Ask the Experts: Do you use spray starch when you sew?

on September 3 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips | by | with 16 Comments

Often, while sewing away, a quick question comes up that we wish we could ask all of our favorite sewists. We decided to go ahead and do it! We asked Jacquelyn Gering, Elizabeth Hartman, Sarai Mitnick, Betz White and Heather Jones to tell us about spray starch. Do they use it for sewing? Do they have a favorite brand? Let us know about your experiences with spray starch in the comments. We also want to hear your ideas for future questions. Do you have any fun sewing questions you’d like us to ask?

Tell us about spray starch. Do you use it when you sew? Why or why not? Do you have a favorite brand? Tips, tricks or warnings?

Jacquelyn Gering: I don’t use traditional spray starch because it tends to gum up my iron, but I do use Best Press, which is a starch alternative. When I need a little extra stabilization of my fabric or if I need a bit of an assist with pressing, I turn to Best Press. I like to add a little bit of stiffness to the fabric, especially when cutting improvisational curves. When the fabric is freshly pressed and crisp, it doesn’t slide or wrinkle when I’m cutting improvisationally. I also use Best Press to remove stubborn wrinkles in fabric or to assist with pressing, especially when multiple seams are coming together. I am careful to PRESS not iron when using Best Press because any time your fabric is moist there is the possibility of stretching or skewing a block.

Jacquelyn Gering from Tallgrass Prairie Studio is a board member for The Modern Quilt Guild, busy supporting the planning of QuiltCon. Jacquie co-authored the popular Quilting Modern: Techniques and Projects for Improvisational Quilts. You might also remember her beautiful Quilted Tree Skirt tutorial here at Sew,Mama,Sew!

Elizabeth Hartman: I don’t use spray starch, but I love Best Press starch alternative. I prefer the lavender scent, which I buy by the gallon. I find that it’s wonderful for stabilizing patchwork piecing and for getting stubborn wrinkles out of fabric.

Elizabeth Green-Hartman from Oh, Fransson! is author of The Practical Guide to Patchwork: New Basics for the Modern Quiltmaker: 12 Quilt Projects and Modern Patchwork: 12 Quilts to Take You Beyond the Basics. Elizabeth is also a board member with The Modern Quilt Guild. Elizabeth created an entire series of fabulous tutorials for us (favorites include the Laptop Sleeve and the Stack & Nest Quilted Blocks).

Heather Jones: I don’t use spray starch when I’m sewing or quilting. I press with a very hot iron and lots of steam, so I’ve never felt the need to add starch to any of my projects.

Heather Jones of Olive and Ollie is the founder and former president of the Cincinnati Modern Quilt Guild. She recently finished her first line of modern quilting patterns which you can find in the Olive and Ollie shop. She will be a lecturer at The Modern Quilt Guild QuiltCon conference next year.

Sarai Mitnick: I find that spray starch can scorch and build up on my iron. But I do use Sullivan’s Spray Stabilizer for lightweight, unstable fabrics. I spray it all over prewashed fabric to give it a bit of stiffness, which makes it much easier to cut accurately. I find it especially helpful for silk charmuese, which tends to slide all over the place otherwise. It’s always washed out easily, though of course you can do a patch test if you’re worried about staining delicate fabrics. I love this stuff!

Sarai Mitnick is the owner and designer of Colette Patterns and author of the fantastic The Colette Sewing Handbook: Inspired Styles and Classic Techniques for the New Seamstress. You can find more from Sarai at the Coletterie, where there are always great sewing tips, smart discussion and sneak peeks at beautiful patterns to come. Sarai joined us last year with The Hows and Whys of Clips and Notches and All About Grainline ~ A Grainline Primer.

Betz White: I’m not a user of traditional spray starch, but I do have a favorite product that is similar. It is called Stiffen Quick by Aleene’s and it is a fabric stiffening spray. I use it for my dimensional felt projects, such as flowers or ornaments, when I want the felt to hold a specific shape. Simply form the felt (or other fabric) into your desired shape, then spray. It takes an hour to dry or microwave it for 30 seconds. The result is a crisp look that is great for perking up floppy bows or other dimensional projects that need a little body. It’s like hairspray for your crafts!

Betz White is a fabric designer (Stitch organic cotton print collection with The Robert Kaufman Company), and author of Warm Fuzzies and Sewing Green: 25 Projects Made with Repurposed & Organic Materials. Betz is also a pattern designer with a full series of Betz White Make New or Make Do™ Sewing Patterns. Betz stopped by the blog for our Digital Delivery Sewing series with a great discussion about Zero-Waste in the Sewing Industry.

What about you? Do you use spray starch or an alternative? Do you have any tips or tricks to share?

All photos from our post on Easy Applique ~ The Starch Method, by Joanna from Fig Tree & Co.

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16 Responses to Ask the Experts: Do you use spray starch when you sew?

  1. Beezus says:

    I use Magic Sizing like some of the others here. I’d like to use Best Press but it seems extremely pricey every time I see it in the stores. If I’m desperate and can’t find Magic Sizing, I will use spray starch instead, but it’s not my favorite. Can’t wait to see about some of the other products, such as the one put out by Aleene’s. Spray stabilizer sounds like an awesome product!

  2. Heather says:

    For future posts I would love to know how to square up a quilt! I understand how to square up blocks and smaller things – but cannot figure out how to square up a quilt that is baby sized or larger. I feel like I see the step in quilting books “square up your quilt and then sew on the binding, etc” but I have not seen detailed instructions. Help on that item would be GREAT! Thanks.

  3. I use spray starch a lot, because I like the way it eases the wrinkles out of prewashed fabric. I’ve never heard of spray stabilizer though. That might be next on my shopping list. Sounds like a great way to get that crisp feel that I like to my fabric.

  4. RB says:

    @Crunchy Con Mommy – I’ve seen Best Press at independent fabric/quilt stores.

  5. Tabitha says:

    Vodka, is there anything it can’t do? Seriously, I had never heard of this. Thanks for the tip!

  6. QLT812 says:

    I use Majic Sizing before cuting my fabric and it works very well for me.

  7. Marie says:

    Best Press is a MaryEllen product. (I haven’t tried it but I’m going to order some.)

  8. Jocelyn says:

    I use spray starch on quilts for several reasons. I find smaller pieces are easier to cut out from a crisper piece of fabric. Also, the small pieces aren’t as readily eaten by the sewing machine when starting a seam. When I sew pieces on the bias, the spray starch prevents the fabric from stretching out of shape. I’m open to trying the vodka formula (also heard vodka is makes great pie crusts!).

  9. Great information, thanks for the post!

  10. Kimi says:

    I do use spray starch, as I haven’t been willing yet to pay the extra money for Best Press. It’s really interesting to find out that the majority of the pros quoted in this story don’t use spray starch! Makes me re-examine my pressing habits…

  11. Sandi says:

    I use spray sizing if I’m working with very small pieces, but mostly I use a homemade spray made with 1 part cheap vodka to 2-3 parts water. It isn’t heavy like starch, but it’s a bit more crisp than simply spraying with water. Believe it or not, it has a fresh scent, not at all alcohol-y. If you want to add scent, put a drop or two of your favorite essential oil or perfume in spray bottle with the vodka, shake, then add the water and shake again. The same mixture can be used to remove odors – essentially a cheaper version of Febreeze.

  12. Kerri Kowal says:

    I use a product called Magic Sizing whenever I am ironing fabric before squaring up and cutting. I don’t think you can square up without the fabric being perfectly pressed. I love the way Best Press works, but it makes me cough… I do like the scent and especially the price of Magic Sizing.

  13. kristel says:

    I bought some unscented Best Press to try out a little while ago and every time I press something using it, I got a skunk-like odour come wafting through my room. I haven’t tried it since that first day and maybe I should try it again, in case there actually was a skunk outside with some weird good/bad timing. But I wouldn’t say I was sold on the product.

  14. I do use spray starch as a longarm quilter since it has chemical properties that are different from Best Press ( which I also use) and Sizing ( again.. also use) All of these products have a role in the sewing room of the modern sewist.

    The trick to starch is to spray from the BACK SIDE and then iron from the front. Also be sure to give it time to saturate the fibers. On a pure molecular level this gives support to the fibers and when needed can be used actually shrink cotton fibers ( there are reasons you would want to do this) as well as stretch them if need be.

    Maddie @ Domestic Anarchy Studio

  15. Fun to hear what other people do. I’ve never heard of Best Press before, but sounds like something I need to look into. Anyone know where to buy that? (like is it in the grocery store by the starch and I just never noticed? or will it be at the fabric store??)

  16. Melissa says:

    I don’t use spray starch either, instead I use Sizing. It isn’t has heavy and I never get the flaking that can sometimes happen with starch.

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