What is the History of Starch?
Starch is widely known around the globe in its many forms. Starch as a sweetener. Starch as a cooking agent. And, starch for textiles. With a long and colorful past, starch is today used by many a quilter to add strength and structure to our fabrics for ease in piecing and our quest for quilting perfection.
“Starch for kerchiefs” first appeared a 1440 AD dictionary. However, there are various mentions of ‘starch’ going all the way back to 4000 BC*. With its use on linens, muslin and fine laces for tablecloths to it’s fashionable use on ruffs and fluted collars in the 16th century, textile starch has been a part of our daily lives for centuries.
In the 1500’s starch became more widely used and commercially produced in Europe. However, the process of making starch was a long process that took several days. So, professional laundresses and starchmakers came in to demand rather quickly.
Up until the 18th century, starch was primarily made from wheat. Then, the potato became the considered better base material for starch making in Europe. Today, Europe is still the largest producer of potato-based starch. Alternatively, some starches were also made from imported maize from the United States until around the 1970’s when Europe became more agriculturally self-sufficient.
With such an equally long history of quilt making, no one’s really sure when the practice of using starch on quilting fabrics first started. However, today starch can play a vital role in reaching for the ever coveted ‘perfect block’.
What is Starch?
If you’ve been quilting for very long you know just how easily our perfectly cut pieces can shift and stretch during the piecing process. Working on the bias and pressing our seams seem to be the worst culprits. Even so much as 1/8th of an inch can throw off an entire block.
Laundry Starch is the carbohydrate that is extracted from organic materials such as potatoes, rice, corn (maize) or wheat.
“Most commercial starch is made from corn, although wheat, tapioca, and potato starch are also used. Commercial starch is obtained by crushing or grinding starch-containing tubers or seeds and then mixing the pulp with water; the resulting paste is freed of its remaining impurities and then dried.” – www.britannica.com/science/starch
Once extracted, the starch can be modified by chemical, physical, or enzymatic process to be used in various forms for food, paper, textile, adhesive, fermentation or pharmaceutical purposes. (1)
When to Use Starch for Quilting
For textile purposes, there are two main types: Laundry Sizing and Laundry Starch.
Laundry Sizing is usually vegetable (potato) or petroleum based. It works best on synthetic material such as polyester and polyester blends. The vegetable base does not adhere as well to cotton material. Sizing is best used on pressing most clothes.
Laundry Starch is plant based (rice, corn – maize, or wheat). It works best on 100% cotton fabrics, cotton blends and linens. Starch is best used on pressing quilting cotton.
Both Sizing and Starch add body and structure to the material, aide in soil resistance and ease in soil removal when the fabric is washed. When it comes to quilting, Starch adds a stiffer structure than Sizing. However, Starch can also leave behind flakes if not properly applied.
How to use Starch for Quilting
Starch can be extremely useful when piecing our blocks. The added stability in the fabric weave helps reduce warping or stretching when we press our seams. It also aides in the ease of stitching. But, if not applied correctly, you can wind up with flakes, discoloration or scorching. Follow these easy steps to prevent any unwanted mishaps.
- Spray the Wrong side of your fabric somewhat liberally. If you see any white specks or foam you’ve sprayed too much. Let the fabric dry slightly before administering your iron. This will prevent flaking and scorching.
- From the Wrong side of you fabric, using a DRY iron, press your fabric until all areas are completely dry and flat.
- When using Starch, be sure to use it on all of the fabrics you are working with. Starched and non-Starched fabrics do not play well together. (Ask me how I know. Lot’s of ripping. There were tears. It wasn’t pretty.)
- Use your freshly starched fabrics right away. It is never a good idea to store fabrics that have been Starched as this can also cause unwanted flaking.
Which Starch do I use for Quilting?
The most commonly used product in the quilting world is Mary Ellen’s Best Press. However, Best Press (BP) is not truly a Starch. It is a Laundry Sizing. In my experience, BP does not give as much structure to the fabric as Starch. Although, it smells better than Starch. I do like using BP when needed for my Applique projects.
For most of my projects I prefer good old fashioned Starch – the kind Grandma used to use. It gives more strength in the fabric while piecing and, in my opinion, better prevents stretching of the fabric weave when pressing my seams. That said, I highly encourage you to try both and see which works better for you!
For the DIYers out there, you can also make your own Starch. More to come on that. Until then, test and re-test, but most importantly, have fun!
Test out your Starching skills with these AHmazing Art Gallery Fabrics. Trust me, once you’ve worked with these pretties, you’ll never want to work with anything else!
As always, Hoppy Quilting!
(1) “What is Starch” : Starch.edu https://www.starch.eu/starch/#6bacd6ff9425d9c13
History of Starching Fabric: http://www.oldandinteresting.com/laundry-starch-history.aspx
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