Spray starch has become a hot topic in the quilting community over the last few years. I have become a fan of using starch to prepare my fabric for cutting and piecing, but there are so many choices! So what type of spray starch should you use for quilting? And maybe you’re wondering why starch at all?
I’ve done some research and I’ll give you the facts (as I know them to be) on the different types of spray starch and the advantages/disadvantages of each. Let me start by talking about why I think it’s a good idea to starch your fabric when quilting.
Reasons to use spray starch
- It stabilizes the grains of the fabric
- It adds stiffness to the fabric
- It allows for more control when cutting and piecing
- It helps you maintain better accuracy
- Seams stay pressed in the direction you want them
- Makes the machine quilting process smoother and easier
I think of it as the difference between working with tissue paper vs. construction paper. It’s going to be much easier to cut something from construction paper than it is from tissue paper and you’ll get a more accurate result as you work with it.
Starch vs. sizing
First, I’d like to talk about the difference between starch and sizing. They are very similar, but not necessarily interchangeable. Commercial spray starch such as Niagara or Faultless is made from a grain (either wheat, rice or corn) and is used to add stiffness to fabric. It will also hold a crease in place like nobody’s business. Sizing includes a plastic-based solution that allows it to adhere to synthetic fibers. It’s used extensively in the garment industry to add body to fabric without becoming stiff and it reduces wrinkling during wear. Most fabric on the bolt is treated with sizing at some point during the manufacturing process.
The advantage of using spray starch (whether homemade or commercial) is that it adds stiffness to your fabric. This can be really helpful when you prepare your fabric for cutting and piecing. It will make your cuts more accurate and it will be easier to sew and match seams. When you press your seams either open or to the side, you’ll find that your seams press easier and become flatter. It’s also relatively inexpensive, especially if you make your own.
The disadvantage of spray starch is that it can gunk up your iron and pressing surface. It can also produce white flakes after ironing and it can attract silverfish (I’ve never had that happen). I use a piece of muslin over my pressing surface that I can wash when it becomes discolored or stiff. I only starch the amount of fabric that I’m going to use and I do so just before using it. If you allow the starch to penetrate into the fibers before pressing, you’ll reduce or eliminate the flaking that might occur.
Sizing such as Magic Sizing can add body to your fabric without it becoming too stiff. It won’t leave much residue on your iron or pressing surface and it doesn’t flake like starch does. If you prefer your fabric to be wrinkle free but not so stiff, this may be the right product for you.
The disadvantage of sizing is that it doesn’t give as much stiffness to your fabric (if that’s what you prefer). It might contain chemicals such as formaldehyde that would be undesirable to work with or to have in a quilt.
Mary Ellen’s Best Press is a spray starch alternative and it has become really popular with quilters. It’s more like sizing than starch in its stiffness ability. It’s hard to find information about what’s inside that pretty bottle, but it’s touted as being environmentally friendly and it makes fabric soil resistant. It comes in many wonderful scents as well as unscented. It’s a non-aerosol product that doesn’t clog up the nozzle or flake like starch can.
The biggest complaint I hear about Best Press is the cost. One 16.9 oz. spray bottle costs $7.95 at your local quilt shop. You can find one-gallon refills on Amazon for $38.65 (affiliate link). If you’re trying to make your fabric stiff, this may not be the best choice.
Flatter – Smoothing Spray
Flatter is a starch-free smoothing spray that acts very similarly to Best Press and sizing. It relaxes wrinkles, freshens fabric and leaves it static-free. This eco-friendly product is made in Canada by Soak, and it’s phosphate-free, dye-free and biodegradable. It also comes in many wonderful scents and is formulated to be easy on sensitive skin.
The main drawback of Flatter is it’s ability to add stiffness to fabric. It’s a lightweight in that department (although that may be what you’re looking for). It’s also one of the most expensive options at $12 per 8.4 oz. bottle. If you don’t like to shop online, it may not be so easy to find at your local quilt shop or market.
Terial Magic is the new kid on the block and it’s a very powerful liquid fabric stabilizer. It comes in a non-aerosol spray bottle and there are refill sizes available as well. The advantage of this product is that is makes your fabric paper-like and fray-free. It’s great to use in applique projects, die-cut machines, to stabilize embroidery projects and to run your fabric through an inkjet printer without the use of freezer paper. I’ve used it in one project and it really did make the piecing extremely accurate and easy.
The main disadvantage of Terial Magic is that it takes more time to prepare the fabric and it’s messy. The instructions say to saturate the fabric to the point of dripping wet. Then you need to hang it to dry just until damp and then you iron it. The cost is also a factor – it sells for $12.95 for a 16 oz. spray bottle. Even still, I think it’s a versatile product that might be nice to have on hand for certain projects.
How to use starch products to prepare your fabric for quilting
- Work with just the amount of fabric that you need for a project. It doesn’t matter if you’ve pre-washed it or not. If I’m working with a large piece of fabric, I’ll cut it into manageable chunks (unless it’s for a lengthwise border).
- Shake the starch bottle well.
- Spray the starch product onto the right side of the fabric. Note: It doesn’t matter too much which side of the fabric you spray. I like to start on the right side so that when I press on the opposite side, any flakes or scorch marks that might occur will happen on the wrong side of the fabric.
- Fold the fabric in half or thirds with the starch sides together and “mush” or pat the fabric together so that it penetrates the fibers. If I’m preparing a lot of fabric pieces, I’ll do this step for all of them and set each piece aside.
- Press the fabric on the wrong side (opposite of the side you sprayed) using a wool or cotton setting depending on how hot your iron runs (we don’t want to scorch). Do this step gently because you’ll be producing steam as you iron and you don’t want to distort the fabric.
- Repeat this process if you want your fabric stiffer.
- Fold your fabric in half or drape over a hanger. I don’t like to make any creases at the fold line if I can help it.
I have heard that if you starch your backing fabric, it will glide more easily as you machine quilt it. I did this a long time ago and I think it worked. I’ve gotten out of the habit (lazy girl), but I think it would be worth a try.
I don’t presume to know everything about this topic, so if you have any suggestions or comments, please share. I’ll be back soon with a recipe to make your own spray starch at home! Happy pressing!