Got Wrinkles?

There are many products on the market that you can use to reduce the effort necessary to remove wrinkles from the fabrics you use in your quilting designs. Many of these products have the added advantage of adding body or stiffening to your fabric. All these products are sprays of one form or another, and this post will discuss some of these products.

Woven fabric, the most commonly used material in quilting, is typically made on a loom that interlaces two or more threads at right angles to each other. These threads create the fabric grain. The use of spray starch, in addition to stiffening fabric and making it easier to handle, can help to prevent the distortion of a fabric, especially along it’s bias grain.

So, What Is Spray Starch?

Starch comes from a German word meaning strong or stiff. Historically, the base ingredient in starch is a dried and powdered form of natural grains, either corn, wheat, or rice. When the powdered starch of these grains is combined with warm water, the resulting liquid can serve as a thickening, stiffening, or gluing agent.

The primary advantage of spray starch is that it adds stiffness to your fabric, which affords you more control when you are preparing your fabric for cutting and piecing. Stiffened fabric is easier to work with, helping you to make accurate cuts and increasing the overall precision of your sewing and piecing activities. Also, when you use starch to press your seams, either open or to the side, those seams are fully flattened, further enhancing the precision of your efforts. Finally, as mentioned above, the use of spray starch also helps to reduce fabric distortion.

Despite these clear advantages, spray starch is not without its disadvantages. The spray starch itself can gunk up both your iron and pressing surface. It can also produce white flakes. One way to prevent the formation of these flakes is to allow the spray starch to soak into the fibers of the fabric before you press it. A final disadvantage of spray starch is because they are plant-based, they have been known to attract silverfish and other insects.

With these disadvantages, is there an alternative that can be used instead of spray starch? Why, yes, there is!

Fabric Sizing, a Starch Alternative

Sizing, unlike starch, is typically not plant-based. Instead, it is most often a plastic-based solution that allows it to easily adhere to synthetic fiber. When used properly, it can add body to fabric and reduces wrinkles. Unlike starch, sizing will not normally leave residue on your iron or pressing surface, and it does not cause flakes. The primary disadvantage of sizing, for most quilters, is that it does not add much additional stiffness to your fabric and, therefore, the pressed material is not as easy to work within your subsequent piecing and sewing activities. Also, sizing contains man-made chemicals that many consider harmful, such as formaldehyde.

Starch and Sizing Alternatives?

It is clear that, for the serious quilter, both spray starch and sizing can both be useful products. Even so, there are other products on the market and homemade alternatives that you might consider using in their place.

Commercially Available Starch and Sizing Alternatives

There are several spray starch and sizing alternatives on the market. I will highlight a few, Best Press, Flatter, and Terial Magic.

One alternative, Mary Ellen's Best Press, is popular with many quilters. According to the product information page, with Best Press “there's no flaking, clogging, or white residue on dark fabrics!” It is also acid-free, and, like starch, it is water-based, but it is not known to attract insects. To use Best Press, lay your fabric down on the ironing board, spray the fabric by misting, and then run your hot iron over the fabric.

Another spray starch alternative, newer to the market, is called Flatter, an eco-friendly product made in Canada by Soak. It is a starch-free smoothing spray that acts similarly to Best Press. According to its product information page, Flatter is made with plant-derived and renewable ingredients (no sulfates or silicones). It relaxes wrinkles, freshens fabric, and leaves it static-free.

Finally, Terial Magic a liquid "fabric stabilizer." The advantage of this product is that it makes your fabric paper-like and reduces fraying. It works especially well on applique projects and on the material to be cut on die-cut machines. Terial Magic can also be useful if you wish to print a design on fabric with an inkjet printer. After applying the product, you will not need to use freezer paper, as you would with untreated fabrics. A disadvantage of Terial Magic is that it can make your pressing tasks more time-consuming and it can be messy. The instructions say to first saturate the fabric and then hang it to dry until its simply damp, but not dripping, all before you begin to press the fabric.

Water Alone May Be All You Need!

If you simply wish to remove minor wrinkles from fabric, the most economical method is to use tap or distilled water in a spray bottle. Using this method, you dampen the fabric with a spray of water and let it sit for a short period until the material absorbs it. As the water soaks into the fabric, it will swell and become soft, relaxing the fibers, and making it easier for you to remove the wrinkles. When using this method, you should first smooth the fabric with your hand, flattening it as much as possible before you press.

Closing Tips on Applying Spray Starch/Sizing or Alternatives

  • Always apply starch/sizing and press BEFORE cutting your fabric. Starch or sizing, when used with a heated iron, can cause shrinkage. If you starch/size before you cut your dimensions may be wrong.
  • After you spray the fabric, wait for the product to soak into the fabric fibers before pressing.
  • Good practice to spray on the front of the fabric and to press on the back to get a good bond between the starch and the fabric.

Finally, I think we can all agree that spray starch or sizing (or their alternative) can lead to more successful quilting projects. As with many of our quilting endeavors, though, personal preference often dictates our choices of products and methods. With that in mind, please let us know, do you use starch or a starch alternative? If so, which one and why? We would love to hear from you!