when used as a fine light mist, if you use lots of layers it can create a build up on the fabric producing flaking and/or an opaque film.
2. Use a spray bottle that has a fine mist spray nozzle. If you don’t have one, they can be purchased very inexpensively at your local dollar store or often a plant mister will work.
3. Spray the fabric before you cut. It will add stability to the fabric, create cleaner cuts with less ravelling or fraying and makes bias cuts a lot more manageable.
4. Press using the Cotton setting with steam. Use a light gliding motion and go with the grain of the fabric, not on a 45 degree angle to the grain or salvage edge.(see What is Bias Fabric). Don’t put your iron on the fabric or leave it in one place for a few seconds. It will cause flaking and stick to the iron! If you use a heavy hand and scrubbing motion you will distort the fabric. Your fabric should be dry when you are finished pressing.
5. Before you tackle a larger piece of fabric try a sample. Through trial and error I found you aren’t 100% flake free so when ever possible I spray and press on the wrong side of the fabric.
Gram’s Spray Starch Recipe (Small Batch)
- 1 1/2 tsp corn starch
- 2 cups water
- 2 to 3 tsp water
- Measure 1 1/2 tsps cornstarch in a cup and add 2 to 3 tsp of water.
- Whisk until smooth
- Pour 1 cup water in a small sauce pan.
- Heatwater until boiling
- Pour cornstarch mixture slowly into the water while whisking constantly.
- When the cornstarch mixture changes from milky to slightly opaque its almost ready
- Stir constantly and let cook for about a 60 seconds.
- Add 1 cup water whisking until mixed
- No lumps please!
- If I get any lumps that won’t whisk away I use a Braun hand blender to make sure it is lump free.
- Let cool and pour into spray bottle.
A Few Things To Keep In Mind
- I use Gram’s Recipe (Small Batch) as I don’t keep it for more than a few days.(Nope don’t use vodka)
- If you want a larger batch double the recipe
- I find a cooked corn starch recipe works the best.
- I tried using raw cornstarch and water but had very unsatisfactory results.
Let me know how your spray starch turns out!
I can add the recipes for glue and pudding if anybody is interested….